Have you ever wondered about your mood changes, sweating in times of intense heat, and not getting frozen into ice during winter? The answer lies in the presence of miraculous substances in our bodies called hormones. Hormones are chemical messenger molecules that are secreted directly into the blood by special tissues called endocrine glands. The blood carries them to other respective parts of the body where they exert their functions.1
So what if you experience hormonal imbalance and suffer from a particular disease or a syndrome? How would the doctor diagnose the underlying problem? That’s where lab tests for hormones come to play their role.
In this article, you’ll get to know about hormonal imbalances, tests performed to know about such imbalances, and the logic behind those tests.
How can a hormonal imbalance present?
A hormonal imbalance occurs when there is too much or too little hormone in the blood. Due to their crucial roles, it is of no surprise that trivial imbalances can cause serious side effects in the body. It is important to have knowledge of the symptoms one experiences during abnormality in hormone levels.
Following are enlisted some of the highly noticeable signs in hormonal imbalance:
- Poor sleep and insomnia: Sleep cycle is regulated by a hormone called melatonin. Its levels rise at night and decline during day time. Any disturbance in its levels causes lack of sleep.2Moreover, declining estrogen levels in females may also contribute to night sweats and disturbing sleep.
- Unexplained weight gain: A variety of hormone-related abnormalities are the culprit of weight gain including under-functioning thyroid gland, increased cortisol levels, and increased insulin.
- Fertility complications: Most of the females entering into puberty experience menstrual issues. The reason lies in the problems in their sexual hormones. In fact, changing hormonal levels are the leading cause of female infertility.3
- Weakness: Hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and, norepinephrine, etc. are responsible for making you active. A decline in their levels can make you sluggish and weak.
- Mood changes: Serotonin is called the peace hormone as it induces a feeling of calmness. Fluctuations of estrogen in females cause disparity in serotonin concentrations within the brain predisposing her to a depressive state.4
Although each hormone presents with a distinguishing complaint, yet the above-mentioned are almost experienced by every person suffering from hormonal imbalance.
When should you go for a hormonal imbalance test?
Not every person will experience the same symptoms but yes, certain signs and symptoms are expressive of an undergoing hormonal imbalance. These symptoms may vary in vehemence and severity. One or all of these may be happening to you:
- Heavy irregular periods
- Prolonged acne
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased palpitations in the chest
- Constantly high temperature without any infection
- Anxiety or depression
- Mood swings5
If you’re having any of these symptoms, immediately consult your doctor and get a hormone test done to help you know what’s going on in your body.
How do hormone tests work?
Levels of hormones can be tested in a variety of ways such as blood, urine, and saliva. Your doctor would decide what method suits you best, depending upon your condition.
- Hormone testing by blood: Tests are done to check levels of some sex hormones and thyroid hormones by sampling blood of the patient and running chemical tests in the laboratory.
- Hormonal testing by urine: Sex hormones, epinephrine, and norepinephrine can be checked by sampling urine of the patient and measuring levels of the metabolites of these hormones.6
- Hormonal tests with saliva as sample: Saliva testing is the gold standard for assessing adrenal function.7
What knowledge can you gain from a hormone test?
Certain key pieces of information can be obtained from a hormone test. For example:
- Thyroid Test: A full thyroid profile would elaborate on the levels of hormones free T3, free T4, TSH, and thyroid antibodies. Free T3 and T4 are seen high in hyperthyroidism (increased activity of thyroid gland) and decreased in hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid activity).8
- Cortisol Test: High cortisol levels are seen in stressed out persons, especially workers with a busy and hectic routine. This test accesses your adrenal gland activity throughout the day.
Common Hormonal Imbalances
- Diabetes Mellitus: It is caused by decreased insulin in the person causing high glucose levels within the blood.9
- Perimenopause: During this time in a woman’s life estrogens levels become erratic as progesterone slowly declines. This can lead to symptoms of hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, weight gain, low libido, and fatigue.
- Menopause: After 12 months cessation of her menstrual cycle a woman is considered to be in menopause. Ovarian production of sex hormones have now decreased significantly which is now the job of the adrenal glands. Symptoms similar to perimenopause can continue during this time, become worse, or dissipate.
The Bottom Line
Hormones play a vital role in maintaining many essential functions of your body. Almost every task being done in the body is done by hormones. If they get abnormal, you’re potentially at risk of many harmful diseases. Thus, it is highly advised to get your hormonal tests done frequently. Moreover, schedule meetings with your doctor so that he or she may help you find and treat any hormonal imbalances.
1. Nussey, S. & Whitehead, S. Principles of endocrinology. (2001).
2. Xie, Z. et al. A review of sleep disorders and melatonin. Neurol. Res. 39, 559–565 (2017).
3. Bhattacharya, S. et al. Female infertility. BMJ clinical evidence vol. 2010 (2010).
4. Wharton, W., E. Gleason, C., Sandra, O., M. Carlsson, C. & Asthana, S. Neurobiological Underpinnings of the Estrogen – Mood Relationship. Curr. Psychiatry Rev. 8, 247–256 (2012).
5. Info on getting your hormones tested. https://moodymonth.com/articles/everything-you-need-to-know-about-hormone-testing.
6. Hinz, M., Stein, A. & Uncini, T. Urinary neurotransmitter testing: Considerations of spot baseline norepinephrine and epinephrine. Open Access J. Urol. 3, 19–24 (2011).
7. Langelaan, M. L. P., Kisters, J. M. H., Oosterwerff, M. M. & Boer, A. K. Salivary cortisol in the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency: Cost efficient and patient friendly. Endocr. Connect. 7, 560–566 (2018).
8. Sheehan, M. T. Biochemical testing of the thyroid: TSH is the best and, oftentimes, only test needed – A review for primary care. Clinical Medicine and Research vol. 14 83–92 (2016).
9. Association, A. D. Diagnosis and classification of diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Care vol. 33 S62 (2010).