Modern medicine has led us to believe that, for most medical issues, there’s a single test that will confirm a clear and concise diagnosis. This is about as helpful as a 6-minute doctor visit, and springs from the same limited thinking. Women are especially hurt by this kind of medical approach to hormonal imbalance. That’s because hormone panels and other tests aren’t as helpful as you might wish. But in the hands of a skilled doctor who will take the time to “connect the dots”, the tests can be very meaningful. Here’s a general overview of the basic hormone tests and what they mean to your health and hormonal balance.
When is hormone testing helpful?
By dividing women into three generalized groups it will help you understand who benefits from hormone testing and who may not.
Women with fertility issues. For women in this category, hormone panels are key, both as a diagnostic and a therapeutic tool. So many fertility problems can be traced to irregularities in the menstrual cycle, and your practitioner needs to understand what’s wrong in order to give you the right support.
Women with ordinary symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Women often ask us: is there a test to tell whether I’m in menopause? The short answer is no. You’re menopausal when you haven’t had a period for a year. Hormone tests are not required for this largest group of women. The symptom patterns are very individual, but the first line therapy is mostly the same: build a nutritional foundation, take the right basic supplements to restore balance, and make meaningful lifestyle changes.
Women with severe symptoms of hormonal imbalance. For women with debilitating or intractable symptoms, a hormone panel is essential. When dealing with PCOS, fibroids, diagnosed alopecia (hair loss), and other more severe hormone issues, your practitioner simply can’t treat you without knowing where your hormones are.
Key tests in a hormone panel
When it comes to key tests in a hormone panel, what they measure and what the results mean, levels and ranges will vary from lab to lab. This chart gives you a very general idea of what high or low levels of a particular hormone may indicate.
|Hormone test||What is measured||Interpreting results|
|Estrogen||There are three main types of estrogen measured in our blood: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3). Estrogen levels naturally fluctuate daily, hourly, and even on a minute-to-minute basis.||Estrone typically increases after menopause, while estriol usually only rises with pregnancy. Estradiol (the most commonly measured estrogen) varies throughout the menstrual cycle and drops to a low, steady level after menopause. High estrogen may be connected to fibroids, weight gain, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Low estrogen levels typically occur naturally after menopause, but may also happen with certain genetic disorders, extreme exercise, and anorexia.|
|Progesterone||Progesterone levels in the blood increase after ovulation to prepare the uterus for pregnancy.||Low progesterone is common during perimenopause and menopause. It may also indicate a problem with fertility in younger women. High progesterone may be caused by pregnancy, an adrenal imbalance, and some forms of cancer.|
|Testosterone||Testosterone is naturally produced in women by the ovaries and adrenal glands. It’s released in a pulse-like fashion, and levels vary from hour to hour, minute to minute.||High levels of testosterone could indicate problems with infertility and/or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Testosterone levels gradually decline after menopause. But a drastic decrease in testosterone may happen in conjunction with high stress and high cortisol.|
|DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)||DHEA is a natural steroid and a precursor to your sex hormones.||Low DHEA typically happens when you are under great amounts of stress. Low DHEA can throw off your sex hormone balance and cause depression, fatigue and other symptoms.|
|FSH (follicle stimulating hormone)||LH spikes during ovulation to help release the egg from the ovary.||If FSH is high, it could indicate a problem with the ovaries. Or it may indicate that a woman is in perimenopause or menopause. If FSH is low, it indicates there may be an issue with the pituitary or hypothalamus.|
|LH (Luteinizing hormone)||LH spikes during ovulation to help release the egg from the ovary.||Similar to FSH, if LH is high, it may indicate an issue with the ovaries. If it is low, it may indicate an issue with the pituitary or hypothalamus.|
Use your symptoms as your guide
For more serious cases and symptoms, hormone testing can be very helpful. But for most women who experience the normal, if unpleasant, fluctuations of hormones during perimenopause and menopause, hormone tests are not generally needed — nor will they offer many answers. The best way to measure your hormones during perimenopause and menopause is to evaluate your symptoms. Take our quick hormonal profile to see how your symptoms rate.