A cortisol saliva test is used to diagnose various disorders and medical problems that are caused by the body’s overproduction of the cortisol hormone. Cortisol levels need to be tested three or four times throughout the day to determine that the levels of the hormones are fluctuating naturally. A cortisol saliva test requires a person to spit into a tube at specified time intervals. Once this step is done, the tubes will be sent to a testing facility or lab for analysis.
Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal gland and is involved in many processes within the body. Known as the stress hormone, cortisol is released in large amounts when a person is under stress, and it also increases blood pressure. Cortisol regulates the body’s blood sugar and glucose levels, and it is involved in metabolizing fats, proteins and carbohydrates. The hormone also suppresses the immune system; this is evident when people become ill after a stressful event.
A person’s cortisol production levels can reveal a large amount of information about underlying biological issues that could be affecting his quality of life. Cortisol levels are naturally highest in the morning and are lowest right around midnight because the hormone production is controlled by a person’s circadian rhythm. It is therefore essential that cortisol levels are tested a few times throughout the day so a physician can evaluate and take into consideration the normal fluctuations. Cortisol levels can also be determined from a blood or urine test, but for many people, it is inconvenient to visit a medical office numerous times throughout the day. The cortisol saliva test can be performed at the patient's convenience because the test simply requires him to spit into different test tubes throughout the day.
Some physicians actually prefer the cortisol saliva test to the blood test because a person’s saliva contains already processed levels of the hormone. Also, many people become stressed because of needles or hospitals, and this stress can cause cortisol levels to increase, resulting in inaccurate test results. It is best to rest and avoid any strenuous activity before testing cortisol levels. Also, the person should make a full list of any medications or supplements he is taking, as certain drugs may affect the results.
A cortisol saliva test will usually be ordered for someone who has symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome or Addison’s disease. Cortisol production may also be a factor for someone with depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, hyperthyroidism, obesity, insomnia or diabetes. Test results will also provide information about the person’s blood sugar level, sex hormone production, pituitary gland and immune system. The test results help diagnose a tumor on the adrenal glands or pituitary as well.