Pregnancy Symptoms: What to Expect

What Do Those hCG Levels Mean?

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced by the placenta at the moment implantation first takes place. When you buy a home pregnancy test, this is the hormone being measured in your urine. If there is any hCG hormone in your body, then you are very likely pregnant. The hCG is detectable even before you miss your period with the new, highly sensitive tests now available in drug stores. A home pregnancy test does not give you a level of hCG hormone, it will just indicate whether it’s present or not.

A doctor will not routinely measure your hCG levels unless some type of problem is encountered, such as early bleeding or cramping. However, if an early transvaginal ultrasound performed between five and eight weeks’ gestation cannot identify a viable fetus, you will be sent for quantitative hCG testing. This testing involves having your blood drawn three times over three days.

Detectable levels of hCG start at 5 mIU/ml during the first week of gestation. In a healthy pregnancy, blood levels of hCG will double every 36 hours. There is a great variation in hCG levels. The level itself doesn’t matter as much as the rate of change in the level. So if your doctor reports a low number after your first quantitative hCG, do not be discouraged. As long as the number doubles, this would indicate a viable pregnancy. Falling hCG levels always indicate a non-viable pregnancy.

About Dr. Charles Hux:
Dr. Charles Hux attended Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology and a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. He received a master’s degree in genetics from Rutgers University. He maintains a private practice in Sea Girt, NJ and is primarily affiliated with Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, NJ. His articles have appeared in American Journal of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Prenatal Diagnosis, New England Journal of Medicine and Genetics.

For the last eight years, he has been the current resident “multiples doctor” on The Learning Channel’s A Baby Story.

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