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Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
Ah, the age-old “pregnancy test” internet search. Two words that don’t cross your mind until — HOLY BREAST TENDERNESS! Let’s do a pregnancy test deep dive shall we?
Oh, pregnancy test, what exactly art thou?
Pregnancy tests check your blood or pee for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).
This hormone is released once a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall, usually around 6 days after fertilization. Levels of hCG increase rapidly at the beginning of a pregnancy, doubling every 2 to 3 days.
Generally, you should wait until the week after a missed period to take a test. If waiting is not your jam, try meditating, because you’ll still need to wait 1 to 2 weeks after le sex before your hGC levels are high enough to be detectable by a pregnancy test.
Planned Parenthood recommends waiting 3 weeks after possible conception to make sure you don’t get a false reading.
Luckily, pregnancy tests are pretty affordable (usually under $10) and easy to get ahold of. You can find them at drugstores, pharmacies, grocery stores, health centers, Planned Parenthood Health Centers, your doctor’s office, or Amazon (of course).
Fun fact about hCG…
The rapid-fire change in hormones is actually what causes the majority of pregnancy symptoms.
Signs it’s time to take a pregnancy test include:
- a missed period
- breast swelling/tenderness
- feeling like your body is “off”
- your contraception failed you (like it was Jack’s free ticket onto the Titanic)
Let’s explore these a bit more.
It’s 10 p.m. — do you know where your period is?
If you generally have a regular menstrual cycle but now realize that you’re a few weeks late, it’s probably a good idea to take a pregnancy test. A missed period is often the first sign of pregnancy.
However if you have an irregular period, are under a lot of stress, recently changed your diet or exercise, or have certain medical conditions, then a missed period may just be a missed period.
The girls hurt like a mother (no pun intended)
As a pregnancy progresses, the body produces a boat load (not a medical measurement) of estrogen and progesterone to help the fetus grow. This may cause breasts to grow and become extremely sore as early as 1 to 2 weeks after conception.
On the flip side, breast swelling and tenderness are also common signs of an impending period — the literal opposite of a pregnancy. So if the ladies are feeling tender, don’t jump to any conclusions.
In early pregnancy, after an embryo implants in your uterus, you may experience menstrual-like-cramps. However, (plot twist) if you’re pregnant, your period’s not coming.
As your body adjusts to the new pregnancy hormones, wreaking havoc on your nipples and making you cry at car commercials, remember that it’s normal to not quite feel like yourself.
The following symptoms are totally normal:
- a constant need to pee
- random food aversions
- light spotting
Your hCG levels will usually relax at the end of the first trimester, but you can expect some unpleasantness until then.
Simply put, sometimes birth control and contraception don’t work. Your intentions may have been there, but condoms break and tear, and it can be hard to always remember to take the pill at the same time every day.
According to Planned Parenthood, the pill is 99 percent effective *when taken correctly.* However, taking into account missed and forgotten doses, that number is really more like 91 percent. This means that 9 out of every 100 women on the pill still get pregnant each year.
If this stat freaks you out, talk to your doctor about alternative birth control options. An intrauterine device (IUD), for example, is an almost mistake-proof option — you can’t forget to take it, and it protects you from pregnancy for 3 to 12 years!
Best time of the day to test
The pee-stick is an early riser. Unless you’ve been peeing up a storm all night, your urine will be the most concentrated in the morning, which, if you’re pregnant, will have the highest level of hCG.
How early can you take a pregnancy test?
It takes 7 to 12 days following conception for hCG to be released into the body.
Most pregnancy tests can pick up on hCG within 1 to 2 weeks after contraception. It’s best to wait until a missed period though, in order to make sure you get the most accurate reading possible.
If taken too early, there may not be enough hCG in your body to be detected by a pregnancy test, which could lead to a false-negative result.
There are two types of tests available: urine and blood.
Urine tests can be taken at home or at a doctor’s office/health clinic, while blood tests are always administered by health care professionals.
At-home pregnancy tests (HPT) detect hCG in your urine, which is only present if you’re pregnant.
There’s a chemical in the stick that changes color if it detects hCG, triggering a line or a symbol to appear, depending on the brand, to indicate whether or not you’re pregnant. Wait times for results vary, but it’s usually around 10 minutes.
Most brands recommend testing twice in case you took the first one too soon, when hCG levels might not have been high enough.
When used correctly, home pregnancy tests are about 97 percent accurate.
For the most accurate results:
- Use urine from your first morning pee.
- Don’t drink a lot of fluids before taking the test, as it can dilute the urine.
- Read the directions thoroughly and follow every step.
If taken too early, it is possible to get a false-negative reading. Fertility drugs and other medications can also affect the reading, as can an abnormal pregnancy or a pregnancy test that is past its expiration date.
Clinical urine tests
Clinical urine tests are similar to home pregnancy tests and are just as accurate. The only difference is, having a doctor or nurse on hand might eliminate errors taking the test or reading the results.
Depending on your health insurance, a clinical urine test may cost more than an HPT, and can take up to a week for results.
Blood tests take place in a doctor’s office and require taking a small sample of blood that is then analyzed in a lab.
Blood tests aren’t the most popular testing method because they’re more expensive and take longer to process — possibly up to 2 weeks. Though, some labs may process results in a matter of hours.
The blood test advantage?
They’re slightly more sensitive than a urine test, meaning they can detect pregnancy a little earlier, i.e. 7 – 12 days from possible conception.
Doctors are more likely to suggest a blood test if you’re undergoing fertility treatments or if they suspect any concerns or risks surrounding the pregnancy.
Depending on the brand of pregnancy test you use, results will either be a clear answer, i.e. “pregnant” or “not pregnant,” or it will show up as two lines if you’re pregnant.
For line tests, one line — the control line — will always show up if the test has worked, but a second line will also appear if the test detects hCG.
What does a faint line mean?
Sometimes the lines are bold and very defined. Other times they may be faint, which can be confusing. If you see a positive line, even if it’s faint, you’re most likely pregnant.
The further along you are in your pregnancy, the darker the positive pregnancy line will be. A faint line simply means your hCG levels are low, but still present.
Sometimes the faint line is actually an evaporation line — a devilish line that appears on the stick as the urine evaporates. This line usually appears several minutes after the recommended time for checking results.
If a faint line appears right away, you’re most likely pregnant. The other reasons there may be a faint line include:
- recent pregnancy loss
- fertility treatments
- certain medications
- certain illnesses
Most of the time, a faint line means you’re pregnant. If you have any concerns, call your doctor.
Okay, so you took a pregnancy test (or two, or 15) and the result is positive. You’re most likely pregnant. Again, pregnancy tests are 97 percent effective when used correctly.
Your next steps really depend on what you want to do.
If this is a planned pregnancy, congratulations! Make a doctor’s appointment before the 8-week mark, stop drinking alcohol, and say goodbye to unpasteurized cheese and sushi for a little while.
You’ll also want to discuss if any medications you’re on, and if there are any supplements and lifestyle related changes you should make.
If this wasn’t a planned pregnancy, make an appointment with your doctor ASAP so you can discuss your next steps.
Options to discuss with your doctor include:
- continuing your pregnancy
- going forward with the pregnancy for adoption
- terminating the pregnancy
Know that you’re not alone. Planned Parenthood is a nationwide resource for women’s reproductive health and child care. They and other clinics and health centers are available to help women, whatever their situations may be.
Yes, but it’s rare.
False positives are rare but can occur if:
- You have an ectopic pregnancy, which happens when the fertilized egg doesn’t attach to the uterus, and instead connects to the fallopian tubes or cervix.
- You have a chemical pregnancy, which happens when the pregnancy ends shortly after the embryo attaches to the uterine wall.
- You have ovarian conditions, such as cysts.
- You’re going through menopause.
If your test was negative, but you wanted a baby — keep trying!
Tracking your menstrual cycle is a huge part of pregnancy planning, so if you haven’t already, start tracking your ovulation (the days of the month in which you’re the most fertile).
If you’ve been trying for a baby for a long time, you and your partner should consider taking a fertility test. These tests can help reveal if underlying medical issues are affecting your efforts to conceive.
If fertility is an issue, talk to your doctor about your options; there are many out there.
If your pregnancy test came back negative and you didn’t want to get pregnant, take another test just to make sure. You should have a serious conversation with yourself (and/or your partner) about safe sex.
Wrap that 🍆 up, set a timer to remind you to take your birth control pill every day at the same time, or get an IUD. There are many variations of safe sex, just make sure you’re practicing it.
A false negative might happen if:
- You take the test when your pee is too diluted from food and drink.
- You take the test too early. If you’re very early into a pregnancy, there may not be enough hCG in your body to get detected by a test.
- You didn’t wait long enough for the home pregnancy test results. Go back to your garbage can and double check.
- You’re using certain meds like anticonvulsants or tranquilizers.
Home pregnancy tests are generally very reliable, affordable, and widely available. If you’re worried about false positives or negatives, or any other pregnancy-related issue, talk to your doctor about your options, such as doctor-administered urine and blood tests.
If you think you may be pregnant, your best bet is to wait a week after your missed period, buy a take-home test, and see what the results are.