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Tests Used to Confirm Pregnancy

Pregnancy tests

Highlights

  1. It’s best to wait at least a week after your missed period to be sure that you get the most accurate pregnancy test results.
  2. Most manufacturers recommend that home pregnancy tests be taken twice.
  3. There are two types of pregnancy blood tests, the qualitative hCG blood test and the quantitative hCG blood test.

You can often tell if you’re pregnant by noticing at least one common symptom. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of pregnancy, you should take a home pregnancy test or visit your doctor to confirm the pregnancy.

You’ll likely get accurate results from a pregnancy test one day after your first missed period. However, it’s best to wait at least a week after your missed period to be sure that you get the most accurate test results.

Home pregnancy tests

A home pregnancy test (HPT) can be used on the first day of your missed period. Some very sensitive tests can be used even earlier.

These tests work by detecting the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine. This hormone is only found in the body during pregnancy. A chemical in the stick changes color when it comes into contact with this hormone. Waiting times will vary depending on the test, but most take about 10 minutes to deliver an accurate reading.

Most manufacturers recommend that HPTs be taken twice, since results may vary if you take a test too soon after your first missed period. In some cases, your hCG levels are too low to catch early on. Applicators vary from brand to brand, but the tests are generally inexpensive.

Pregnancy tests are accurate when they’re used correctly. It's possible to have a false negative, which happens when you’re pregnant but the test says you aren't. If you missed your period and it doesn’t arrive after a few days, repeat the test or check with your doctor.

Clinical urine test

You can get a clinical urine test at your doctor’s office. These tests aren’t necessarily more accurate than an HPT. However, your doctor may be able to help eliminate any possible errors that might affect the accuracy of the test. Depending on your health insurance plan, a clinical urine test may cost more than an HPT.

Results of a clinical urine test can vary depending on the medical facility that you visit. However, you can usually expect your results within a week of taking the test.

Blood test

These tests are taken at your doctor’s office. A laboratory tests your blood to detect hCG.

There are two types of pregnancy blood tests:

  • Qualitative hCG blood test: This test checks to see whether any hCG is being produced in the body. It gives a simple yes or no answer as to whether you’re pregnant.
  • Quantitative hCG blood test: This test measures the specific level of hCG in the blood.

If your hCG level is higher or lower than expected based on how far along you think you are in the pregnancy, your doctor may order further tests. They can include an ultrasound or repeat the hCG test in a couple of days. The most common reason for the hCG level to appear abnormal is being unsure about your dates. This would mean you are either further along in the pregnancy or not as far as you thought.

Quantitative hCG blood tests are very accurate because they measure the exact amount of hCG in the blood. They can detect smaller amounts of the hormone than a qualitative hCG blood test or a urine test.

Blood tests can detect hCG earlier than urine tests. Blood tests are usually more expensive than home tests, and you have to wait longer for your results. Blood test results can take more than a week, and sometimes two, to be delivered.

Early symptoms of pregnancy

Folic acid
If you find that you are pregnant, you should begin taking folic acid supplements immediately. If you are planning on getting pregnant, it’s always wise to start folic acid supplements a year in advance.

An adequate intake of folic acid very early in pregnancy helps reduce the incidence of spinal bifida and other neural tube defects.

Some symptoms of pregnancy are especially noticeable early on, including:

  • a missed period
  • feeling exhausted
  • urinating more than normal
  • sensitive, swollen breasts
  • nausea
  • vomiting

If you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, especially if you’ve recently had unprotected sex.

What’s next if the results are positive

Your next steps depend on two things: whether you're pregnant and whether or not you planned to get pregnant.

If your test results are positive and you’ve been planning to have a baby, take another test (or two) to make sure you’re pregnant. Then, see your doctor before you reach the 8-week mark. You can ask them about prenatal care options or specialists who can help guide you through your pregnancy. Ask your doctor about any changes you need to make to your lifestyle, medications, or diet to keep yourself and your baby healthy for the next nine months.

If your test results are positive but you didn’t plan to get pregnant, ask your doctor about available options, including:

  • ending your pregnancy
  • carrying the pregnancy to term for adoption
  • what to do if you want to continue your pregnancy

You can also receive help from a clinic or health center that specializes in reproductive health and child care, like Planned Parenthood.

Read more: Unplanned pregnancy »

False positive

A false positive can occur for several reasons:

See your doctor if you suspect any of these factors might have given you a false positive.

What’s next if the results are negative

If your test results are negative, but you want to have a baby, keep trying to get pregnant. Also make sure that you begin taking folic acid supplements, if you haven’t already. You won’t always get pregnant from sexual intercourse depending on your menstrual cycle, so use an ovulation calculator or track your cycle on a calendar to decide when the best times are for you to get pregnant.

Learn more: Ovulation: When am I most fertile? »

If you’ve tried to become pregnant multiple times, consider getting a fertility test or asking your partner to get a fertility test. It can reveal whether either of you might have fertility issues that are affecting your ability to get pregnant. If you’re infertile, consider other options for becoming pregnant, such as artificial insemination.

If your test results are negative and you didn’t plan to get pregnant, take a second test to make sure the results are accurate. If you took the test because you were concerned that you might have gotten pregnant after unprotected sex, make sure to use any birth control necessary to prevent any future pregnancy scares.

If your results are negative but you’re still experiencing pregnancy symptoms, such as a missed period, see your doctor to find out if another condition is causing your symptoms. Symptoms such as exhaustion, nausea, and vomiting are common to other conditions. Heavy exercise or excessive stress can cause missed periods as well.

False negative

A false negative can happen for several reasons, including:

If you are using certain medications, such as tranquilizers or anticonvulsants.

If you take the test when your urine is diluted from food and liquid intake. Take the test in the morning when your urine is least diluted.

If you take the test too early after a missed period. Taking the test a few days to a week after your missed period will usually give you the most accurate results.

If you didn’t wait long enough after taking the test. If you’re using an HPT, follow the instructions to make sure you give the test enough time to give you the results.

Takeaway

Home pregnancy tests are generally very accurate and will usually give you sufficient results if you follow their instructions. However,

you should get blood or urine tests to confirm if you think you got a false positive or negative.

Depending on the results, talk to your doctor or your partner about the steps you need to take next. Pregnancy is an exciting time for many women. Learn as much as you can about how to take care of yourself and your health, regardless of your next step.

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