Considering your cervix gets checked once a year during your pap smear, you might be wondering if your hormones should be getting some attention too. While hormone testing isn't generally a part of a regular annual checkup, your doctor might suggest doing a test to examine specific hormones depending on the symptoms or concerns you have voiced. The results of those hormone tests can help doctors understand what's going on within your body and diagnose a specific treatment plan.
Ahead, a look at what might cause a doctor to suggest hormone testing, some of the most common hormones that are assessed, and more.
When Is Hormone Testing Performed?
According to Kelly Kasper, MD, an ob-gyn with Indiana University Health, there is a long list of symptoms that might prompt a doctor to suggest hormone testing for a patient, such as:
Bloating and digestive issues
Decreased sex drive
Irritability and mood swings
Difficulty with memory and lack of concentration
Hot flashes and night sweats
Because there are so many health issues and symptoms that may call for hormone testing, it's especially important to speak to your doctor or a medical professional about any and all of your concerns; they are the most qualified people to decide if these steps are necessary.
Some specific hormone tests don't necessarily require symptoms to be performed. For example, Lucky Sekhon, MD, a fertility specialist and board-certified ob-gyn, said that if you're curious about your egg count - whether you're currently trying to get pregnant or may in the future - a doctor might test for something called Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), which indicates how many eggs may be available for fertilization. In fact, Dr. Sekhon says it's the number one fertility-related hormone that her patients want checked.
What Do Hormone Tests Entail?
When patients come in asking for hormone testing (this is usually when one or more of these symptoms are being experienced), Dr. Kasper said doctors may ask a variety of questions, perform an exam, and conduct other tests to rule out potentially more concerning and serious causes behind the symptoms.
Hormones are usually examined via a blood test, but Dr. Kasper said that urine and saliva tests may also be performed depending on the specific hormone that your doctor wants to check.
What Hormones Are Doctors Looking For?
Dr. Sekhon explained that your doctor may take a targeted approach in hormonal testing, meaning they will test for one specific hormone that's commonly associated with your symptoms rather than testing everything.
She added that your doctor should also fill you in on exactly what is being tested and why. "I think a huge movement in medicine right now is more transparency because people go to the doctor and sometimes get this whopping copay and they're like, 'I don't even know what was tested!'"
If you have an irregular period, your doctor may call for a hormonal panel that tests for multiple hormones that play a part in the menstrual cycle and fertility, such as estrogen, progesterone, FSH, LH, and prolactin.
Dr. Kasper added that the hormones testosterone, thyroid, cortisol, and DHEAS are also commonly checked during hormone testing.
Regardless of what hormones are being tested, Dr. Sekhon believes that any doctor that is sending off a hormone test should be able to then read that test for you and explain what it means for your body. "If they can't interpret what the test results mean, then they should really be sending you to a specialist who can," she said.
What Types of Issues Are Diagnosed From Hormone Tests?
"Many conditions that mimic hormone imbalances are not able to be diagnosed by a simple blood test, therefore, it is best to see our doctor if you have concerns," Dr. Kasper added.