Does this test have other names?
Human chorionic gonadotropin hormone test, serum pregnancy test
What is this test?
Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is a type of hormone. Both men and women have small
amounts of HCG in their body at all times. When a woman is pregnant, her body produces
much more HCG than usual. In a healthy pregnancy, the amount of HCG in the blood increases
substantially throughout the first three months. This blood test measures how much
HCG is in your blood.
This test is the gold standard for determining whether you are pregnant. It shows
that you are pregnant before an imaging test, such as an ultrasound, can detect a
fetus. Ultrasound can show you that you are pregnant when HCG rises to 1,000 IU/L
Why do I need this test?
Your healthcare provider might order this test if you have vaginal bleeding or cramping.
This might indicate that you could have an ectopic pregnancy or could lose your unborn
baby. Your healthcare provider might also want to know how your pregnancy is progressing
over a few days, so he or she may order this test two or more times, several days
What other tests might I have along with this test?
Your healthcare provider might also order an ultrasound to screen for certain birth
defects. Your blood may also be checked for two other hormones, estradiol and progesterone.
Your levels of estradiol, a form of estrogen, can show how well the placenta is working.
Progesterone levels also rise during pregnancy and can help your healthcare provider
figure out if you are at risk for miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
What do my test results mean?
Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses
to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you
may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your healthcare
Normal levels of HCG in men and premenopausal women range from 0.02 to 0.8 IU/L. In
early pregnancy, HCG levels can double every few days, peaking by about 10 weeks.
After that, levels can either hold steady or begin to decline. Normal HCG levels during
pregnancy can range from 20,000 to 200,000 IU/L.
Sometimes, measuring change in HCG levels over time can provide useful information.
If HCG levels do not change as expected, it may mean the pregnancy could be lost.
How is this test done?
The test requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your
Does this test pose any risks?
Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection,
bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight
stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore.
What might affect my test results?
This test is quite reliable, but false-positives can be caused by:
Certain tumors that make HCG
Medicines containing HCG, such as those used in fertility treatments
Recent loss of pregnancy; it can take 60 days for HCG levels to return to normal
How do I get ready for this test?
You don't need to prepare for this test. But be sure your healthcare provider knows
about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes
medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.