What Is A Hormone Imbalance Test And What Does It Show?

The pandemic led many people to take their health more seriously, resulting in a surge of interest in preventative health and general wellness. One method growing in popularity is hormone imbalance testing. But what is a hormone imbalance, and how does it affect the body? Can a hormone imbalance test really lead to better overall health? Read on for the information you need to decide if hormone imbalance testing is the right choice for you.

What are hormones?

Hormones function as chemical messengers that carry important information to cells of the body. Normally, hormones target specific cells through receptors, with each type of hormone having a key message for different parts of the body. Hormones are produced by endocrine glands, and they play a vital role in balancing every major body system.

Endocrine glands and their roles in the body include:

  • Adrenal gland: Regulates stress and sex drive
  • Hypothalamus gland: Regulates body temperature, hunger, moods, release of other hormones, sex drive, and sleep
  • Ovaries: Regulates female sex hormones
  • Pancreas: Regulates sleep
  • Parathyroid: Regulates calcium
  • Pineal gland: Regulates sleep
  • Pituitary gland: Regulates growth
  • Testes: Regulates male sex hormones
  • Thymus: Regulates adaptive immune system
  • Thyroid: Regulates heart rate and calorie burn

Many different types of hormones exist in the body. Some of the most important hormones include:

  • Cortisol: Manages stress
  • Estrogen: Manages sex drive in all genders and regulates the menstrual cycle
  • Ghrelin: Manages appetite by signaling when you’re hungry
  • Growth hormone: Manages cell growth and reproduction
  • Insulin: Manages glucose levels
  • Leptin: Manages appetite by signaling when you’re full
  • Melatonin: Manages sleep cycles and circadian rhythm
  • Progesterone: Manages body changes during pregnancy
  • Serotonin: Manages appetite, mood, and sleep cycles
  • Testosterone: Manages sex drive in all genders

What is a hormonal imbalance?

Having a hormonal imbalance means that one or more of your hormones are not generated at the proper level. A hormone imbalance can be either a deficiency or an overabundance of certain hormone(s). Symptoms of hormone imbalance can vary depending on the type of hormone as well as the cause of the imbalance.

There are common life transitions typically associated with hormone imbalance, such as pregnancy or menopause. However, anyone can experience a hormone imbalance at any age, regardless of gender. Some health conditions or medications can cause hormonal imbalances, while other health conditions are caused by the imbalance itself.

What is a hormone imbalance test?

A hormone imbalance test detects whether your endocrine glands are producing the right amount of each hormone. Tests vary depending on the hormones being tested.

Some tests are designed to detect imbalances respective to gender, so you should consult with your healthcare provider to ensure you are using the correct test. You should also inform your provider about any hormone-altering medications you may be currently taking so that they may be considered when reviewing results.

  • Blood tests detect cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid levels.
  • Saliva tests detect estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone.
  • Ultrasounds are used to determine if there is an issue with a particular gland in the body. This test is often used to examine ovaries, the pituitary gland, testicles, thyroid, and uterus. X-rays or MRI may be used in subsequent tests to further identify issues. Doctors also may conduct a biopsy of a gland to make a diagnosis.
  • Sperm counts and pap smears can help identify issues with glands – such as lumps, cysts, or other abnormalities – that may impact hormone levels and cause an imbalance.

How do I know if I need a test?

Detecting a hormone imbalance by monitoring symptoms alone can be difficult, as signs can be misleading. For example, both weight gain and weight loss can indicate hormonal imbalance. This is further complicated by the fact that many hormonal imbalance symptoms can be signs of a different health issue altogether.

When considering symptoms and whether they apply to you, you should note symptoms that are consistent for a period of time or appear in cycles. If you take any medications, you should mention this to your doctor when bringing up your hormone imbalance concerns.

Common symptoms of hormone imbalance are:

  • Anxiety, depression, or irritability
  • Bulge in the neck
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Frequency of bowel movements
  • Heart rate changes
  • Thirst
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry skin or dermatitis
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
  • Muscle ache, stiffness, tenderness, or weakness
  • Sensitivity to heat and cold
  • Thinning hair
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss

Symptoms can further be broken down by sex to help determine if you need to be tested for a hormone imbalance.

People assigned female at birth (AFAB)

For those born with ovaries, the most common result of hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). AFAB people also experience changes in their hormonal cycle naturally during various stages of life, including:

  • Puberty
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Menopause

AFAB individuals may also experience these sex-specific symptoms as well:

  • Acne on the chest, face, or upper Back
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches
  • Hirsutism, excessive hair on the chin, face, or other areas of the body
  • Hyperpigmentation, especially along neck creases, in or around the groin, or underneath the breasts
  • Irregular periods (eg. frequent, heavy, missed, or stopped periods)
  • Night sweats
  • Pain during sex
  • Skin tags
  • Vaginal atrophy (thinning of vaginal walls)
  • Vaginal dryness

Although these symptoms are most common in AFAB people, they are not exclusive to AFAB people and may affect individuals of other sexes as well.

People assigned male at birth (AMAB)

For AMAB people, testosterone is vital for development. A testosterone deficiency can cause a number of symptoms, such as:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Decrease in body hair growth, including the beard
  • Gynecomastia (development of breast tissue)
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of bone mass (osteoporosis)
  • Loss of muscle mass

Symptoms in children

Children begin producing sex hormones once puberty starts. Some children experience delayed puberty, which is a typical puberty experience that simply starts later than most.

However, other children may experience a condition known as hypogonadism, which means glands do not produce enough sex hormones.

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Body hair that grows sparsely
  • Breast tissue fails to develop
  • Excessive growth of limbs in relation to the rest of the body
  • Gynecomastia
  • Impaired growth of testicles and penis
  • Lack of increase in growth rate
  • Lack of muscle mass development
  • Menstruation cycles fail to begin

Who is most at risk for hormone imbalance?

There are many factors that increase the likelihood that someone may experience hormone imbalance. These include natural life transitions, health conditions, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices, including:

  • Adolescence
  • Addison’s disease
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (low cortisol and aldosterone)
  • Cushing syndrome (high cortisol levels)
  • Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
  • Diabetes insipidus (kidneys are unable to conserve water)
  • Eating disorders
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Exposure to pesticides or toxins
  • Extreme stress
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules (lumps in the thyroid gland)
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Medications
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Smoking
  • Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid)
  • Traumatic injury
  • Tumors (either cancerous or benign)

What are the benefits of hormone imbalance testing?

Identifying a hormone imbalance with hormone imbalance testing is the first step to getting treatment. There are a number of treatment options which vary depending on the hormone and cause of the imbalance. Treatments can be short term (ie, in response to a life event such as menopause) or long term (ie, to treat a genetic disorder).

Hormone imbalances are commonly treated with hormonal replacement therapy. This means you can supplement your body to help rectify specific deficiencies. Hormone imbalance testing allows a medical professional to determine the amount of supplement you need.

Different types of hormones may be used for therapies, such as:

  • Bioidentical hormones are lab-synthesized, meaning they are created in a lab. Chemically, these hormones are identical to those produced naturally by the body. These hormones can be produced in different doses or combinations.
  • Natural hormones are sourced from plants or animals. Although many people find the idea of natural hormones more comforting than those created in a lab, they are not chemically an exact match for the hormones naturally generated by your body.
  • Compounded hormones are a custom blend of hormones designed for a specific individual. While the customization of hormones is theoretically ideal, in practice, there is no clinical testing for compound blends. There is also no guarantee of dosing consistency with individualized treatments.

DIY kits vs. professional testing

The pandemic caused a surge in demand for hormone testing DIY kits. Kits are designed to help detect a number of imbalances/conditions. Tests may require urine, blood (from your fingertip), or saliva samples. Kits offer instructions on how to prepare the samples and mail them to a lab for processing. Results typically are available online in 5-10 business days. Depending on the test, kit prices range from $50-$200.

Examples of at-home DIY testing kits include:

  • Fertility test (AFAB people)
  • Genomics
  • Menopause
  • Metabolism
  • Sleep (melatonin, cortisol, or creatinine)
  • Stress (cortisol)
  • Testosterone
  • Thyroid

At-home tests are fairly accurate but should not be relied upon for a diagnosis. They are best suited as a first step before consulting a medical professional. Accuracy of tests can be affected by human error. Environmental factors can also be a concern, as delayed mail or extreme temperatures can impact samples and affect test accuracy. It should also be noted that hormone levels can rise and fall naturally, such as during a menstrual cycle or in response to other conditions or medications.

Some at-home providers offer tests that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s important to note that many tests do not have FDA approval. When choosing a test, you should make sure they use a certified lab. This means multiple labs could independently confirm test results.

There are a few other factors you should consider when choosing an at-home test:

  • Options to keep and share your results
  • Ensure instructions are sufficiently detailed
  • Ease of use

Professional testing at home

DIY hormone testing kit results are not sufficient to be prescribed hormone replacement therapy. If you do have a hormonal imbalance that requires hormone replacement therapy, you will have to get an evaluation done by a healthcare professional who can prescribe your treatment. A house call doctor can offer professional testing services in the comfort and privacy of your home.

To conduct an in-home hormone imbalance test, a healthcare professional will come to your home to conduct a health screening and blood draw and prepare the sample for testing. They will submit the collection to a lab for processing. Because house call doctors often have working relationships with specific labs, results are often available earlier than you may get from an at-home DIY kit.

Once the sample has been processed, you will have a follow-up appointment either in your home or via telehealth with a health expert to help you interpret the results and answer any questions you have.

The benefits of getting hormone testing at home

Getting your professional hormonal imbalance testing done at home has numerous benefits. House call doctors tend to have fewer patients and much more schedule flexibility, allowing you to schedule an appointment at your home or office. For those at high risk of severe illness from Covid-19 or other contagious illnesses, house call doctors offer professional testing without the risk of exposure presented by in-office visits.

House call physicians, sometimes called direct primary care physicians (DPC) allow you to get the advantages of professional testing while enjoying the convenience of testing at home. Having samples collected by a healthcare professional greatly reduces the chances of errors in sample collection and preparation for lab results.

They also typically offer longer appointment times than your average primary care physician (PCP), with visits lasting 30-45 minutes. This means you have plenty of time to discuss test results and what they mean, and how to address any hormonal imbalance detected. Many of these doctors offer membership plans, offering a range of services for a monthly fee. If you would like a stronger doctor-patient relationship to help address a hormonal imbalance issue, a direct primary care physician may be the right choice for you.


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