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There's nothing more frustrating than waiting month after month for those two pink lines to pop up. Struggling with infertility can be a heartbreaking experience, but in many cases, the solution may be more simple than you realize.
One of the things that can affect your chances of getting pregnant is an imbalance of hormones. Now, you can take matters into your own hands by using an at-home hormone test to find out if your hormone levels are the source of the problem.
Here, experts give you a better understanding of the key hormones that can affect your fertility and explain how to have your levels tested.
Key Hormones That Affect Fertility
While it's true that we have tons of different hormones coursing through our bodies, only a few come into play when we're trying to conceive. Below, we've listed some of the key fertility hormones you'll want to get familiar with if you suspect a hormone imbalance might be affecting your ability to get pregnant. The good news is, a hormone test will give you insight into these important hormones.
FSH is of the most important hormones for fertility, FSH or follicle-stimulating hormone is responsible for maintaining cycle regularity and producing healthy eggs.
LH or luteinizing hormone, may sound familiar; it's the hormone that's measured in at-home ovulation predictor kits (OPKs). LH is the hormone that tells your body to release an egg that's ready to be fertilized.
AMH, also called anti-Mullerian hormone, is responsible for maintaining the immature eggs your body has. If you come across a hormone test that measures your ovarian reserve, or how many eggs you have left, it's measuring AMH.
Progesterone is a key player both in preparing the body for pregnancy and for helping a new pregnancy to continue. Often when a woman suffers repeated miscarriages, plummeting progesterone levels are the culprit.
Prolactin If you're thinking that this hormone is the one that handles milk production, you're correct! But it's also a key player in ensuring your cycle stays regular, which is essential when trying to conceive.
T3 and T4 Many women don't realize this, but these thyroid hormones have a major influence on the ability to get pregnant. In fact, Dr. Elena Villanueva with Modern Holistic Health, says, "The thyroid gland, female reproductive organs, and adrenal glands are intricately connected. If there is an issue with either the thyroid or the adrenals, becoming pregnant can be a challenge. The good news is a hormonal imbalance test for thyroid or adrenal dysfunction can reveal issues that can be easily fixed in most cases. Many women find that when their thyroid is brought back into healthy hormone range they easily become pregnant."
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Causes of a Hormonal Imbalance
First, it's important to know that if your hormones are out of whack, it's not your fault, and you're not doing anything wrong.
"For better or worse, there are very few things we can do lifestyle-wise that negatively (or positively) impact hormone production and balance," says Dr. Emily Jungheim, a board certified reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at the Women & Infants Center in St. Louis, Missouri. "One lifestyle factor that can be important though is obesity. Extreme athletes can also have issues as low body fat can impact a woman's menstrual cycles and ovulation."
Medical conditions affecting the thyroid and adrenal glands can also affect hormones. In fact, the thyroid is so important to sustaining a healthy pregnancy that it's considered one of the biggest causes of hormone imbalance in women. Another is PCOS, which stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. PCOS is a condition that affects between 6% and 12% of women of childbearing age, according to the CDC. It's characterized by irregular cycles, excess male-pattern hair growth, and infertility.
Other causes of hormone imbalance include the following:
Exposure to certain chemicals
Symptoms of a Hormonal Imbalance
If you've been trying to conceive for more than a few months and you're otherwise healthy, it may be time to consider your hormone levels. Below is a list of symptoms that may indicate a hormone imbalance, courtesy of Dr. Villanueva.
Irregular menstrual cycles
Excessive or absent menstrual cycles
Chocolate or dairy cravings
When to Have Your Hormone Levels Checked
If you've realized by now that fertility isn't exactly a one-size-fits-all thing, you're right! Each woman is different, which can make it tough to determine when it's time to take action. But in general, Dr. Jungheim suggests that if you haven't conceived after 6-12 months of trying (it's fine it keep it to only 6 months if you're over 35), your cycles are totally irregular and unpredictable, or if you have symptoms of PCOS or a thyroid condition, it's wise to get checked.
Another scenario where hormone testing totally makes sense? If you're planning to have your eggs frozen for later use. "An AMH level can be helpful in understanding how many oocytes one might expect to get during a banking cycle or during IVF," she says.
Types of Hormone Tests
There are two basic methods: you can have your doctor order the tests and have your blood drawn at a lab, or you can try an at-home hormone testing kit. More and more women are turning to at-home testing solutions as a way to kick-start their fertility journey.
It used to be that in order to get a hormone blood test, couples would first have to endure months of not getting pregnant, then schedule a visit to a reproductive endocrinologist. Now, at-home hormone tests for women are allowing couples to take back control and present their findings to their doctor as a first step in determining whether they're dealing with an easily solvable hormone imbalance or something more serious.
Hormones can be measured in blood, hair, urine or saliva, and each at-home hormone test functions a little differently. There are benefits and drawbacks to each method; while a hormone blood test is the traditional method, saliva hormone testing is becoming a widely accepted way of testing, since it gives a better average over time by collecting several different samples of spit in a single day (gross, we know).
At-Home Hormone Tests
If you decide to try an at-home test, it's a good idea to discuss your findings with your own doctor, especially if anything unusual pops up. Not only will they want to add the information to your medical history, but they may want to perform their own tests to confirm. Due to the nature of their profession, doctors are natural skeptics of any at-home test.
"There are a number of at-home hormone tests. Some are reliable and some are not, but all should be confirmed and interpreted with a medical provider if someone is concerned about an underlying medical condition or if someone is struggling with fertility," says Dr. Jungheim. That's why we recommend using at-home hormone tests in conjunction with your doctor's care rather than in lieu of it.
Here are a few of the top hormone level tests you can buy to measure your hormones in the comfort of your own home:
Proov is an at-home hormone test that uses urine to detect levels of progesterone in the bloodstream. In a typical cycle, progesterone is a hormone that's released immediately after ovulation; it's critical for a healthy pregnancy to occur.
Everlywell hormone test for women measures many of the fertility hormones mentioned above, like estradiol, FSH, AMH and LH with a simple finger prick in the comfort of your home. Results are promptly reviewed by a board-certified physician.
Modern Fertility uses a simple but effective private dashboard to deliver results, this hormone test measures different hormones based on whether and what type of birth control you use. Testing can be performed at home or in a designated lab.