Most people will experience hormonal imbalances at some point in life. Hormone tests, such as the hormone blood test, are used to diagnose the specific hormones that are imbalanced.
Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced by endocrine glands and released into the bloodstream. They control a range of crucial bodily functions. Therefore, even small changes in their levels can result in significant consequences. Hormone imbalance refers to a condition where hormone levels drop or rise above the normal range.
This article discusses the symptoms and causes of hormonal imbalances. We’ll also explore the ins and outs of hormone testing. Read on!
Hormone Imbalance Symptoms
Scientists have established that the human body has over 50 different hormones. They regulate various biological processes ranging from breathing, mood, and blood sugar to growth and sexual function. It, therefore, stands to reason that hormonal imbalances will result in a range of symptoms. The specific signs and symptoms will depend on the affected glands and hormones.
Here are common hormonal imbalance symptoms in both men and women.
- Unexplained weight gain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness
- Hyperphagia or excessive hunger
- Excessive thirst, also known as polydipsia
- Increased blood cholesterol levels
- Extreme sensitivity to cold or hot temperatures
- Acanthosis nigricans is a skin pigmentation disorder characterized by dark patches in body folds such as the neck, navel, armpits, and groin.
- Muscle weakness
- Bradycardia, or slow heart rate
- Tachycardia, or a faster-than-usual heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Puffy face
The symptoms that we’ve discussed above often point to hormonal imbalances. However, they may also be indicators of other medical conditions. If you’re experiencing any uncharacteristic changes consult your healthcare provider regardless of what you think the cause is.
Common Causes of Hormone Imbalances
It is normal for hormone levels to fluctuate through the course of the day and at different points in life. For example, natural body processes such as puberty and pregnancy are marked by hormone fluctuations.
However, different lifestyle factors may result in hormonal imbalances. These include:
- Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating
- Chronic stress
- Abuse of anabolic steroid medications
- Being overweight or obese
- Poor nutrition
In addition to lifestyle factors, certain medications and medical conditions can cause hormone imbalances. They include:
- Type 1 and type 2 diabetes;
- Addison’s disease occurs when adrenal glands don’t make enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone;
- Cushing syndrome occurs when adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol;
- Tumors, both cancerous and benign;
- Cancers associated with endocrine glands;
- Hyperthyroidism, also known as an overactive thyroid;
- Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid;
- Acromegaly is when the pituitary gland makes too much growth hormone;
- Thyroiditis, which is inflammation of the thyroid;
- Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy;
- Hypergonadism is when your body produces little or no sex hormones;
- Damage or injury to an endocrine gland.
The hormonal imbalance causes that we’ve covered above apply to both males and females. However, in individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB), hormonal imbalance may also stem from:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Early menopause, perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause
- Hormone medications such as birth control medications
Now that we’ve covered the basics of hormonal imbalance, let’s go over how to check hormone levels.
What a Hormone Test Looks For
Hormonal imbalance can cause a variety of consequences ranging from changes in mood and sex drive to fluctuating body weight and energy levels. However, just looking at the symptoms, it’s difficult to determine the underlying cause of the changes. That’s where hormone tests come in.
Hormone tests help detect hormonal imbalances. They measure and determine which specific hormones are below or over their normal levels. A healthcare professional can then develop a tailored treatment plan to help you re-establish a healthy balance.
You may be curious about exactly how to check hormone levels. Well, hormone testing is done through a variety of diagnostic tests such as:
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Saliva test
- Pelvic exam
- Imaging e.g Ultrasound, Thyroid scan, X-ray, and MRI
Blood testing is the most common type of hormone balance tests and it caters to the widest range of hormones.
Different symptoms can be an indicator of the affected hormones. For example:
- Infertility in women can be a sign of low progesterone levels.
- Low libido and erectile dysfunction can point to low testosterone levels in men.
- Enlarged breasts in men can indicate an imbalance of testosterone and estrogen levels.
Ultimately, your doctor will suggest a suitable hormone test depending on your symptoms.
Hormone Imbalance Symptoms in Women
Individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) may experience fluctuations of the hormones estrogen and progesterone which are produced by the ovaries. Also, females may have unusually high levels of testosterone and androgens which further points to hormone imbalance.
Hormone imbalance symptoms will vary depending on which hormones are imbalanced or which glands are malfunctioning. Common symptoms observed in people with AFAB include:
- Abnormal menstrual periods include prolonged, heavy menses, severe cramps, missed periods, extra light bleeding, and irregular cycles.
- Hirsutism, which is excess body hair in parts such as the face, neck, chest, back, tummy, and thighs
- Hair loss
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal atrophy, or inflammation of the vagina due to thinning and drying of vaginal walls
- Low libido
- Breast changes
- Hormonal Acne, especially on the face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders
- Darkening of the skin or hyperpigmentation
Hormone Imbalance Symptoms in Men
Andropause is the most common type of hormone imbalance in people assigned male at birth (AMAB). Also known as “male menopause”, age-related declining testosterone levels mark andropause.
While testosterone is the main male sex hormone, men also have estrogen in lower quantities. An increase in estrogen and a decline in testosterone can cause hormonal imbalance symptoms such as:
- Gynecomastia, which is the abnormal enlargement of male breasts
- Low libido
- Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which a male is unable to get or maintain an erection
- Memory loss and trouble concentrating
- Hair loss and decline in hair growth
- Low sperm count
- Loss of muscle mass
- Osteoporosis is a condition that results in weak and brittle bones
- Hot flashes
Hormone Test Procedure
While hormone imbalance symptoms may point to a problem with the endocrine system, further testing is required for an official hormonal imbalance diagnosis. You can expect your healthcare provider to ask questions about your symptoms and they may then perform a physical exam. They may then order a hormone level blood test to detect if any hormone levels fall outside their optimal range.
So, what can you expect during a hormone-level blood test? A healthcare professional will collect your blood sample in a process that takes a couple of seconds to a few minutes. They will:
- Clean the injection site with alcohol swabbing.
- Insert a small needle connected to a tube into a vein in your arm. This allows them to draw blood for analysis.
- Contain bleeding on the injection site.
- The blood sample is sent to the lab for specialized analysis.
It’s crucial that you disclose any medications and supplements that you’re using as this can impact your test results. Endocrine glands secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream. Therefore, a hormone imbalance blood test allows your healthcare provider to determine your hormone levels.
Common hormones detected in bloodwork include:
- Thyroid hormone
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
How To Read Hormone Test Results
Now that we’ve answered the question “How can I get my hormones tested” let’s get into the analysis of hormone test results.
Taking a hormone test is a pretty straightforward process. However, interpreting the results can be a bit tricky. For example, with a blood test for women’s hormones, the optimal hormone levels will vary depending on the menstrual cycle and their age. You should always schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor to go through the results.
Let’s take a look at the normal female hormone levels by age.
|Progesterone||Prepubescent||0.1 – 0.3 ng/mL|
|The follicular phase of the menstrual cycle||0.1 – 0.7 ng/mL|
|Luteal phase||2 – 25 ng/mL|
|1st trimester||10 – 44 ng/mL|
|2nd trimester||19.5 – 82.5 ng/mL|
|3rd trimester||65 – 290 ng/mL|
|Estrone (E1)||Prepubescent||Undetectable to 29 pg/mL|
|Puberty||20 – 200 pg/mL|
|Pre-menopause||17 – 200 pg/mL|
|Post-menopause||7 – 40 pg/mL|
|Estradiol (E2)||Prepubescent||Undetectable to 20 pg/mL|
|Puberty||Undetectable to 350 pg/mL|
|Pre-menopause||15 – 350 pg/mL|
The table above sums up normal progesterone and estrogen values for a hormone panel blood test in females. Let’s take a look at normal hormone ranges for males and females.
|Growth hormone||Male||0.4 – 10 ng/mL|
|Female||1 – 14 ng/mL|
|Children||10 –50 ng/mL|
|Thyroid-stimulating hormone||Male||0.4 – 4.59 mIU/L|
|Female||0.4 – 4.68 mIU/L|
|Testosterone||Male||300 – 1000 ng/dL|
|Female||15 – 70 ng/dL|
|Cortisol||Unisex||10 – 20 mcg/dL (6 to 8 a.m)|
|Unisex||3 –10 mcg/dL (at 4 p.m)|
|Luteinizing hormone (LH)||Male||1.8 – 8.6 mIU/mL|
|Female||5 – 25 mIU/mL|
|Postmenopausal female||14.2 – 52.3 mIU/mL|
|FSH||Male||1.5 – 12.4 mIU/mL|
|Female||4.7 – 21.5 mIU/mL|
|Postmenopausal female||25.8 – 134.8 mIU/mL|
|Pregnant females||80 – 400 ng/mL|
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most common hormone tests?
Blood tests are the most common method of hormone testing. They are capable of detecting a wide range of hormone levels including testosterone, progesterone, prolactin, insulin, thyroid hormones, and more.
Saliva, urine, and imaging tests may also be administered depending on your specific symptoms.
How long does it take to get hormone test results?
You can obtain hormone test results within a few days, typically 2-3 business days. It’s best to discuss these findings with your healthcare provider.
Are there any risks or side effects associated with hormone tests?
For the most part, hormone testing is a routine process with minimal side effects. Please inform the doctor if you’re on blood thinners or have experienced issues with your blood being drawn.
Can lifestyle changes help balance hormones?
Yes. Lifestyle changes are an effective tool to cope with hormonal imbalances and manage their symptoms. Your healthcare practitioner may suggest that you;
- Lose weight
- Eat a balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Use stress relief techniques
What should I do if my hormone test results are abnormal?
If your hormone levels lie outside the optimal range, your doctor will advise you on the right treatment plan. Common treatment options include testosterone therapy and estrogen therapy. , hormone replacement medications, hormonal birth control, metformin, and surgery to remove tumors.
Does insurance cover hormone testing?
Not all hormone tests are covered by insurance. Covered hormone tests will vary depending on your insurance provider and policy.
Hormones play an important role in many of your body’s major functions. Therefore, hormonal fluctuations can cause a range of negative effects on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you’re experiencing changes and you suspect that they may be caused by hormonal imbalances it’s time to get hormones checked.
A doctor can help you determine if you have a hormonal imbalance by administering a hormone test. The practitioner will then help you interpret the results and recommend the ideal treatment option depending on your specific condition. This way, you know exactly what is out of order and you can start re-establishing balance to relieve your symptoms.