At Home Hormone Testing For Female Hormonal Imbalance: Read Before You Buy
Posted by Courtney Mayszak, RDN, LDN
Jul 02, 2021
At home hormone testing can be a convenient way to better understand and advocate for your health.
While kits are available both for those with male or female reproductive hormone profiles, this article covers the need-to-know basics of hormone testing for people with female physiology, who may be looking to home tests to rule out imbalances in reproductive hormones, explain menstrual difficulties, or explore curiosities about their hormonal health status.
Read on to learn:
- How accurate home hormone testing kits are
- What kinds of period problems indicate it’s time to have your hormone levels checked
- Which hormones your at-home kit should test for
- What it’s like to use a home hormone testing kit
- How to interpret your results and correct hormone imbalances after testing
Are home hormone testing kits accurate?
Generally yes, but a few key factors can throw off the accuracy of your results.
If you’re testing female reproductive hormones, you’ll need to do your test on a specific day of your cycle—usually Day 3, which will fall around the middle of most people’s menstrual period. (The first day of steady blood flow is considered Day 1 of your cycle.)
Levels of reproductive hormones change throughout your cycle, so baseline standards are different depending on the day of the month. Follow testing directions closely; testing on the wrong day of your cycle will make it hard for the testing company to compare your hormone levels to levels considered “normal” for that day.
Irregular bleeding patterns
Most people rely on their period to determine where they are in their cycle. But when you’re dealing with mid-cycle bleeding such as spotting or ovulation bleeds, it can be hard to determine which blood is your real period. This in turn makes it hard to follow kit directions for testing on a specific day of your cycle.
Ovulation is an alternative marker you can use to determine where you are in your cycle, so one solution can be to use an at-home ovulation test strip in the cycle before you’re planning to use your hormone testing kit. Home ovulation test strips are similar to pregnancy tests in that they’re sticks that you pee on. But instead of revealing if you’re pregnant, they reveal if you’ve ovulated, or released an egg from your ovary. If no egg was fertilized that month, it’s safe to say that bleeding ~14 days after a positive ovulation test is your real period.
If you have irregular bleeding patterns, you may opt to test your hormone levels with your doctor instead, who can use other information about your health to determine where you are in your cycle and more accurately measure your hormone levels.
Coming off the pill
It’s common for people who recently stopped taking hormonal birth control to experience menstrual difficulties, worsened PMS, irregular cycles, and hormonal imbalances. Not surprisingly, these people tend to be very interested in getting their hormone levels checked.
An unfortunate irony: most at home tests require that you be off hormonal birth control for at least 3 months before testing. Results may not be fully accurate until you’re having regular cycles again, which can take many months for some people—sometimes a year or more.
If you’ve recently gone off the pill, you may want to test your hormone levels with your doctor instead, who can use more sophisticated tests and lab work to determine what’s really going on with your hormones.
In the U.S., over-the-counter testing kits are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), but not all kits available on the internet are FDA approved. The FDA warns that using a testing kit not authorized for sale in the U.S. may lead to inaccurate results.
What are some signs that I should get my hormone levels checked?
Hormonal imbalances can manifest in all sorts of ways depending on where you are in your reproductive journey. But for people with a menstrual cycle, signs of imbalances in reproductive hormones often show up as the following period problems:
- Painful periods that require medication and interfere with your normal life.
- PMS-like symptoms that may last all cycle, such as mood changes, bloating, headaches, fatigue, swelling or discomfort in the breasts, acne, low sex drive, anxiety, and weight gain.
- Severe PMS symptoms before and/or during your period.
- Not getting a period, also known as amenorrhea.
- Irregular periods. Cycles lasting between 21 and 40 days are considered “normal”.
- Heavy periods, which are considered bleeding that lasts longer than 7 days per period, or requires that you change your tampon or pad about once every hour.
Which hormones should my home kit test for if I have period problems?
The human body is home to over 50 different types of hormones, but you only need to test for a handful of them to decode imbalances that would lead to menstrual difficulties.
The primary reproductive hormones that drive the menstrual cycle are:
- Estrogen (specifically estradiol)
Other reproductive hormones that influence the menstrual cycle are:
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)
Most home kits for female reproductive hormones test for some or all of the above. The broader the test, the clearer the window into your health. Hormones interact with each other in a complex, chain-like reaction; small changes to one hormone can cause big changes to the next. If you only test for the first hormone in the cascade, you may not get the full picture.
What will it be like to test my hormones at home?
How do the testing kits work?
At-home test kits can measure hormone levels in the blood, saliva, or urine, depending on which testing company you go with.
Test kits come with a sterilized container you’ll use to collect your blood, saliva, or urine, then you’ll mail the container back to the lab. Blood test kits involve pricking your finger to draw out a small amount of blood.
Some tests also require that you avoid eating, drinking, brushing or flossing your teeth, or using certain supplements, medications, or substances like caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco before collecting your sample. Follow testing directions closely for accurate results.
Results can take about 1-2 weeks after mailing in your sample, but again, it depends on the testing company.
How much do testing kits cost?
Most at-home hormone testing kits cost somewhere between $100 and $250 per panel, depending on the company. Home testing kits aren’t typically covered by insurance, but may be eligible for FSA or HSA.
I’ve tested my hormone levels. Now what?
Expect results for each hormone you tested to be clearly labeled as either within or outside of a normal range.
If results are outside a normal range
Show them to your healthcare provider. They can help you create a treatment plan that addresses imbalances in the way that’s best for you. Treatment can involve diet changes, supplements, lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination of each. Note that your doctor may order additional in-office testing to validate your results before beginning treatment.
If results are within a normal range but you’re still not feeling well
Tell your healthcare provider. They may order additional in-office testing to ensure your at-home test was accurate, especially if you have irregular cycles, mid-cycle bleeding, recently stopped taking hormonal birth control, or used an at-home kit that isn’t FDA-approved. Or, having ruled out an imbalance in reproductive hormones, they may test other classes of hormones and/or pursue an alternative diagnosis.
Important: “normal” doesn’t always mean “optimal”
If your healthcare provider dismisses your complaints after reviewing your normal test results, get a second opinion. Just because your hormone levels are within a range that’s typical for most people doesn’t mean they’re ideal for you, or that nothing further can be done to improve your hormonal health.
Learn more about our daily multivitamin for hormonal balance and multi-symptom PMS relief here.
At home hormone testing: the bottom line
Testing your levels of female reproductive hormones at home can be a convenient way to understand your health at a deeper level, and take a more targeted approach to resolving hormonal imbalances and period problems. But in some cases—like if you have irregular cycles, mid-cycle bleeding, or recently stopped taking hormonal birth control—getting your hormone levels tested at your doctor’s office can be a better way to ensure accurate results.
This information is for education purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any condition.