Typically blood (venipuncture)
Ages 18+ only; Could vary by provider
Typically 48-72 hours
What you need to know about pregnancy testing
A pregnancy test determines whether you’re pregnant by detecting levels of pregnancy hormones in your urine or bloodstream. This hormone is called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and your body will start producing large amounts of it after a fertilized egg implants itself in your uterine wall.
Who should get a pregnancy test?
You should consider getting a pregnancy test if you think you may be pregnant or if you believe your period may be late. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), in some cases, you can still experience bleeding or spotting in early pregnancy. Because of this, you may want to consider taking a pregnancy test if you are sexually active and experiencing any of the following symptoms, according to the NLM:
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue (feeling tired)
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Nausea (and sometimes vomiting), especially in the morning
- The urge to urinate more frequently than usual
- Unusual bloating
- Abdominal swelling or unusual, whole-body water retention
The NLM also notes that if you need any type of medical testing or medications that could harm a developing baby, you may need to take a pregnancy test to make sure you’re not pregnant.
How does a pregnancy test work?
A pregnancy test works by detecting the presence of the hormone hCG (a hormone that is produced by the cells that form the placenta after a fertilized egg implants in the uterus), present in a woman's urine or blood.
What are the different types of pregnancy testing?
There are two main types of pregnancy tests: urine tests and blood tests. Both types of tests look for elevated levels of hCG, and both are considered highly accurate, according to the American College of Gynecologists (ACOG).
Urine pregnancy tests
A urine pregnancy test can be done at home or in a healthcare setting. It is the most common type of pregnancy test and can yield results in about five minutes. According to the NLM, they’re most accurate when taken at least a week after you miss your menstrual period. However, many at-home pregnancy tests market their “early detection” capabilities. The accuracy of the test results is lower before your missed period.
If you want to take one of these tests at home, you can purchase them at most retail establishments or drug stores. Most urine pregnancy tests will recommend using your first-morning urine, this is because it is usually the most concentrated urine of the day and gives the test the highest chance of detecting hCG.
According to the NLM, most women take an at-home urine pregnancy test before taking a medical-grade urine test with their healthcare provider or getting tested at a walk-in clinic. If you have a negative at-home urine test but still believe you could be pregnant, it is important to follow up with a medical-grade test at a healthcare provider or repeat the home test in 3 to 5 days.
Pregnancy blood tests
According to the NLM, hCG blood tests are capable of detecting very small amounts of hCG—smaller amounts than urine pregnancy tests can detect. Because they’re highly sensitive, blood tests can accurately tell you if you’re pregnant even before you miss your menstrual period.
Pregnancy blood tests are only administered in a health care setting, either at a medical provider’s office or in a lab testing facility. However, these tests aren’t frequently used to check for pregnancy because urine tests are more affordable, less invasive, highly accurate, and provide faster results.
Depending on the healthcare provider and laboratory, you may need to wait a few hours to a few days after giving a blood sample to get your test results.
When should a pregnancy test be done?
The best time to take a pregnancy test depends on the type of test you are using and your individual menstrual cycle. However, in general, it's recommended to wait until after a missed period to take a pregnancy test for the most accurate results.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), here are some guidelines for when to take a pregnancy test based on the type of test:
- Home pregnancy tests: Wait at least one week after a missed period to take a home pregnancy test. Some tests claim to be able to detect pregnancy earlier, but they may not be as accurate.
- Blood pregnancy tests: A blood pregnancy test can detect pregnancy earlier than a home pregnancy test. It can detect hCG in the blood as early as 6-8 days after ovulation. However, a blood test is typically not done unless there is a medical reason for it.
It's important to note that every woman's menstrual cycle is different, so the timing of a missed period may vary. If you are unsure when to take a pregnancy test, or if you have irregular periods, it's best to talk to your healthcare provider.
How soon can a pregnancy test be taken after a missed period?
A home pregnancy test is the most accurate when you wait at least 7 days after your period is due,according to the ACOG. Sometimes, a home pregnancy test can yield an accurate result before then, but the accuracy varies.
Can a pregnancy test be taken before a missed period?
Blood tests are the most accurate if you are testing for pregnancy before your missed period. Some home pregnancy tests claim they can detect pregnancy early—before a missed period, but the accuracy of these test results is much lower.
What is the best time of day to take a pregnancy test?
For a urine pregnancy test, it is recommended to use your first-morning urine,according to the ACOG. This is because it will have the highest concentration of hCG. For a blood test, the time of day does not matter.
What to expect during pregnancy testing
Different types of pregnancy tests will have different processes. Understanding these processes will help you feel less anxious.
Urine pregnancy test
If you plan to take an at-home urine pregnancy test, follow the package directions to ensure you get the most accurate result. Most tests allow you to either urinate directly on the absorbent tip of the test. Some tests recommend that you urinate in a small, clean container and then dip the test strip into your urine sample. After saturating the absorbent tip of the test with urine, you’ll cover the tip with the supplied plastic cap and wait the allotted amount of time for the test result to appear. The wait time will vary depending on the brand of the test but is usually between 3 and 5 minutes. It is important to note that there is a window of accuracy for the test results. Refer to the package directions to know what the window of accuracy is for your specific test. Results that appear outside of the window of accuracy should not be considered correct, notes the NLM.
During a medical-grade urine pregnancy test, your provider will give you a cup to urinate in and direct you to a restroom where you’ll collect your urine sample. After you collect a small amount of urine in the cup, your provider will take your urine sample, perform the pregnancy test, and let you know whether the test is positive or negative.
hCG blood test
To perform a pregnancy blood test, your provider will perform a venipuncture to collect a small blood sample from a vein in your arm. You may feel a small pinch as the needle is inserted. Typically, the blood collection process takes less than five minutes.
After taking the blood sample, your provider will send it to a lab for processing. They’ll let you know whether the pregnancy test was positive or negative within a few hours to a few days.
Preparing for a pregnancy test
If you’re planning to take an at-home urine pregnancy test, the NLM recommends that you:
- Make sure your pregnancy test has not expired before you use it (there should be an expiration date somewhere on the package).
- Avoid drinking large quantities of fluids before taking the test to ensure you test with concentrated urine.
- Use your first-morning urine for the highest concentration of hCG.
- Set a timer for the recommended wait time on the package. You may get an unreliable result if you guess rather than set a timer.
- View results only within the window of accuracy, which is stated in the package directions.
If you’re taking a medical-grade urine pregnancy test and you’re in early pregnancy, the NLM also notes that you should avoid consuming large amounts of fluids before you take a test. Drinking fluids before your test can dilute the hCG in your urine.
For a blood pregnancy test, drinking plenty of fluids before a venipuncture procedure can help make your veins easier to find. However, this is not a requirement for the test.
How to get a pregnancy test
Your primary care provider or obstetrician-gynecologist can also give you a medical-grade pregnancy test in their office by appointment. You can also request a medical-grade pregnancy test without an appointment in various healthcare settings, including urgent care clinics and walk-in clinics. You can make an appointment at your nearest urgent care or walk-in clinic through Solv.
At-home pregnancy tests are available over the counter at most pharmacies, drugstores, and grocery stores. You can also order these tests online through the most popular retail websites.
Reading your pregnancy test result
Getting a positive pregnancy test
If you take an at-home pregnancy test and get a positive result, it is likely you are indeed pregnant. However, it’s always a good idea to follow up with your doctor to confirm the results and to establish prenatal care.
Your doctor may give you a medical-grade urine pregnancy test to confirm your results or administer a blood pregnancy test to determine your exact hCG levels. If your medical pregnancy test comes back positive, they’ll likely also perform an ultrasound to determine how far along you are in your pregnancy. From there, your provider will advise you on the appropriate next steps.
Getting a negative pregnancy test
If you get a negative result on your at-home pregnancy test you are either not pregnant or you tested too early and your hCG levels are not high enough for the home test to detect. If you believe you could be pregnant, you should re-test on another home test in 3 days if you don’t get your period. Alternatively, you could make an appointment with your healthcare provider for a medical-grade pregnancy test.
Can a pregnancy test be wrong?
There are a few reasons why a home pregnancy test could give you an inaccurate result—according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Taking the test too early: The pregnancy hormone, (hCG), may not have reached detectable levels yet. This is especially common for tests that are taken before a missed period.
- Using a faulty or expired test: Pregnancy tests can become less accurate if they are expired or not used correctly. Be sure to check the expiration date and follow the package directions precisely.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as fertility drugs, can increase hCG levels and lead to a false positive result.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as ovarian cysts, can produce hCG and cause a false positive result.
- Evaporation lines: Sometimes, evaporation lines can appear on the test after the recommended time, which can be mistaken for a positive result.
Finding a pregnancy test
You can purchase a home pregnancy test from most drug stores. You can request a medical-grade pregnancy test from an urgent care or walk-in clinic by scheduling through Solv.
Cost of pregnancy tests
Many drug stores will sell home pregnancy tests for between $8 and $20. A medical-grade test cost will vary depending on your location and insurance coverage, as well as whether the test is a urine test or a blood test. This cost ranges between $39 and $139 nationally, according to FindLabTest.com.
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Pregnancy Test FAQs
Find answers to the most commonly asked questions about lab tests.
- Fertility medications that contain hCG
- Certain medications used to treat schizophrenia
- Progestin-only birth control pills
- Anti-nausea medications
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Take the test too early, before your body begins producing a detectable amount of HCG
- Use over-diluted urine for the test (by drinking too much fluid)
- Check your results too soon after taking the test or outside the window of accuracy noted in the package directions.
- Missed period Nausea (especially in the morning)
- Breast tenderness Fatigue Frequent urination
- Mood swings
- Spotting that is not consistent with your normal period flow
This publication is not intended to solicit the purchase of laboratory testing from any individual consumer.
Dr. Rob Rohatsch currently serves as Chief Medical Officer for Solv Health. Dr. Rohatsch brings his extensive background in multi-site ambulatory medicine operations, on-demand healthcare, and consumerism to Solv, where he helps drive strategic initiatives in a cross functional executive role. He brings comprehensive healthcare expertise ranging from medical group operations to revenue cycle management and clinical expertise.
Dr. Rohatsch completed his military service in the US Air Force and earned his MD from Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Rohatsch served on the Yale School of Medicine faculty teaching at the medical school and is currently on faculty at the Haslam School of Business at the University of Tennessee teaching in the Executive MBA Program. He also serves on several boards and chairs The TJ Lobraico Foundation.
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