The short answer would be when doctors prescribe you to get a test. But that’s not the answer you were looking for, is it? Rightfully so.
Testing for hormonal imbalances differs between men and women.
For men, it is pretty straightforward, and the timing isn’t an issue for the most part. For women, however, due to the menstrual cycle (which affects the hormone levels in the body), the timing is imperative when testing for hormonal imbalance. Why? Otherwise, the test results may show a false report of your hormone levels, which may sway the diagnosis and treatment in the wrong direction.
So, when is the best time to test for hormone imbalance in women? Well, before you learn about that, you need to know about the menstrual cycle and how it affects your hormone levels. Later, we shall discuss the ideal time to test for specific hormones within your menstrual cycle.
How Does The Menstrual Cycle Affect Your Hormone Levels?
Hormone levels are not static throughout the menstrual cycle. In fact, it is the change in hormone levels in the body that causes the menstrual cycle to function normally. The change in the levels of the sex hormones in your body, namely, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, estrogen, and progesterone, causes your body to go through the four phases of the menstrual cycle.
Let’s look at the four phases of the menstrual cycle and how the levels of each sex hormone change during the course of the cycle. This will help you learn the ideal time to test for which hormone.
Also, do note that the average/ideal menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. This article uses that ideal cycle example to discuss the phases and their corresponding timing. This may not align with your individual cycle, which may be shorter or longer. So, kindly note that the information presented is in regard to an example menstrual cycle.
To find the timing and phases that correspond to your cycle, you can make the calculations yourself or use menstrual cycle tracking applications.
The Menstrual Bleeding Phase
In this phase, the progesterone and estrogen levels drop, which causes the lining of your uterus to shed. This process starts your menstrual cycle and can take as long as five days to complete.
During this process, the uterus lining sheds and comes out through the vagina as menstrual flow. As the hormone levels drop during the menses phase, the hypothalamus starts the production of Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH), which marks the beginning of the next menstrual cycle.
The follicular phase starts right after the menstrual bleeding phase and lasts, on average, from the 6th day of your cycle till the 14th day. During this period, the production of GnRH causes an increase in the levels of estrogen, which leads to the formation and thickening of the uterus lining again.
Similarly, another hormone level increases during this period, which is the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). It causes the follicles in your ovaries to grow. During the 10-14 day period of your cycle, one of these follicles matures into a mature egg.
Ovulation roughly occurs at around the 14-day mark of your menstrual cycle. Before ovulation, there is a sharp increase in the levels of another hormone known as luteinizing hormone (LH). The increase in the levels of this hormone causes the ovary to release the egg.
The Luteal Phase
This is the final phase of your menstrual cycle and lasts from around the 15th day to the 28th day. During this phase, the egg is released from the ovary and makes its way to the uterus from the fallopian tubes.
The levels of progesterone increase during this phase to prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn’t occur during this phase, the progesterone and estrogen levels drop, commencing the menses phase again.
When is The Best Time to Test for Hormone Imbalance?
The discussion above shows the importance of testing hormones at the right time. Given the natural variations of hormones throughout the cycle, it is important to measure them at specific times. Otherwise, you can give false results which can misinform the practitioner. This can negatively affect your treatment plan.
That said, let’s look at the best time to test for hormone imbalance of different hormones.
Progesterone levels spike during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. So, ideally, to test for progesterone, doctors recommend testing 7 days after ovulation, when progesterone levels are at peak. It corresponds to the mid-luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
In a 28-day cycle, this would mean that progesterone levels should be tested around the 19th to the 22nd day of the cycle. Do note that not every woman has a 28-day cycle. So, you should use the calculation of 5-7 days after ovulation to find out when it’s right for you to test for your progesterone levels.
Though testosterone is commonly associated with men, it is present in women and can be an important indicator of hormonal imbalance. There is no ideal time to test for testosterone in your cycle. The only rule of thumb to follow is that the test should be conducted early in the morning because that’s when testosterone levels are at their highest.
It’s important to clarify that testosterone levels in women are relatively stable throughout the menstrual cycle compared to the fluctuations seen in sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen testing can be conducted in two phases. First, it can be tested around the third day of the cycle, generally in the menses phase. Estrogen levels gradually rise throughout the follicular phase and peak just before ovulation. Another period in the menstrual cycle when estrogen can be tested is around the 19- to 22-day period of a 28-day cycle. This is because it is important to check the estrogen levels in relation to the progesterone levels, which peak during that period.
Understanding the relationship between the levels of estrogen and progesterone can help doctors understand whether the symptoms you are experiencing are caused by estrogen dominance or not.
4. Follicle-Stimulating Hormone
FSH levels are usually tested on or around the third day of the menstrual cycle (early follicular phase) to assess ovarian function and reserve.
5. Luteinizing Hormone
For testing luteinizing hormone, the test should be conducted a few days before your expected ovulation date. This is mainly because the luteinizing hormone spikes around 24 to 36 hours before ovulation. So, testing in that period is the ideal time to test for luteinizing hormone levels.
It is important to understand that the ideal time to test for hormones may differ from person to person. The differentiating factors can be your age, your cycle length, and the reason for the test (underlying issue).
It’s important to emphasize that individual variations, cycle irregularities, and underlying medical conditions can impact the timing of hormone testing. Women should consult with healthcare professionals for personalized guidance on hormone testing based on their specific circumstances.