A woman can often tell she is pregnant by noticing at least one common symptom. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of pregnancy, your first step should be a home pregnancy test, or a visit to your regular doctor who can help you confirm the pregnancy.
Home pregnancy tests (HPT) can be used on the first day of your missed period, and some very sensitive tests can be used even earlier than this.
The tests work by detecting the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine, which is only found in the body during pregnancy. A chemical in the stick changes color when it comes into contact with this hormone. Tests vary in the time it takes to get results, but most studies show that it takes about 10 minutes to get an accurate reading.
Most HPT manufacturers recommend taking the test twice as results can vary if a test is taken too soon after the first missed period—research suggests that, for some women, hCG levels are too low to catch early on. Applicators vary from brand to brand, but the tests are generally inexpensive, and can be performed in the privacy of your own home.
Pregnancy tests are accurate as long as they are used correctly. It's possible to have a false negative, when the test says you aren't pregnant but you are. If you missed your period and it doesn’t arrive after a few days, repeat the test or check with your doctor.
A urine test can also be performed at a doctor’s office. Urine tests given at a doctor’s office are not necessarily any more accurate than an HPT; however, with the help of a professional, you may be able to eliminate any potential errors that could affect the accuracy of the test. A clinical urine test may cost more than an HPT depending on your co-payments.
These tests are taken at a doctor’s office. A laboratory tests a woman's blood to detect the presence of hCG. Blood tests can detect hCG earlier than urine tests. Blood tests tend to be more expensive than home tests, and the results take longer. There are two types of pregnancy blood tests:
- Qualitative hCG Blood Test: This test checks to see if there is any hCG being produced in the body—it gives a simple yes/no answer as to whether or not you are pregnant.
- Quantitative hCG Blood Test: This test measures the specific level of hCG in the blood.
If the level is higher or lower than expected based on how far along you think you are in the pregnancy, your doctor may want to arrange some more testing, such as repeating the hCG test in a couple of days, or an ultrasound. The most common reason for the hCG level to appear abnormal is being wrong on your dates (meaning you are farther along or not as far as you thought in the pregnancy).
Because it measures the exact amount of hCG in the blood, quantitative hCG blood tests are very accurate, and can detect smaller amounts of the hormone than a qualitative hCG blood test or a urine test.