What is a pregnancy test?
A pregnancy test can tell whether you are pregnant by checking for a particular hormone in your urine or blood. The hormone is called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). HCG is made in a woman’s placenta after a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. It is normally made only during pregnancy.
A urine pregnancy test can find the HCG hormone about a week after you’ve missed a period. The test can be done in a health care provider’s office or with a home test kit. These tests are basically the same, so many women choose to use a home pregnancy test before calling a provider. When used correctly, home pregnancy tests are 97–99 percent accurate.
A pregnancy blood test is done in a health care provider’s office. It can find smaller amounts of HCG, and can confirm or rule out a pregnancy earlier than a urine test. A blood test can detect pregnancy even before you’ve missed a period. Pregnancy blood tests are about 99 percent accurate. A blood test is often used to confirm the results of a home pregnancy test.
Other names: human chorionic gonadotropin test, HCG test
What is it used for?
A pregnancy test is used to find out whether you are pregnant.
Why do I need a pregnancy test?
You may need this test if you think you are pregnant. Symptoms of pregnancy vary from woman to woman, but the most common sign of early pregnancy is a missed period. Other common signs of pregnancy include:
- Swollen, tender breasts
- Frequent urination
- Nausea and vomiting (also called morning sickness)
- Bloated feeling in the abdomen
What happens during a pregnancy test?
You can get a home pregnancy test kit at the drug store without a prescription. Most are inexpensive and easy to use.
Many home pregnancy tests include a device called a dipstick. Some also include a collection cup. Your home test may include the following steps or similar steps:
- Do the test on your first urination of the morning. The test may be more accurate at this time, because morning urine usually has more HCG.
- Hold the dipstick in your urine stream for 5 to 10 seconds. For kits that include a collection cup, urinate into the cup, and insert the dipstick into the cup for 5 to 10 seconds.
- After a few minutes, the dipstick will show your results. The time to results and the way the results are shown will vary between test kit brands.
- Your dipstick may have a window or other area that shows a plus or minus sign, a single or double line, or the words “pregnant” or “not pregnant.” Your pregnancy test kit will include instructions on how to read your results.
If the results show you are not pregnant, you may want to try again in a few days, as you may have done the test too early. HCG gradually increases during pregnancy.
If your results show you are pregnant, you should make an appointment with your health care provider. Your provider may confirm your results with a physical exam and/or a blood test.
During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This process usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You don’t need any special preparations for a pregnancy test in urine or blood.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is no known risk to having a urine test.
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results means?
Your results will show whether you are pregnant. If you are pregnant, it’s important to see your health care provider as soon as possible. You may be referred to or may already be receiving care from an obstetrician/gynaecologist (OB/GYN) or a midwife. These are providers who specialize in women’s health, prenatal care, and pregnancy. Regular health care visits during pregnancy can help ensure you and your baby stay healthy.
Is there anything else I need to know about a pregnancy test?
A urine pregnancy test shows whether HCG is present. HCG indicates pregnancy. A pregnancy blood test also shows the amount of HCG. If your blood tests show a very low amount of HCG, it could mean you have an ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy that grows outside the uterus. A developing baby can’t survive an ectopic pregnancy. Without treatment, the condition can be life-threatening for a woman.
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- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Health Information: Home Pregnancy Tests: How to Prepare; [updated 2017 Mar 16; cited 2018 Jun 27]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/home-pregnancy-tests/hw227606.html#hw227614
- UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2018. Health Information: Home Pregnancy Tests: Test Overview; [updated 2017 Mar 16; cited 2018 Jun 27]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/home-pregnancy-tests/hw227606.html