A pregnancy test determines whether you’re pregnant by detecting levels of pregnancy hormones in your urine or blood. 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.
Medical-grade pregnancy testing is available in several healthcare settings, including hospitals, walk-in clinics, and urgent care centers. However, affordable at-home tests are also available for purchase at most drugstores, pharmacies, and grocery stores. If you need help locating a local healthcare center that provides pregnancy testing, Solv can help you find top-rated providers in your area.
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)n some cases, you can still experience bleeding or spotting in early pregnancy, so you may want to consider taking a pregnancy test if you are sexually active and experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue (feeling tired)
- Your breasts have become tender and swollen
- Nausea (and sometimes vomiting), especially in the morning
- You have the urge to urinate more frequently than usual
- Unusual bloating
- You’ve developed abdominal swelling or unusual, whole-body water retention
The NLM also notes that if you need any type of medical care or medications that could harm a developing baby, you may need to take a pregnancy test to make sure you’re not pregnant.
How to get a pregnancy test
You can get a medical-grade pregnancy test without an appointment in various healthcare settings, including urgent care clinics and walk-in clinics. Your primary care provider or obstetrician-gynecologist can also give you a medical-grade pregnancy test in their office by appointment.
At-home pregnancy tests are available over the counter at most pharmacies, drugstores, and grocery stores. You can also order these tests online through most popular retail websites.
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, notes the NLM.
Urine pregnancy tests
Urine pregnancy tests can be administered at home or in a healthcare setting and can give you 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. If you want to take one of these tests at home, you can purchase them at most retail establishments, and they’re generally very affordable. 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.
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, 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.
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 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.
How to prepare 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.
- 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 you test can dilute the hCG in your urine.
There is no special preparation required for a pregnancy blood test.
Testing positive for pregnancy
If you take an at-home pregnancy test and get a positive result, it is likely you are indeed pregnant, notes the NLM. But it’s always a good idea to follow up with your doctor to make sure your test gave you an accurate result.
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.
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Pregnancy Testing FAQs
How soon can I take a pregnancy test after missing my period?
You can take a pregnancy test as soon as you know your period is late. However, the NLM notes that HCG usually becomes detectable in urine and blood about 10 days after conception, so you should wait at least a week after you miss your period for accurate results.
How soon can I take a pregnancy test after having sex?
If you have a predictable menstrual cycle and know when you ovulate, you should wait to take a test until two weeks after having unprotected sex, notes the NLM. Keep in mind, though, that a test will yield less accurate results if you take it before you miss your period.
When is the best time of day to take a pregnancy test?
You can take a pregnancy test at any time of day, but if you’re in early pregnancy, it’s best to take a test early in the morning before you begin consuming fluids, notes the NLM.
Can any medications affect pregnancy test results?
Yes, but this is a rare occurrence. According to Cleveland Clinic, several medications may affect the accuracy of a pregnancy test, including but not limited to:
- Fertility medications that contain HCG
- Certain medications used to treat schizophrenia
- Progestin-only birth control pills
- Anti-nausea medications
- Anti-anxiety medications
How accurate is a medical-grade urine pregnancy test?
According to the NLM, medical-grade urine pregnancy tests are 99.5% accurate, provided your urine hCG level equals or is greater than 25 milli-international units per milliliter. However, the American Association for Clinical Chemistry notes that some tests become significantly less accurate after the fifth to seventh week of pregnancy.
How accurate is a pregnancy blood test?
Medical-grade pregnancy tests that measure the amount of hCG in your blood are about 99% accurate, according to the NLM. These tests can detect much lower concentrations of hCG than urine tests, so they can yield accurate results even before you miss your period.
How reliable are over-the-counter pregnancy tests?
According to Cleveland Clinic, at-home pregnancy tests are 97% to 99% accurate when you use them according to package directions. However, accuracy can vary from brand to brand since some brands are better able to detect lower urine concentrations of HCG.
Can a pregnancy test give a false-negative result?
Yes, it’s possible to get a negative pregnancy test result when you’re pregnant. According to the NLM, this might happen if you:
- Take the test too early, before your body begins producing a detectable amount of HCG
- Use diluted urine for the test (by drinking fluids)
- Check your results too soon after taking the test
Can a positive pregnancy test be wrong?
Yes, but false-positive results are extremely rare. According to the NLM some common reasons you may get a false-positive include:
- You lost your pregnancy soon after implantation occurred.
- You lost a pregnancy recently.
- You took a pregnancy test shortly after taking a fertility medication that contains HCG.
My test says I’m not pregnant—what should I do?
According to the NLM, if your results come back negative, that means the test did not detect HCG in your urine or blood, so you may or may not be pregnant. If your test was negative, and your period is indeed overdue, you may take another pregnancy test in about a week, or follow-up with your primary care provider.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Pregnancy Test (November 8, 2022)
- Knowing if you are pregnant (February 22, 2021)
- Pregnancy tests (February 22, 2021)
- Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (August 8, 2022)
- False-positive urine pregnancy tests — clinicians as detectives (April 10, 2011)
- Most hospital pregnancy tests found to be unreliable after first few weeks of pregnancy (April 8, 2014)
- Pregnancy Tests (January 26, 2021)
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