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What are Hormonal Mood Swings?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Hormonal mood swings are sudden fluctuations in a person's emotional state caused by hormonal changes. In women, these mood swings occur primarily because of changes, cyclical or sudden, in progesterone and estrogen levels. They are most pronounced during the onset of puberty, some parts of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, after childbirth and during menopause. For men, mood swings caused by hormones result from a combination of elevated levels of cortisol and depressed levels of testosterone.

Serotonin

is a neurotransmitter that controls a person's mood. Monamine oxidases work against serotonin, and depress the levels of this

hormone

. When serotonin levels are high, a person feels happiness and euphoria. If serotonin levels are low, a person will feel anger and/or depression. Hormonal mood swings are characterized by rapid drops or elevations in serotonin levels.

The most common cause of hormonal mood swings in women is the monthly menstrual changes in estrogen and progesterone, and their impact on serotonin levels. Estrogen impedes monoamine oxidases from breaking down serotonin. Levels of estrogen are highest at the beginning of the menstrual cycle, resulting in high levels of serotonin and feelings of happiness. Progesterone functions in the same way as monoamine oxidase, and levels are highest during the middle of the menstrual cycle. This causes a rapid drop in serotonin levels, causing a woman experience feelings of anger and depression.

These mood swings in women have also been linked to other changes in hormone levels, such as those during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Estrogen and progesterone levels first begin to fluctuate during puberty, and this time period is when a woman most likely first experience these kinds of mood swings. During the first trimester of a pregnancy, progesterone levels increase, and it may take until the second or even third trimester for the body to naturally adjust to these hormonal levels, causing drastic mood swings. After pregnancy, progesterone levels suddenly drop to a normal level and, in conjunction with the stress of new parenthood, can lead to postpartum depression until the body is once again able to adjust. During menopause, the production of both estrogen and progesterone decreases and eventually stop completely, causing mood swings while the woman's body adjusts to these changes, and are often more severe mood fluctuations than experienced during a normal menstrual cycle.

Hormonal mood swings, though typically characteristic of women, do occur in men. Cortisol is a hormone which helps to modulate the body’s response to stress. Mood swings in men are thought to be caused by low testosterone and cortisol levels elevated over long periods of time, or if a man is experiencing long-term stress. Male mood swings are primarily characterized by sudden bouts of depression.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Aug 13, 2014

Before I got on the pill, I had horrible mood swings before my period started. It was awful. I had bloating, tender breasts and wanted to cry all the time.

I swear the pill saved my life! When I'd been on it two months, I wondered where in the world it had been all my life! It was wonderful. My cramps weren't nearly as bad, my flow wasn't as heavy and my moodiness pretty much disappeared.

My life improved dramatically, just because my hormones were finally regulated.

By Pippinwhite — On Aug 12, 2014

My doctor put me on a tri-phasal contraceptive and after I'd been on it about three weeks, I was feeling absolutely homicidal. I was spotting all the time and I really wanted to punch someone's lights out most of the time.

I called the doc and told her what was going on. She said I must be really sensitive to the hormones in the tri-phase kind, so she put me back on the mid-level kind I'd been on. After a couple of days, my mood evened out, my anxiety disappeared and I felt like a new person. It's amazing how changing my pills helped me that quickly!

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