Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Saliva Hormone Testing, Pro or Con?

I had my appointment with the so-called hormonal specialist in town this week. The one I have been waiting for, for months. I went to see her in August, with disappointing results, because it was clear the true focus of her practice was elsewhere (as in botox injections and chemical peels, both of which are truly hazardous to your hormones), and I apparently know more about the subject of hormonal imbalances than she does.

But after calling all around town, it was clear that only she and one other doctor were the only ones in town doing this type of hormonal testing at present, and if I wanted to get it done…

Well, I knew it was a mistake the minute I dropped the samples off at the UPS shipping post. The instructions had been so specific about keeping the saliva samples in the freezer and mailing them off THE NEXT MORNING. You could go with UPS or the postal service, but I knew the US mail didn’t go out before three around here anyway, so I opted for UPS. I walk in with my little test kit, and the woman says, “Fine, just leave it on the counter.”

“When do they pick up?” I ask. “Oh, sometime this afternoon.” In the meanwhile, my little kit sits out in the open on the counter of a store that has its front doors wide open to the fall sunshine. How could the samples not be corrupted?

I ask this of the doctor when I see her, and she looks at me like I’ve grown two heads. “I don’t know,” she says. “It’s not a problem.”

Well, I see it as a problem, because my test results turned out to be totally unexpected and off the charts in some areas, and she can’t explain why. She just kept looking at the results, and circling them, and saying nothing more than, “Well, that’s what it is. As you can see, its…high.” She drew in some upward arrows for effect.

It turns out, that according to the test results, instead of a deficiency in my hormones, I have an excess in some areas. This causes a problem for the doctor, because apparently the procedure is, she tells me I am low in this, this, and that, and then tells me I am in luck, as she has just the supplements I need on hand.

Be very wary of any kind of testing that comes complete with (their own) name brand products as the solution to your problems.

Fortunately, however, she was out of the one thing I was deficient in, Vitamin D. I told her that was okay, I’d manage to get some on my own (from a company I know and trust).

In the meantime, I ask the doctor, “How do you get rid of excess hormones?” She looks at me. “I don’t know.”

Well, I know, because I read it somewhere, but I don’t remember where, because it was just something I read and had no idea I’d be needing.

“I’ll call the lab and see what’s going on with these results,” she says. “Why don’t you make an appointment for next week to come back and find out what they said?”

This time I looked at her. “Why don’t you just call me and tell me what they said?”

Meanwhile, I ask her what could possibly cause my hormone levels to be so high. I know the answer. I want to see if she does. After all, I’m the one paying her to tell me what the problem is. She fumbles badly until I give her a clue, then she takes off with it, all the while, asking, “You know what I mean?”

Yes, Doctor. I know what you mean. I also know that you’re winging it here and it shows.

In the end, she decides I need more testing, and bounds out of the room to figure out what test I need. No way am I doing this saliva test thing again, which several doctors in my research books have found to be unreliable. They recommend blood serum tests instead.

I ask her if there aren’t any blood serum tests I can take to get a better picture of what’s going on. “Why?” she asks. “It won’t do any good.”

This is the exact quote I have read over and over again in my books about women seeking help for hormonal issues, being shut down by their doctors who either have been trained to say or truly believe blood hormone tests aren’t reliable.

But how can the home-collected saliva tests be? It’s impossible. At least when you have samples taken at a lab, be they blood, urine, or saliva, they keep them refrigerated, and transport them in refrigerated containers. God only knows where my samples sat during the five days it took to get to the lab. I sent my samples off the 25th. They weren’t tested until the 29th.

A few weeks ago, I went to what was billed as a seminar on saliva hormone testing, being sponsored by a local pharmacy. A compounding pharmacy, one that can create individual prescriptions for women with hormonal imbalances, once the testing kits show where they are deficient. The room was filled with about forty women, all middle-aged. The presentation was completely on target and informative. The information was correct.

But it was a marketing presentation all the same. Go to your doctor, ask for these kits, get your hormones tested, then come back to us for a consult and we will mix up the perfect prescription for you.

Sounds like a dream come true to women who can’t sleep, can’t lose weight, are either bitchy or want to cry all the time or both at the same time, have hot flashes, headaches, backaches, swelling, cramping, bloating, joint pain and are either losing their hair or growing a moustache, just to name a few symptoms. And don’t forget, we’re all exhausted, and not interested in sex.

But they warn you the testing is imperfect, and it may take a few tests to get your prescription right, and you will need to be tested every three months thereafter to make sure the hormones they are giving you are the right ones for you.

They do not mention the cost, nor that it is not covered by insurance, nor that there are only two doctors in town who subscribe to this method of testing, and one of them is a woman who doesn’t know the first thing about interpreting the results. All she knows is how to hand you a kit and say, “Call me for an appointment to get the results.”

This is the same woman who 7 weeks ago, upon speaking with me for 15 minutes, strongly suggested I go on anti-depressants as the solution to my hormonal problems, which I refused, because countless case studies show that doing so only makes the symptoms worse. Hormonal imbalances are so individual, because each woman’s physical make up and life stressors are so different, that prescribing one pill to take care of them is like asking every woman to wear a one-size-fits-all-tent dress.

This time, after seeing the high levels of my hormones, in particular my serotonin level, which is what the SSRI anti-depressant would supposedly boost, she did a complete 180. As I was leaving, I asked her, just to make sure, “Now, you don’t recommend the anti-depressants any more, correct?” And she looked at me. “Well, you’re the one who said you wanted to go natural, right? You can’t do that if you’re on anti-depressants.”

Professionalism at its finest.


Sheryl said...

I think I might just a tad angry--and it would be nothing to do with hormones! :)

Very imformative blog.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Oh man! I feel your frustration. I have been having various health issues too, and some of the reasons came to light when I made a switch to a new General Practioner. They ran a panel of blood tests, and I came up with some unexpected results. Problems are being taken care of, but if I hadn't made the effort to find a doctor I communicated with, I might still be lolling around in lala land.

I know you are good at advocating for yourself. Hang in there. And take that vitamin D!

Celia Yeary said...

LIANA--this is so frustrating to read. but I'm familiar with the "I don't know" syndrome, and a doctor giving samples of some drug AND a prescription for this new, miraculous drug. I, too have a Vit. D deficiency,and since you're much younger, please get that Vit. D--you'll be glad later on. Good luck! Celia

StephB said...

Oh, Liana, that sounds awful - what an unhelpful doctor. It's sad to hear she's one of the only two in town doing business. I'd say saliva hormone testing is a bust. ((hugs)) Sweeties. Can you look elsewhere? Would it be worth it to go a town that might be inconvient? 30-60 miles away?


LK Hunsaker said...

Liana, and they wonder why we get so "moody"! Heck, I couldn't even get a straight answer for my sore throat or racing pulse and shivers. I figured it out on my own, but really, should I have to?

Unbelievable. I often wonder why we waste time with doctors.

Terry Odell said...

My doctors know I come to them AFTER doing my homework, and have always been very helpful. Good luck with your quest. I opted for a compromise when getting my life back was more important than worrying about whether my body would recognize the difference between some of my options. I don't regret it.