hCG Pregnancy: The Test | Human Chorionic Gonadotropin; hCG Pregnancy Test: Human Chorionic Gonadotropin; Pregnancy Test; Qualitative hCG; Quantitative hCG; Beta hCG; Total hCG; Total beta hCG | Lab Tests Online
Were you looking instead for hCG Tumor Markers, used to help diagnose and monitor therapy for certain cancers? At a Glance Test Sample The Test Common Questions Ask Us Related Pages The Test How is it used? When is it ordered? What does the test result mean? Is there anything else I should know? How is it used?
Qualitative hCG testing detects the presence of hCG and is routinely used to screen for a pregnancy. This test may be performed by a laboratory, at a doctor's office, or at home using a home pregnancy test kit. Methods will vary slightly but for most, a test strip is dipped into a collected cup of urine or exposed to a woman's urine stream. A colored line (or other color change) appears within the time allotted per instructions, usually about 5 minutes. For accurate test results, it is important to carefully follow the test directions. (See the article on Home Testing: Avoiding Errors for more on this.) If the test is negative, it is often repeated several days later. Since hCG rises rapidly, an initial negative test can turn positive within this time period.
Quantitative hCG testing, often called beta hCG (β-hCG), measures the amount of hCG present in the blood. It may be used to confirm a pregnancy. It may also be used, along with a progesterone test, to help diagnose an ectopic pregnancy, to help diagnose and monitor a pregnancy that may be failing, and/or to monitor a woman after a miscarriage.
hCG blood measurements may also be used, along with a few other tests, as part of screening for fetal abnormalities. For more information on this use, see First Trimester Down Syndrome Screen or Second Trimester Maternal Serum Screening.
Occasionally, an hCG test is used to screen for pregnancy if a woman is to undergo a medical treatment, be placed on certain drugs, or have other testing, such as x-rays, that might harm the developing baby. This is usually done to help confirm that the woman is not pregnant. It has become standard practice at most institutions to screen all female patients for pregnancy using a urine or blood hCG test before a medical intervention, such as an operation, that could potentially harm a fetus. ^ Back to top When is it ordered?
For confirming pregnancy, the timing of testing depends on how accurate a woman is about the day she expects her menstrual period as well as the method used for testing. In general, blood tests are more sensitive than urine tests and can be done two days before a woman would expect her period to start. A urine or blood hCG test can be done reliably by 10 days after a missed menstrual period. Even using a urine test, a woman may be able to determine whether she is pregnant the day she misses her period, but the result could be falsely negative. Testing may be repeated at a later date if the first test is negative but pregnancy is still suspected.
Quantitative blood hCG tests may be ordered over several days when a health practitioner wants to identify or rule out an ectopic pregnancy or to monitor a woman after a miscarriage. In these cases, a woman may experience the normal signs and symptoms of pregnancy at first but then may develop others that indicate that the pregnancy is not progressing as expected.
Some signs and symptoms of ectopic pregnancy include: Abnormal vaginal bleeding—because a woman is pregnant, she may not have a regular period but then may have light bleeding or spotting with an ectopic pregnancy Low back pain Pain or cramping in the lower abdomen or on one side of the pelvis
If untreated, signs and symptoms may get worse and may include: Dizziness, weakness Feeling faint or fainting Low blood pressure Pain in the shoulder area Sudden, sharp pain in the pelvic area Fever, flu-like symptoms Vomiting
The area around an ectopic pregnancy may rupture and start to bleed, and, if undiagnosed, can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
An hCG test may be ordered prior to a medical procedure or treatment that might be harmful during pregnancy. ^ Back to top What does the test result mean?
A negative hCG result means that it is unlikely that a woman is pregnant. However, tests performed too early in a pregnancy, before there is a significant hCG level, may give false-negative results. The test may be repeated a few days later if there is a strong possibility of pregnancy.
The blood level of hcG in a woman with an ectopic pregnancy usually rises at a slower rate than normal. Typically, hCG levels double about every two days for the first four weeks of a normal pregnancy, then slow to every 31/2 days by six weeks. Those with failing pregnancies will also frequently have a longer doubling time early on or may even show falling hCG concentrations during the doubling period. hCG concentrations will drop rapidly following a miscarriage. If hCG does not fall to undetectable levels, it may indicate remaining hCG-producing tissue that will need to be removed (dilation and curettage – D C). ^ Back to top Is there anything else I should know?
Blood or protein in the urine may cause false-positive pregnancy results. Urine hCG tests may give a false-negative result if the urine is too diluted or if testing is done too soon in the pregnancy.
Certain drugs such as diuretics and promethazine (an antihistamine) may cause false-negative urine results. Other drugs such as anti-convulsants, anti-parkinson drugs, hypnotics, and tranquilizers may cause false-positive results. The presence of protein in the urine (proteinuria), blood in the urine (hematuria), or excess pituitary gonadotropin may also cause a false positive.
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