Lab Testing FAQs > All About Hormonal Imbalance Testing
All About Hormonal Imbalance Testing
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by glands in the endocrine system and play a critical role in regulating bodily functions. Hormones naturally fluctuate as you age, and some hormonal imbalances are to be expected as you transition through various stages of life.
However, hormonal imbalances can also occur at any time and may be indicative of an underlying disease or disorder. Below, learn all about hormones, hormonal imbalances, common endocrine disorders and hormonal testing.
What Are Hormones?
Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They are secreted by a collection of glands (called the endocrine system) into the bloodstream, where they travel to various organs and tissues throughout your body to help them function properly.
Each hormone carries a specific message to target receptors in the body. For example, the pituitary gland releases hGH (human growth hormone), TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and ADH (antidiuretic hormone), which impacts vital organ and muscle function. Other important endocrine glands include:
- Gonads (Ovaries and Testes)
Hormones impact nearly every major system in the body, from growth and development to sleep, mood, stress, metabolism, sex drive, and reproductive processes.
What Is a Hormonal Imbalance?
A hormonal imbalance occurs when the wrong amount of a hormone is produced by the endocrine system. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by either too much or too little of a certain chemical entering the bloodstream. Some life transitions, such as pregnancy and menopause, are associated with hormonal imbalances. Men, women and children can all experience hormonal imbalances at any age.
Depending on which hormone is out of balance, the signs, symptoms and risks can vary. The most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance include:
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration and/or memory
- Weight gain or loss
- Changes in appetite
- Reduced bone density and/or muscle mass
- Sensitivity to temperature changes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced sex drive
- Painful and/or irregular periods
- Dry or oily skin
- Hair loss
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
- Changes in heart rate and/or blood pressure
What Causes a Hormonal Imbalance?
In general, hormonal imbalances are caused by dysfunctions of hormone-producing glands. The exact cause of a hormonal imbalance will depend on which hormone is out of balance. For example, too much or too little thyroid hormone points to thyroid gland dysfunction, whereas an imbalance of insulin and glucagon may indicate a disorder of the pancreas.
Aging, stress, nutritional deficiencies, and certain medications can all contribute to the development of hormonal imbalances. In other cases, major hormonal imbalances can be caused by underlying diseases, genetic disorders or conditions. These are referred to as endocrine disorders.
What Are Endocrine Disorders?
Endocrine disorders are a category of diseases that relate to the endocrine system. They can be caused when a gland produces an improper amount of an endocrine hormone, or by the development of lesions or tumors in the endocrine system. Infection or injury of an endocrine gland can also contribute to the development of endocrine disorders.
Some endocrine disorders are genetic, meaning patients are more likely to develop the disorder if a close family member (especially a parent, sibling or grandparent) has it.
What Are the Most Common Endocrine Disorders?
There are many different types of endocrine disorders. Many of the most common disorders relate to improper functioning of the pancreas, thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands. In the United States, the most common endocrine disorder is diabetes. More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, but nearly one-third are unaware that they have it.
Other endocrine disorders include:
- Addison’s Disease
- Adrenal Insufficiency
- Cushing’s Syndrome
- Graves’ Disease
- Hashimoto’s Disease
- Hypoglycemia / Hyperglycemia
- Hypogonadism (Low Testosterone)
- Hypothyroidism / Hyperthyroidism
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN)
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Because the causes and symptoms of hormonal imbalances are so varied, monitoring your hormone levels using blood tests is the only way to be certain of what is happening in your body. Blood tests can be used to detect an imbalance of hormones in the bloodstream.
Blood tests are commonly used to test the levels of thyroid, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol hormones. Urine tests, saliva tests, and imaging tests may also be used to diagnose endocrine disorders. After your sample is collected, your doctor will send it to a lab for testing.
If you are experiencing persistent and unusual symptoms, your best course of action is to get tested for a hormonal imbalance. Your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist, a type of specialist who can test for, diagnose and treat hormonal imbalances and endocrine disorders.