Is it my hormones, or is it just me?

The million dollar question. The short answer is, there’s no way of knowing for sure but there are lots of clues you can look out for that may point towards hormones being the culprit for changing moods.

Do you feel way more emotional and find yourself easily irritated in the lead up to getting your period? Chances are, your hormones are fixing for a fight and encouraging you to react more intensely than is normal for you. Saying this, it’s not always that clear cut, is it?!

No matter what stage of life you’re in, here are some general questions that can help you understand yourself a bit better at times when you don’t feel like your normal self:

  • When did I start feeling like this, and what was going on at that time?
    Do my feelings change? For example, do I have good days and bad days and is there a pattern to when I feel at my worst?
  • What are the current things that are stressing me out and how are they making me feel?
  • Do certain things trigger physical or emotional changes in me?
  • Am I getting enough good quality sleep?
  • Has my diet changed or am I less active?
  • Have there been changes to my hormones? This could include: your periods changing, starting or stopping a new form or birth control, getting pregnant, starting fertility treatment, or approaching perimenopause or menopause.

Think about your answers to these questions with an open mind and see if you can spot any patterns.

It’s a really good idea to start recording any symptoms you are experiencing. There are loads of apps you can download that will help you track symptoms or just make a note in your diary. For example, if you struggle with feeling low or angry, start making a note of when you feel this way. This will help you to spot factors that could be causing these feelings or making them worse.

Sometimes, when we pause to think about what’s going on in our lives, it gives us more of a reason to give ourselves a break. We’re usually coping with a lot!

If after you’ve asked yourself these questions and you think your hormones might be to blame (e.g. I feel angriest in the 3 days before I get my period) you can start reading up and figuring out how to get more control back.

Whether it’s feeling blue or having brain fog start with the symptoms and see what rings true to you.

Keeping track of any changes you are experiencing and when these happen is really important. There are plenty of apps that can help with this.

If you’ve figured out your hormones are the prime suspect, make an appointment to talk to your doctor. Bring a list of the symptoms you’ve been tracking and let them know what you think is up.

Your doctor will be able to talk to you about possible hormonal treatment options. It’s worth reading up on these before your appointment so you have time to get familiar with what you like, or don’t like the sound off. Your doctor should listen to your wants and needs.

It’s OK to take time to make a decision about what treatment option is best for you. You don’t have to agree with your doctor, and you should feel comfortable with any decision being made about your health.

Is my period normal?

Periods are different for everyone so there isn’t really such a thing as a ‘normal’ period. You may get a period every 3 weeks, or only every 5 weeks, but most women tend to have a period every 4 weeks (28 days).

Your period may last 2 days or go on for 7 days.

Your flow may be light and you may only need to use a thin panty liner, or you may bleed more heavily and have to change a maxi pad or super tampon every few hours.

The color of your period could be bright red, dark red, light pink or even brown. Your period could be thin and watery or thick and have lumps in it. All of these differences are ‘normal’ for periods, but there are certain things you need to watch out for.

It may mean it’s time to talk with your doctor if you experience the following:

  • period is so heavy you have to change pads/tampons every hour
  • periods last longer than 7 days
  • period comes more than every 21 days or less than every 45 days
  • bleeding between periods or after sex
  • feeling lightheaded, dizzy or feel your pulse racing when you’re on your period
  • pain so bad before or during your period, it can’t be managed by over-the-counter medication like Tylenol or Advil
  • periods or PMS stop you from living your normal life
  • periods stop or become irregular
  • become so anxious or sad around the time of your period you can’t function normally
  • passing of clots (dark lumps) in your period that are the size of or bigger than a quarter

Loads of things can impact your period. Stress, diet, weight change, sleep – all of these things can mean you may miss a period or experience changes in what is normal for you. Speaking to your doctor if you are worried is important. Your doctor will be able to let you know if they need to run some tests to help figure out what may be going on with your period.

My periods are heavier than my friends', should I be worried?

Every person’s period is different, so it’s important to try not to worry too much about what is usual for your friend and more about what is usual for you!

If you need to change your period products every hour (or change a period cup or period pants 2-3 times a day) your period is probably on the heavier side and you may need to speak to your doctor.

You should also talk to your doctor if you’re finding it difficult to manage your heavy period in your day to day life. There are lots of ways to help heavy periods and different things you can try to make your periods lighter or go away altogether.

Is my birth control making me crazy?

This is a question that Hormonally gets asked A LOT. The first thing to say is that being emotional does not make you crazy!

If you are noticing big changes in your mood since starting birth control, you may be wondering why this is. Hormonal types of contraception cause mood changes because your body is not used to having more of a certain hormone in it.

It can take some time for your body to adjust to this.  Examples of mood changes could be feeling lower than usual, feeling more tearful or getting annoyed more easily. You may find yourself feeling angry, or having mood swings or intrusive thoughts. You may also notice a drop in your motivation or a lack of self-confidence.

If you are using the combined or progestin only pill, receive injections for birth control, have an IUS (hormone coil) fitted, or use contraceptive skin patches, these all have the potential to change your mood. It is usually the progestin component that is causing the mood changes!

Mood changes tend to get worse when you first start using a treatment, then after a few months when your body has had time to get used to the hormones, you will start to feel more like yourself again.

Some women have side effects that mean their moods don’t get better, and they may need to think about whether trying a different type of birth control could be a good idea.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your mood. They will be able to help you weigh up the pros and cons of sticking with it or talk to you about other options that may help you to feel more balanced.

I've just had a baby and I feel sad all the time, should I be worried?

Having a baby is a big deal. It’s one of the most stressful experiences your body will ever go through, and your hormones end up all over the place. As well as needing to get used to sleepless nights, you suddenly have to be responsible for a new tiny human 24/7!

So give yourself a break as feeling down, sad or overwhelmed is pretty normal. It can take a few weeks to feel like you’ve found your groove and you’re coping with your new normal.

There are definitely things to look out for though. If you’re feeling any of the following for more than 2 weeks after you give birth, it’s a good idea to speak to someone you trust as you may be showing signs of a condition called postpartum depression.

  • having a hard time feeling connected to your baby
  • pulling away from friends and family
  • changes in eating (eating more or less than you would usually)
  • trouble sleeping (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • feeling worthless or like you’re a bad mom
  • big changes in your mood (crying often or getting really angry out of nowhere)
  • losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • struggling to think clearly or remember things
  • feeling anxious or having racing thoughts
  • feeling hopeless
  • thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby

Your doctor, nurse or midwife will have loads of experience in helping to support moms. They know you are doing your absolute best and will never judge you for seeking support or help.

There are many treatments for postpartum depression including talk therapy and sometimes medication. Having postpartum does not make you a bad mom. Many women go through it and you’re not alone. With help, you can get better, feel like yourself again and begin to enjoy your baby.

I grow hair on my face, is this normal?

Most women grow hair or ‘peach fuzz’ on their faces and this is totally normal, especially on the chin and upper lip area. Hair can come and go depending on how your hormone levels are changing too.

When it comes to how hairy you are, a lot has to do with genetics!

If you come from a family with thick head hair, the likelihood is you are probably going to get a little more on the face and neck too. People of different ethnicities also have different levels of androgen hormones (the ones responsible for body and facial hair) so this can impact how much facial hair you have.

Hormonal shifts affect facial hair growth (such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause). It is also pretty common to notice more chin and upper lip hair around the time of, or after menopause.

If you think your facial hair is coarser, thicker or darker than most women in your family, you might want to get it checked out, as chin hair could be a sign of an underlying hormone imbalance. PCOS, problems with your adrenal gland, Cushing’s disease and side effects from certain medications can all cause you to grow thicker hair on the face.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your periods. If you notice any changes, or the hair on your head is getting thinner, getting acne or headaches, talk to your doctor about having some blood tests taken to see what’s going on with your hormone levels.

Having facial hair can cause most of us to feel a bit self conscious, but it’s important to remember that pretty much every woman will grow hair on their face at some point in their lives. Even if your hormone levels don’t show any cause for concern, you can either embrace your look or treat your facial hair growth in different ways. There are bleaching options, laser treatments and threading can be effective too.

Am I starting perimenopause?

This is a really good question to ask yourself a lot of women have never heard of perimenopause and think menopause only affects women over the age of 50.

Perimenopause is the time when your periods start to change and you begin to have one or more symptoms connected to changing sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone).

There are menopause symptom checkers that can help you figure out if you may be showing signs of entering perimenopause. If you don’t have periods because of the type of birth control you use, you can still do these checkers to look at the other symptoms not related to periods.

You can start perimenopause at any age. If you’re under 45 years and having symptoms of perimenopause, talk to your doctor as there may be other conditions that need to be ruled out first.

If your symptoms are affecting your daily life, there is great treatment in the form of hormone therapy that can help get you back to feeling like yourself again.

My family has a history of breast cancer. Does this mean I can't have hormone therapy?

Sadly, breast cancer is a fairly common disease and women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Given how common breast cancer is, lots of women will have family members that have had a breast cancer diagnosis at some point in their life and this is not necessarily a reason to write off using hormone therapy.

Even with a history of breast cancer in your family, hormone therapy is perfectly safe to use for most women. In fact, recent research has shown that taking HRT within 10 years of menopause does not increase your chance of developing breast cancer and in fact, may even decrease it. The key here is timing. Let’s say you go through menopause at 51, the advice would be to begin hormone therapy within 10 years of this date, in order for treatment to be safe and beneficial. After this time (e.g. after the age of 61) you will need to talk to a menopause specialist if you’re thinking about starting hormone therapy.

If you yourself have had estrogen receptor positive breast cancer and are thinking about whether or not it is safe for you to use HRT, Hormonally advises you talk to a menopause specialist who is experienced in treating women with breast cancer as there are things you will need to think about. It may still be possible for you to explore hormone therapy, but you will need to do this under the care of a professional with lots of experience.

To help detect breast cancer early it’s good to get to know how your breasts normally look and feel and report any changes you notice to a healthcare provider right away. For more information on breast cancer go to the American Cancer Society website.

I've been prescribed testosterone but isn't this a hormone just for men?

This is a great question and a really important one too.

Testosterone is not just a male hormone, women produce testosterone too. Although women make less of the hormone than men, this doesn’t mean testosterone is not important to women or that it doesn’t help with essential bodily functions and processes.

The majority of testosterone in women and people born with ovaries is produced just there – in the ovaries. In terms of volume, women actually make 3x more testosterone than estrogen, so it shouldn’t be ignored when we are talking about women’s hormone health.

Testosterone helps to maintain your muscles, your bone health, your heart health and can even help with your mood. It’s also the hormone that puts the pep in your step when it comes to your sex drive and reaching orgasm.

Not having enough testosterone can make you feel fatigued, you may feel low in mood and can cause sleep problems. The reasons for low testosterone are not well known but it could be due to a genetic or health condition.

Whilst testosterone is connected to lots of great bodily functions, making sure you have the right amount of the hormone is important, as too much testosterone can cause skin problems, facial hair and irregular periods. High testosterone levels have also been linked to a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It’s still very early days in terms of research on testosterone therapy for cis women and there’s no FDA approved treatment as yet. Regardless, it’s important to remind ourselves, testosterone is far from ‘the male hormone’.

I'm in a lot of pain during my period, should I be worried?

It’s very common to have period pain and anyone who menstruates is likely to be able to relate to the discomfort experienced during our monthly cycle. How bad that pain is can vary from month to month and will equally differ from person to person. What may be OK and manageable for one person might be life changing for another. You know your own body and when the pain becomes extreme and impacts your daily life, it’s time to have a conversation with a healthcare provider.

When doing this, it’s helpful to think about how you would describe the pain:

  • How long does the pain last? Is it there all the time, or does it come and go?
  • Is the pain in one area or do you feel it in different parts of your body?
  • When, during the month is the pain at its worst?
  • Does the pain affect your ability to go about your daily life?
  • Do over-the-counter pain medications, such as Advil or Tylenol help with this pain?
  • Are other management strategies, (such as a heat pad or relaxation technique) effective?
  • As well as the pain, do you have any other symptoms such as heavy bleeding, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or fainting?
  • Have you needed to miss work, school or not go out as much because of the pain?

There are a number of hormone conditions that could explain why you are experiencing pain and learning more about them can help you to understand what the cause of your pain may be – spoiler alert, it could be more than ‘just’ your period pains.

Conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids can cause pain. These conditions do not necessarily carry high ‘risks’ but they can cause a great deal of distress and discomfort. For this reason, making a pain management plan can be a really important part of treating conditions such as these. The Hormone Conditions section on our website is a good place to start when it comes to taking back control.

I get headaches- can I still use hormonal treatments?

This is a great question and a really important one to get into greater detail on. The link between headaches and hormones is complicated. Many people find when their hormones are fluctuating, such as before their period, or when they start a new form of birth control, they experience headaches. The type of headache to watch out for though, is called a ‘migraine headache’. There isn’t universal agreement when it comes to the definition of a migraine, but it is generally agreed they can be categorized into two types:

  • Migraine with aura
  • Migraine without aura

Migraines are more than just ‘bad headaches’. Migraine sufferers will experience intense throbbing pain and find they are more sensitive to their surroundings. If you suffer from migraines, you may find you need to lie down in a dark room away from things that make your pain worse (such as light or noise).

While all migraine sufferers may be sensitive to light, migraine with aura, causes disturbances to your vision. If you experience aura you may see zigzagging, or flashing lights in front of your eyes. If you suffer from migraine with aura, the types of synthetic estrogens found in birth control will not be suitable for you. This is because you may be at a slightly increased risk of developing a blood clot or having a stroke.

So what does this mean for people struggling with perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms, can they use hormonal treatments? The answer to that is yes! The type of estrogens used in most menopausal treatments are perfectly safe to use if you suffer from migraine with aura. This is because menopausal hormone therapy uses a different form of estrogen to that used in birth control. With this in mind, migraines should not get in the way of you accessing treatment for your menopause symptoms.

Always talk to a healthcare professional before starting any form of hormonal treatment. Your doctor will want to ensure that you complete a thorough medical assessment before prescribing you any medication. Equally, ensure you read the guidance included with any new medication you use. If you develop any concerning symptoms report these to your healthcare provider immediately.