Home Pregnancy Tests: When and How

The sooner your pregnancy is confirmed, the sooner you can begin prenatal care

By Barbara Pierce

Think you might be pregnant?

Even when you’re using the best birth control methods, there’s always some chance of getting pregnant.

When in doubt, test!  It’s as easy as taking an over-the-counter pregnancy test at home. Some tests can accurately detect a pregnancy days before a missed period.

HPTs are inexpensive, private and easy to use. Most drugstores sell them over the counter.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, most tests are 99% effective if taken after a missed period. Simply open the test, follow the instructions and view the results.

The tests check your urine for a hormone called hCG. hCG is present only if you’re pregnant. It is released only after a fertilized egg attaches outside the uterus or to your uterine lining. Levels of hCG are low at the beginning of a pregnancy, so the longer you wait to test, the more accurate the result.

With most tests, you place the end of a dipstick in your urine stream or dip it in a container of collected urine. A few minutes later, the dipstick reveals the result.

Your result will be displayed by one of these methods: a plus or minus symbol, (plus if you’re pregnant, minus if you’re not), lines, a change in color, or, for some tests, the words “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant.”

If the line or symbol doesn’t appear, the test isn’t working properly. Try another.

Some tests are more sensitive than others, as the amount of hCG needed to be detected in the urine to produce a positive test result is lower.

Several websites discuss the pros and cons of each brand of test; this is helpful if you’ve never tested before.

Always check the test’s expiration date and read the instructions carefully before beginning.

When should I take a home pregnancy test?

Timing is very important when it comes to getting an accurate result.

If you don’t want to wait until you’ve missed your period, you should wait at least one to two weeks after you had intercourse. If you are pregnant, your body needs time to develop detectable levels of hCG. This typically takes seven to 12 days.

The earlier you take the home pregnancy test, the harder it might be for the test to detect hCG and you could receive an inaccurate result.

Experts recommend you take the test in the morning instead of at night. In the early days of pregnancy, when hCG levels are still building up, your morning urine will have the best chance of having sufficient hCG levels built up for an accurate test.

If you take the test at night and it’s negative, you may want to take another in the morning to confirm that you’re not actually pregnant.

How accurate are home pregnancy tests?

Experts agree that HPTs can be 99% accurate when used correctly.

Washington University School of Medicine online states: “Despite marketing claims that home pregnancy tests are 99% accurate, research over the past decade has shown that up to 5% of them return false negatives. The most common mistake is to test for pregnancy too soon after the missed period.”

The chances of a false-negative are much higher than those of a false-positive. Giving you a positive result when you are not actually pregnant is rare and happens only if you’ve recently been pregnant, are on fertility medications containing hCG, or have a rare medical condition.

Giving you a negative result when you are actually pregnant does happens, very seldom, but it does happen. If you get a negative test but think you might be pregnant, repeat the test one week after your missed period.

For the most accurate results, repeat the test one week after a missed period, first thing in the morning, or ask your health care provider for a blood test.

False negatives also happen if you check the test results too soon, or take the test at night.

Pregnancy signs

Could you be pregnant? Even before you miss a period, you might suspect that you’re pregnant. The most common early signs of pregnancy include:

• Missed period: A week or more beyond the expected start date

• Tender, swollen breasts

• Nausea with or without vomiting

• Increased urination

• Sleepiness

If you miss a period and notice some of the above signs or symptoms, take a HPT or see your health care provider.

If my test is positive?

If your test is positive, make an appointment with your health care provider. The sooner your pregnancy is confirmed, the sooner you can begin prenatal care.

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, with offices in Syracuse, offers pregnancy testing, said Jacquelyn Marrero, an officials with Planned Parenthood. “Our pregnancy tests are urine tests. We draw blood only if it’s medically needed or upon the patient’s request. 

“We offer a wide range of sexual and reproductive health care services including pregnancy testing and options counseling.”