Are at-home hormone tests reliable?

Oct 15, 2023
Key Takeaways
  • At-home hormone tests offer a snapshot, not the full picture. Hormones fluctuate, making results less reliable for overall health assessment.
  • FDA doesn't rigorously approve at-home tests. Results may be confusing, leading to potentially misguided self-treatment.
  • Consult a doctor before relying on at-home tests. Clinical tests offer consistency and validation, ensuring more accurate insights into hormonal health.

If you’re trying to get a handle on common or hard-to-explain symptoms, you’ve likely heard "you might just need to balance your hormones.” Well-meaning health coaches and experts on social media say you have too much of a hormone, too little of another, or some combination of the two.

The messages seem to be that hormone levels are the key to understanding what’s going on with your health. The truth is, despite the convincing nature of these messages, no one knows exactly how your specific endocrine system works and what symptoms it might be causing or not causing. Without access to your personal medical history, even licensed medical providers can’t rule out additional contributing factors of whatever symptoms you might be experiencing. 

Hormone testing can help shed some light on what’s going on with your body; however, there are limits to hormone tests—especially at-home versions—that are important to understand.  

Let’s dive into the current conversation about hormones, and look at the pros and cons around testing so you can tend to your health in a confident and comprehensive way.      

The purpose of hormone tests

A hormone test is a tool used to help diagnose and treat many problems or natural life occurrences, including: menopause, PCOS, diabetes, thyroid issues (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism), Cushing's syndrome, and Addison's disease.

Hormones can be tested at your doctor’s office through a blood draw, which is the most accurate. Hormones can also be assessed through an at-home finger stick or saliva collection. 

Hormone panels are able to collect information on the following hormones: [1]

  • Estradiol: produced by the ovaries, this is the main sex hormone for women. Levels vary throughout the menstrual cycle and decline irregularly throughout the transition to menopause
  • Progesterone: helps control the thickening and shedding of the uterine lining. Levels decline through menopause
  • Luteinizing hormone: produced by the pituitary gland. Levels increase with age and the onset of menopause
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): produced by the pituitary gland. Levels increase as estrogen and progesterone drop before menopause
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH): levels that are too high or too low may indicate a thyroid problem

A doctor will typically use the results from a hormone panel in combination with other information—such as symptoms, medical history, and other labs or tests—to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan, if necessary. 

The limits of hormone tests

Tests can help identify hormone imbalance, but they only provide a small snapshot of what’s going on. Hormones not only vary by day, but they vary by hour, meaning tests can show you what’s going on at the time of the test, but it doesn’t always offer an accurate picture of what’s going on with your overall health.

This can result in unnecessary treatment, treatment that won’t work, or missing out on treatment you need entirely. Since hormones are responsible for nearly every function in the body, it’s easy to give them a lot of weight. In truth, your medical history is extremely important to understand the context of your symptoms and doctors rarely need the results of hormone tests to treat you for irregular periods, acne, hair changes, hot flashes and night sweats, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, or vaginal dryness. Just because these symptoms are present, doesn’t mean your hormones are imbalanced. 

With an uptick in at-home hormone testing options, it’s important to know that the FDA does not require the tests to go through their standard approval process, nor have they been rigorously studied for clinical accuracy. Furthermore, the results can be confusing and hard to understand, especially without the guidance of a doctor. 

Before trying an at-home test

Making lifestyle changes based on the results of at-home testing and online hormone balancing suggestions can be risky, and potentially make symptoms worse. While at-home tests promise a convenient and inexpensive way to discover underlying causes of hard to diagnose symptoms. These tests have a high potential for receiving misleading and uninterpretable results.

If you are struggling with symptoms and think a hormone test is warranted, speak with your doctor about your concerns. Clinic or lab tests offer benefits, such as consistency and validation of the values for most hormones and insurance coverage for the cost.

When to speak with your doctor

Overall, it’s hard to determine if hormone levels alone are the sole cause of symptoms like fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, stomach issues, or mood changes, so before trying an at-home test, consider speaking with a doctor who has expertise in hormones and menopause about your symptoms. If you do opt for an at-home test, share the results with your doctor so they can help you make sense of them, and recommend a course of action. 

Remember not to start or stop any medication or supplements without talking with your doctor first. Everyone’s body responds differently to recommendations around hormone balancing. With more than 50 different hormones in your body, it’s important you and your doctor collaborate on what changes you’re considering and what hormones they might affect.

However you approach hormone testing, whether it’s at-home or in a clinic, these at-home tests aren’t always accurate, and they only shine the light on what’s going on with your hormones at a specific moment in time. It takes a team effort and a lot of listening—you and your doctor—to figure out what’s going on with your health over time. 

Does your insurance cover Visana?

Visana's services are available through certain employers and health plans.

Check eligibility

Related Posts