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June 27, 2019

Pregnancy Tests: Your Most Common Questions Answered

Taking a pregnancy test is always anxiety producing — whether you are excited or fearful. Either way, it’s important to know what a pregnancy test is measuring and when it may be unreliable.

What does the standard pregnancy test measure?

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The placenta (the organ that gives oxygen and nutrients to the developing baby) produces this hormone following implantation of a fertilized egg within the first few days of pregnancy.[1] The most common type of pregnancy test to detect hCG is the urine test aka “peeing on a stick”. If hCG is present in your body you will receive a positive result, if there is no hCG or low levels of hCG then the test will be negative. It is an ideal marker of pregnancy since it rises rapidly and consistently in early pregnancy and can be detected in urine. [2]

So I need to pee on a stick.

You have two options for testing. One option is by collecting the urine in a cup and dipping the stick in the cup. Another option is to hold the stick under your urine stream and pee directly on the stick. The test should be thoroughly wet and be exposed to urine for at least 5 seconds. Wait the appropriate amount of time before reading the test results. There can be specific directions between brands of pregnancy test so be sure to follow the directions included with your test for maximum reliability.

Pro tip: collect the urine sample first thing in the morning when the hCG concentration is the highest.

Which pregnancy test should I purchase?

Standing in the pregnancy test aisle it is easy to be overwhelmed with a variety of tests ranging in different prices and catchy phrases plastered on the packaging.

Pro tip: It really doesn’t matter which test you purchase as they all work the same way.

Running low on cash? Think about visiting a health center that provides free pregnancy tests such as Planned Parenthood.

When should I take a pregnancy test?

Timing is everything. If you test too early the results won’t be accurate. The rule of thumb is to take the test 1–2 weeks after missing your period.[3] We know it’s hard waiting and you may want to run to the store the day you miss your period, but be patient. According to the FDA, 10 to 20 pregnant women out of every 100 will not detect their pregnancy on the first day of their missed period.[3] This is caused by the fact that many women have irregular periods and it is easy to miscalculate when their period is due.

How accurate are urine pregnancy tests?

Thank goodness they are around 97% accurate when done correctly.[1] But, despite this high statistic, you can get a false negative if the test is taken too early, the test is expired, or the directions are not followed appropriately.

Pro tip: To maximize the test’s accuracy, make sure to double check the expiration date, follow the instructions and remember the correct timing.

Ok, the test is definitely positive: now what?

Whether you are thrilled or experiencing an “oh crap” moment, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor so they can perform a confirmatory test. They will be able to help you understand all of your options.

But, what if I can’t tell if it is positive or negative?

1. Faint Line

A faint line can leave you in a panic. There’s a good chance it’s positive, but every pregnancy and test is different. Some women may see strong lines on their tests or very faint ones. Besides pregnancy, faint lines can be due to medications that increase hCG levels or represent an early miscarriage. Only a doctor can differentiate whether a faint positive result is due to early pregnancy, medication or a chemical pregnancy.[4] After waiting a few days retest yourself and if your results still have a faint line consult your doctor to help you interpret what your pregnancy test means.

2. Evaporation Line

These lines are a slight colorless streak that appears where the positive line would be on a pregnancy test. They appear when a person waits longer than suggested to read the test results.[5] This result does not mean that you are definitely pregnant. If an evaporation line is present, it’s best to take another test to confirm.

Ok, so I tested negative: I’m not pregnant, right?

Nope, you aren’t in the clear yet! If you think you may have taken the test too early or performed the test incorrectly consider taking another test or consulting your doctor to have a confirmatory test performed.

Tired of being the queen of pregnancy tests? Speak with your physician to find a birth control method that works best for you.



  1. https://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/taking-a-pregnancy-test/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25100881
  3. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/home-use-tests/pregnancy
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322633.php
  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322918.php