Whether you’re working on your first pregnancy or already rearing a brood, taking a pregnancy test is usually a tense time. And even if you’re excited about the possibility of adding another member to your family, it’s not uncommon for women to experience some challenge in interpreting the test results.
With so much on the line (literally!), you don’t want to get this wrong. So how to be sure…?
How does a home pregnancy test work?
Long before you’ve even made that nervous trip to the drugstore to pick up a pregnancy test, it helps to know a little about how these devices work. Home pregnancy tests are based upon the level of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine. This is the same hormone that your doctor or healthcare provider tests for in a clinic, but they may test your blood while you’ll only be assessing your urine.
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hCG is released into the bloodstream by the same cells that will develop into the placenta so important in supplying nutrients to your growing baby, removing waste products, and performing other vital functions. HCG can be detected by a pregnancy test as soon as the fertilized egg has implanted the uterus — this can be only 6 days after fertilization has taken place.
Once implantation has occurred, hCG can be detected in both the blood and urine. The concentration of hCG is initially small, but this will rapidly rise in the days that follow. Your home pregnancy test is just as accurate in detecting hCG as your doctor’s blood test and much more convenient. Blood tests can detect pregnancy earlier than a home pregnancy test. But with these tests, it takes longer to get the results than with a home pregnancy test.
How early can you take a home pregnancy test?
In theory, the level of hCG in your urine may become high enough to be detected as early as 5 days before your next period. Although many tests that are currently available claim to be up to 99% accurate on the first day of a missed period, research findings suggest that the reliability of these devices is a little uncertain in the earliest stages of pregnancy.
This means that you should be cautious about the results of a very early pregnancy test, particularly if the result is negative. If you’re anxious about being pregnant and want to feel the reassurance of doing a test, go ahead! But be ready to repeat the test a few days later to confirm the result.
Want to be a little more cautious? Then wait sometime between a few days and a week after your expected period before you do the test. This way you can be confident that higher levels of hCG will lead to a more reliable result and less anxiety for you and your partner.
How do I take the test?
When it comes to the test, there are a few precautions that are worth taking. Before opening the packaging, check the expiration date. And even if it’s still good, you might want to think about getting a replacement anyway if it’s been stored somewhere that’s warm or damp (like the bathroom). These conditions can cause the test to deteriorate in a way that can affect performance and reliability.
It’s best to do the test first thing in the morning when your urine is most concentrated. Read the instructions for your specific test carefully. These products may seem very similar to one another, but they differ in how they are used; for best results, try to follow the enclosed directions as closely as possible. Some devices require you to urinate directly onto a testing stick, while others include a dropper which you’ll use to apply the urine to a special testing well.
Interpreting your pregnancy test
Make sure to read the instructions carefully and completely before you do your test! In the heat of the moment, you may not have the presence of mind to follow all the steps properly and this may affect how efficiently you perform the test and how reliably you interpret the results.
Home pregnancy test vary widely in how the results are represented on the device. In the early days, most tests had a small window in which a blue or pink line was interpreted to read the result. More recently, the lines have been replaced by a plus or minus sign to represent positive and negative results. The newest digital tests simply read ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’, making interpretation very straightforward.
So now you know all about home pregnancy tests, how they work, and how to interpret the results. But what if you’re one of those women whose test results produce a very faint line? How do you interpret such a test and what should you do next?
Put simply, a faint test result can mean that you took the test a little too early for the hCG in your urine to be reliably detected by the testing strip. There’s a high probability that you are pregnant, but you’ll want to repeat your test in a few days’ time — by this time hCG levels will have risen still further and are more likely to be high enough to produce an unambiguously positive test result (if you are indeed pregnant!).
And what if your faint line becomes a negative test result the second time around? In this case, it’s likely that you’ve had a very early miscarriage in the first few days and weeks of pregnancy. Although this can be upsetting for many women, it’s actually a common occurrence and often passes unnoticed.
In such cases, you may find that your next period is heavier than usual but otherwise you have nothing to be concerned about — indeed most women who experience such early-stage miscarriages go on to enjoy successful, full-term pregnancies.