Hormone imbalances are becoming increasingly common due to changes in diet and other environmental factors. In the past, hormone problems usually only affected older women, usually in their forties and fifties. Today, more teenage girls are showing signs of hormone imbalances. For a teenage girl, the problems associated with a hormone imbalance can be particularly disturbing or embarrassing.
Hormones are chemicals released by the endocrine system that regulate many bodily functions. Hormones are responsible for regulating cell functions, growth rate and reproductive functions. When a girl enters puberty, hormones stimulate the production of oestrogen in the ovaries, resulting in breast growth and the beginning of menstruation. Many conditions can lead to a hormone imbalance, and parents of teenage girls should be aware of signs that could indicate a hormone problem. When in doubt, it is best to check with your doctor.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid is overactive, producing too many hormones. Symptoms can include irritability, sleeplessness, unexplained weight loss, rapid heartbeat, sensitivity to heat, an increase in perspiration and an enlarged thyroid. In very rare cases, the thyroid can become extremely enlarged and protrude from the neck. This is called a goitre. If your teenager has a combination of these symptoms, it is a good idea to check with your doctor.
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid produces too few hormones. Symptoms may include sluggishness, poor memory, poor concentration, unexplained weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, irregular periods, and a decrease in growth and sexual development. As in hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism can also result in an enlarged thyroid. Although many of the symptoms of a thyroid condition can also be the normal effects of puberty, distinct changes in behaviour, physical condition and general well-being will help you decide when a trip to the doctor may be in order.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Probably the most common hormone problem in teenage girls, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where the ovaries may be enlarged and have many small cysts. These cysts are actually follicles. A follicle occurs normally on the ovary to release the ovum, or egg, for possible fertilisation. In PCOS, many follicles occur, but no egg is released. Sometimes a girl can have PCOS but still have normal-looking ovaries. Also, PCOS is characterised by the presence of high levels of male hormones in the system. Symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, increased facial and/or body hair growth, weight gain or obesity, acne and impaired fertility. A teenager who has two or more of these symptoms should see her doctor.
Even slight hormone changes and imbalances can have a dramatic effect on how a teenage girl feels. PMS is a broad term used to describe the physical and emotional sensitivities experienced by many women before menstruation. Some girls are more sensitive to hormone levels. As a teenage girl's hormones come in and out of balance, she may have more reactions to them, including cramps, mood swings and food cravings. To help keep your teenage girl healthy physically, hormonally and emotionally, focus on good general health. Eating a well-balanced diet (and avoiding hormone-laden processed food), drinking plenty of water, and getting extra rest during stressful times and lots of exercise will help keep her healthy.