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Frequently Asked Questions About Interpreting hCG Levels in Early Pregnancy

How to Tell What Your hCG Results Mean

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Updated April 15, 2014

In early pregnancy, doctors often use two consecutive blood tests of the pregnancy hormone hCG to find clues about how the pregnancy is progressing. In a woman with miscarriage symptoms, doctors may look at whether or not the hCG level is going up or down in order to make an educated guess about whether or not a woman will miscarry. But early pregnancy hCG levels can be confusing to interpret, and answers to common questions are often different for everyone.

What is hCG?

Pregnant woman with hands on stomach, mid section
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Human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, is a hormone produced in the body during pregnancy -- and checking levels of hCG can give doctors information on how a pregnancy is progressing.

What are quantitative hCG blood tests?

Quantitative hCG blood tests measure the levels of hCG in a woman's blood. When doctors order these tests, they usually order at least two separate blood draws over a period of two to three days.

What are normal levels of hCG by week of pregnancy?

Levels of hCG in the blood can vary heavily, and a wide range of levels can be considered normal in early pregnancy. One hCG measurement usually does not provide much helpful information for women with miscarriage symptoms; you need at least two tests to check whether the level is increasing or decreasing.

Why do doctors check hCG doubling times, and what's considered normal?

In early pregnancy, doctors usually use two consecutive hCG blood tests about two to three days apart to check whether the hCG level is increasing or decreasing. In 85% of normal pregnancies, the hCG level should double every two to three days in the early weeks of pregnancy.

Should I worry about slow-rising hCG levels?

Slow-rising hCG levels can be a sign of pregnancy complications, but not necessarily -- if 85% of normal pregnancies have hCG levels that double every two to three days, that means that 15% of normal pregnancies might have slower doubling times.

Do low hCG levels mean miscarriage?

The answer depends. One low hCG level does not necessarily mean much, especially if the low hCG level was in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Doctors really need two hCG results to determine whether an hCG level indicates miscarriage. The main indicator is whether the hCG level is going up significantly or not.

If my hCG levels are dropping, does that always mean miscarriage?

When hCG levels fall over time during the first trimester, this usually does mean an impending miscarriage.

Can drinking too much water cause low hCG levels?

Your water intake should not affect the concentration of hCG in your blood, but drinking a lot of water could affect the accuracy of urine-based home pregnancy tests in the very early weeks of pregnancy.

Should I worry about high hCG levels?

Many women worry about higher or lower than average hCG levels, but individual levels usually don't mean anything. Having a trend toward higher hCG levels can be normal or can be a sign of complications like molar pregnancy.

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