“You should get your hormones tested!”
How many times have you heard that comment? We’re often encouraged to look closely at our hormones when we experience symptoms that hint at conditions like hypothyroidism, menopause, or low testosterone. Indeed,
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Temperature sensitivity
- Lack of sex drive
- Mood changes
- Sleep disturbances
are all common symptoms of hormonal changes or imbalances in your body’s endocrine system. But, even if you know that a hormone test might be a good idea, you may not know what it entails, or where to get one.
Hormone testing is a very simple process. It’s quick, easy, highly accessible, and can reveal critical information about your health. But, hormone testing can only work if you know which tests to get and what the results mean. By exploring the basics of hormone testing, you can ensure you get the information and the support you need.
How does a hormone balance test work?
Saliva, urine, and/or blood tests are the most common method for testing a patient’s hormone levels. You’ll usually only need to provide a few small samples. Then, depending on what symptoms you experience, these samples will be evaluated by a lab to measure a variety of hormones, including:
- Thyroid stimulating hormone, T4, and T3
- Estrogen and progesterone
- Human growth hormone (HGH)
The lab results show a snapshot of your current hormone levels at the time the samples were taken. Many of these hormones fluctuate over the course of a day, or throughout the month, so you may need to fast prior to testing, get tested at certain points in your menstrual cycle, and/or get multiple tests to get an accurate picture of your hormonal health.
Which hormone tests should I ask for?
Which tests you undergo will depend on your symptoms and preferences.
- If you’re experiencing hot flashes, reduced sex drive, mood swings, vaginal dryness, irregular periods and other telltale signs of menopause, it would make sense to have your estrogen and progesterone levels checked. If you’re feeling fatigued, depressed, or having trouble with your weight, comprehensive thyroid testing can help you determine whether you might be experiencing low levels of thyroid hormone. It can also help identify hyperthyroidism, the opposite problem in which an overactive thyroid gland causes symptoms such as unhealthy weight loss and a racing heart rate.
- If you’re a woman who has symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) such as irregular menstruation, excess body hair growth or weight gain, a hormone test for high levels of androgens in your body is a key diagnostic tool for determining whether you may be suffering from this disease.
- If you’re a man, especially over 40, symptoms such as low sex drive, thinning hair, weight gain and depression can all be signs that it’s time to get your testosterone levels checked. If the source of these problems is low testosterone, or an imbalance in hormone production between levels of estrogen and testosterone, a hormone test can help detect it.
- If you’re a man or a woman struggling with infertility, a hormone imbalance test will be a key diagnostic tool for your treatment team. This usually includes a reproductive hormone test that checks your levels of male and female sex hormones, as well as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), all of which have a big effect on your ability to conceive. Hormone testing can also measure key indicators such as levels of the hormone progesterone, which tells a doctor whether a woman is ovulating.
On the other hand, you might simply be interested in a general hormone health check even if you don’t have any specific concerns or symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. This can be useful to establish a baseline that helps you identify hormonal changes in the future or detect asymptomatic health conditions.
Regardless of whether you have specific concerns or just want an overview of your current hormonal health, your healthcare practitioner can help you determine which tests are most appropriate for your situation.
Where should I get a hormone balance test?
Hormone balance tests can be performed in a variety of settings. Many people first get their hormones tested by their primary care doctor or gynecologist. Others prefer to go straight to a lab facility. While both of these methods can garner accurate results, we recommend getting your hormones tested by a hormone health specialist. These practitioners have the training and experience necessary to determine which tests are right for you, and are experts at both interpreting your results and providing treatment.
Are over-the-counter home testing kits accurate?
For some, over-the-counter home testing kits are an attractive option. These kits let you sample your hormones at home and mail the results directly to a lab facility for evaluation. However, while the tests are fairly simple and easy to do from home, they need to be performed with proper sanitation and caution. If the samples are contaminated, the results might not be accurate.
As such, a home environment may not be an ideal location for sample collection without proper instruction and preparation. Furthermore, these standalone kits tend to be expensive and often require a separate test for each hormone you want to test. It’s also worth noting that you’ll need to factor in shipping time; you won’t get your results as quickly as you would in a practitioner’s office.
However, the most significant problem with over-the-counter home testing kits is that you don’t get to speak with a practitioner. If an imbalance is detected on your test results, you’ll need to set an appointment with a hormone health specialist to understand what that imbalance means. While a kit can identify a hormonal abnormality, it cannot make a diagnosis.
Furthermore, your hormone levels could be creating uncomfortable symptoms even if they are within a normal range. In this situation, a home test may make you erroneously believe your hormones are not to blame for your symptoms, leaving you without answers or relief.
In other words, the numbers are only a starting point to understanding your health; their true value can only be determined by a highly trained practitioner with the expertise necessary to interpret them in the context of your symptoms, lifestyle, and overall well-being. This also requires understanding you as a patient; you are not simply data on a lab report, but a multidimensional person with a unique health history, concerns, and questions. Over-the-counter home testing kits do not take this into account. Seeking out a hormone health specialist is your best option for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
What should I do if I have a hormonal imbalance?
The testing is complete, the results are in, and it appears as though you may be experiencing some kind of hormone imbalance or age-related hormone change. While this may be frightening, it’s important to remember that hormone imbalances are often easily resolved.
Depending on the severity and the cause of your hormone issue, you may be able to resolve the issue naturally via careful lifestyle adjustments. In other cases, you may consider replacing the hormones your body is lacking in order to restore balance. This treatment option is called hormone replacement therapy, and it’s a very common first line of defense against hormone problems of all kinds.
A good hormone health practitioner will help you understand your treatment options and create a comprehensive plan of therapies and/or lifestyle changes that make sense for you. With their support, you can find the best path toward symptom relief and optimal health.
If you are interested in hormone testing, BodyLogicMD can help. The practitioners in the BodyLogicMD network are experts in hormone replacement therapy and dedicated to helping patients achieve hormonal balance. Using a functional approach to medicine, each patient is treated as a whole individual, receiving nutrition and lifestyle counseling in addition to any necessary medications. If you need a hormone balance test or are looking for a specialist to interpret the results, contact a local practitioner today. Or take the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to better understand the impact of hormones.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.