HCG - qualitative - urine

Alternative names
Beta-HCG - qualitative - urine

This is a test to detect beta-HCG (a hormone normally produced during pregnancy) in urine.

How the test is performed

A urine sample is obtained. Urinate in the normal manner, but collect a sample in a container. Usually a first-morning sample (the first time the person urinates in the morning) is preferred, because it is the most concentrated.

Home pregnancy tests simply require the test strip to be dipped into the urine or passed through the urine stream while urinating.

How to prepare for the test
No special preparation is needed. The first morning urine sample is often recommended.

How the test will feel
Urinate in the normal manner, but collect a sample (or dip the test strip in the urine stream) as directed.

Why the test is performed

Qualitative urine HCG tests are a common method of determining if a woman is pregnant. A home pregnancy test usually uses this method.

HCG is detectable in the blood or urine 1 to 2 days after implantation of the fertilized egg (10 days after ovulation). HCG increases rapidly in the first trimester, reaching a peak 60 to 80 days after fertilization, then drops off quickly to 10-30% of the peak value for the rest of the pregnancy.

HCG maintains progesterone production by the corpus luteum in the early stages of pregnancy. By the time HCG drops at the beginning of the second trimester, the placenta can make sufficient progesterone to maintain the endometrium (uterine lining). HCG also stimulates the development of fetal gonads and the synthesis of androgens (male hormones) by the fetal testes.

Normal Values

  • The test is negative if you are not pregnant.  
  • The test is positive if you are pregnant.

What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results may indicate:

  • ectopic pregnancy  
  • miscarriage  
  • testicular cancer  
  • trophoblastic tumor

What the risks are
There are essentially no risks (except for “false positive” or “false negative” results).

Special considerations
False positive tests may occur when certain hormones are increased, such as after menopause when taking hormone supplements.

Incorrect (false positive or false negative) results may occur with:

  • blood in the urine  
  • protein in the urine  
  • use of tranquilizer medications (e.g., Compazine, Thorazine)  
  • use of penicillin or methadone  
  • urinary tract infections  
  • hepatitis

A pregnancy test, including home pregnancy test when properly performed, is considered to be about 98% accurate. “Positive” results are more likely to be accurate than “negative” results. When the test is negative but pregnancy is still suspected, the test should be repeated in 1 week.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Dave R. Roger, M.D.

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