Pregnancy Test
Risks, Costs, Expectations and Why to Get One

Pregnancy Test May Also Be Known as:

  • HCG urine test
  • HCG blood test



3 Reasons You Would Need a Pregnancy Test

1. Determining Pregnancy

A pregnancy test helps you confirm whether you’re pregnant. Many signs and symptoms of pregnancy overlap with other health and medical conditions, but getting a pregnancy test can reveal whether conception is the reason for your symptoms. A missed menstrual period is usually the primary sign of pregnancy, but other causes of a missed period include diabetes, drug abuse, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and oral contraceptives.[1]

Determining whether you’re pregnant is crucial to the health of your unborn baby, as you need to take extra precautions to make sure you and your baby are safe. For example, spending time in environments where you inhale cigarette smoke or toxic fumes is harmful to your fetus, and medications such as opioids carry serious risks for mothers and their unborn children.[2]

Common signs of pregnancy include tender, swollen breasts; nausea and vomiting; fatigue; headaches; increased urination; mood swings; food cravings; and light spotting.[1] If you experience these symptoms regularly, you might be pregnant and can benefit from taking a pregnancy test.

2. Diagnosing Abnormal Health Conditions

A pregnancy test can detect and diagnose abnormal health conditions that raise human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) levels in the blood. Examples of health conditions that raise HCG levels in non-pregnant women include a pituitary HCG, when the pituitary gland produces HCG instead of the placenta, and cancer, as some cancer cells produce HCG.[3] A biochemical pregnancy, also known as a clinical miscarriage, can also be a reason for HCG in the blood.[4]

Other health conditions that trigger a non-pregnant woman’s HCG production include ovarian cysts, kidney disease, urinary tract infections, and gestational trophoblastic diseases that cause tumors in cells that would normally form the placenta during actual pregnancy.[5] A pregnancy test can alert the doctor to the presence of one of these other health conditions, especially when there is a low chance for pregnancy.

3. Monitoring a Baby’s Development

A quantitative pregnancy test can help both the doctor and the mother monitor the baby’s development during the first eight weeks of pregnancy. HCG levels gradually rise and peak during the first trimester, and they can indicate whether the baby is growing at a healthy, normal rate.[6] A pregnancy test does not track the baby’s development after six to seven weeks, as a sonogram is often more effective at monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and development.

Understanding a Pregnancy Test

A pregnancy test determines whether you’re pregnant by measuring levels of a hormone in your body called HCG. HCG is a hormone the body produces throughout pregnancy that shows up in the blood and urine of a pregnant woman as early as 10 days following conception.[7]

Pregnancy tests are available in the form of blood tests and urine tests, and there are two types of pregnancy blood tests. A qualitative blood test detects the presence of HCG in the bloodstream to determine pregnancy, while a quantitative blood test measures the amount of HCG in the bloodstream to confirm whether the progression of the pregnancy is healthy.[7]

A quantitative blood test can monitor the development of a growing fetus during the first two months of pregnancy. A pregnancy test can also diagnose other medical conditions that raise HCG levels to facilitate early detection and treatment.

Risks of a Pregnancy Test

The main risks associated with a urine pregnancy test are receiving a false positive or false negative result. A false negative result poses many risks, as women who receive false negatives might not take precautions to ensure their babies experience healthy development. For instance, a woman who receives a false negative might continue smoking or consume excessive amounts of alcohol, which can harm her fetus. False negative results tend to be more common during the earliest stages of pregnancy, but they can also happen when urine is too diluted for the lab to detect HCG.

A blood pregnancy test can cause slight bruising at the needle insertion site. In rare instances, getting blood drawn can lead to lightheadedness, fainting, excessive bleeding, swollen veins, hematoma, and infection at the needle insertion site.

What to Expect With a Pregnancy Test

A urine pregnancy test requires you to urinate into a cup. The lab at the doctor’s office places a drop of your urine on a chemical strip that detects the presence of HCG. This method usually takes between one to two minutes to produce results, but it can take more than a day, in some cases. A urine pregnancy test only shows positive if the blood has high levels of HCG, and it tends to provide the most accurate results if urine is more concentrated, such as after waking up in the morning.[7]

During a blood pregnancy test, your doctor uses a syringe to draw your blood into a vial. This testing method is more invasive than the urine test and may cause slight pain and discomfort. Results from blood tests normally come back within a few days.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a Pregnancy Test

  • How accurate is the pregnancy test method being used?
  • Should I undergo a blood test or a urine test?
  • How soon will I know if I am pregnant?
  • Will the pregnancy test tell me how far along I am?
  • Can the medications I use affect my test results?
  • Do any underlying medical conditions interfere with test results?
  • Can drinking too much liquid before the pregnancy test affect my results?

Sources

  1. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What are some common signs of pregnancy? https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pregnancy/conditioninfo/signs
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Findings: Use of Pain Medicine During Early Pregnancy May Be Related To Birth Defects. https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/meds/treatingfortwo/features/pain-med-usage.html
  3. National Library of Medicine. Elevated HCG outside of pregnancy--diagnostic considerations and laboratory evaluation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17868485
  4. National Library of Medicine. Biochemical Pregnancy During Assisted Conception: A Little Bit Pregnant. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712881/
  5. National Library of Medicine. Elevated human chorionic gonadotropin levels in patients with chronic kidney disease: Case series and review of literature. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3841510/
  6. National Library of Medicine. Physiological changes in pregnancy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4928162/
  7. National Library of Medicine. Pregnancy test. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003432.htm

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