Why Should Women Get a DHEA Blood Test While Trying To Conceive?
If you are trying to conceive, there are several things you can do to support and maintain your ovarian health. One of these steps is testing and supplementing your DHEA levels.
Healthcare providers are beginning to understand the importance of DHEA for female reproductive health. Let’s take a look at the role of DHEA test in the context of women’s reproductive health.
How does age affect eggs?
Women of advanced maternal age (that is, women over 35) have fewer eggs. This is a natural progression over time as women age — having fewer eggs means that your natural fertility potential has decreased.
Women are born with a finite number of oocytes (eggs). At birth, women have one to two million oocytes. At puberty, that number has been reduced to around 300,000.
Over the next three to four decades, many of these eggs are recruited into the maturation process toward ovulation in each menstrual cycle. Most die off, and usually, just one egg is ovulated for a chance of fertilization. Thus, the number of oocytes will decline with each cycle. As the number of eggs diminish, a woman’s fertility also significantly decreases by her mid to late 30s.
Studies have found that women with a healthy ovarian reserve have a sufficient level of testosterone. DHEA is converted in the body into testosterone and this appears to support ovarian health. So, for some women, starting on a DHEA supplement could support the health of the ovaries where the eggs mature toward ovulation. A DHEA test can help you and your doctor determine if a DHEA supplement is right for you.
What Is DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that plays an important role in producing sex hormones. It’s part of the hormone production process that creates estrogen and testosterone. Because of this, healthy DHEA levels may support reproductive health in women.
Our bodies naturally produce this hormone throughout our lifetime. However, DHEA levels peak for women between ages 20 and 24 before gradually decreasing.
While there could be several reasons behind lower DHEA levels, including aging, getting a DHEA blood test is a helpful step toward understanding your reproductive health. (Note: Your doctor will test DHEA-S to gauge your level of DHEA. Below, we explain why.) If your DHEA-S blood test reveals lower hormone levels, a DHEA supplement could support your ovarian health on your way toward parenthood.
What is a DHEA sulfate test?
DHEA-S is a shorthand for DHEA sulfate. A DHEA sulfate test measures the levels of DHEA sulfate (DHEA-S) circulating in your blood. DHEA-S is a form of DHEA that has an extra sulfate molecule attached. When your body sends DHEA to an organ, it travels as DHEA-S in your bloodstream.
You can think of DHE-S as a storage and transportation form of DHEA. It’s more stable than DHEA, so it gives you a better idea of how much DHEA your body has.
This test is, essentially, the best way for your healthcare provider to measure your DHEA levels and determine if you have healthy levels of DHEA for your preconception period. Depending on your results, you might find that you could benefit from a DHEA supplement.
Additionally, if you are already taking a DHEA supplement, a DHEA-S test can tell you if the supplement is working as intended. Like DHEA generated in the body, oral DHEA supplements are converted into DHEA-S in the liver and intestines so that they can start circulating.
How should I prepare for a DHEA-S test?
No special preparation, such as fasting, is needed to undergo the test. If you take any medications or supplements, inform your healthcare provider before you take the test. They will instruct you to stop taking certain medications or supplements if they can interfere with your test results.
What does a DHEA-S test feel like?
This is a blood test. You know the drill: When a healthcare professional inserts the needle into your vein to draw a blood sample, most people feel only a pinch or a sting. Some people might experience moderate pain; however, this will only last for a few moments. You might experience a slight pulsing and lightly bruise where the needle was inserted. But this won’t last long.
As you can see, a DHEA-S blood test is quite standard and should not cause concern or fear.
What do the results of a DHEA-S test mean?
Determining whether or not your levels of DHEA-S are normal depends on your age. It also depends on the normal levels (“reference range”) for the lab that analyzes your blood. Different labs have varying ranges for what’s normal, and your results should come with a reference range for interpretation.
- 30-39 years of age: 31-228 µg/dL
- 40-49 years of age: 18-244 µg/dL
As you can see, the range for “normal” is quite broad. Your healthcare provider will be able to help you interpret your test results and understand how your DHEA hormone levels might correlate with your ovarian function.
Normal levels of DHEA-S indicate that your adrenal glands are functioning and producing a healthy level of the DHEA hormone.
Your doctor may order other blood tests to interpret your DHEA-S levels in context. This includes FSH and AMH (two indicators of ovarian reserve), testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). In fact, Ovaterra’s ovarian health specialists recommend these tests, in addition to the DHEA-S test.
Low DHEAS levels
If your DHEA-S test reveals that you have low levels for your age, there could be several things affecting the production of your DHEA hormone. Since DHEA is primarily produced in the adrenal glands, low hormone levels could suggest a problem with the adrenals. If you are taking a DHEA supplement, low levels may indicate that the supplement may not contain as much DHEA as it shows on the label.
High DHEAS levels
Results that show relatively high hormone levels of DHEA-S mean that your body is overproducing the DHEA hormone. Several different factors could cause this. Your doctor will likely order additional tests to investigate further.
How can I improve my DHEA levels?
If you are trying to conceive and your DHEA-S test reveals low hormone levels for your age, speak with your healthcare provider about trying a DHEA supplement. DHEA supplements are safe for most women for a limited time, and your healthcare provider can help you determine if a supplement is the right next step on your journey.
A DHEA-S test is a standard blood test that can reveal useful information about your hormone levels and your ovarian health. If you are actively trying to conceive, understanding your DHEA hormone levels can provide clues that can help you decide which next steps to take to support your ovarian health.
Speak with your healthcare provider or a reproductive health specialist to find out if a DHEA test is a good idea for you. Please reach out if we can answer any questions around DHEA and your reproductive health. We are with you.
Ovaterra provides reproductive health resources for general, educational purposes only. This content is not intended to replace medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional. Similarly, when making your financial decisions, please consult qualified financial professionals who can make individual recommendations.
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