Wrongly Positive: When a Pregnancy Test Says You're Expecting But You're Not
Most people dread taking pregnancy tests, because they know that if the test says positive, they’re going to have to face one of the most significant moments in their lives—whether or not to keep the baby. However, many women are in for an even more unpleasant surprise when they take a home pregnancy test and find out it’s wrongly positive – meaning that it says you’re pregnant when you’re not really expecting at all.
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A positive pregnancy test indicates that your body is producing HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which, in most cases, means you are pregnant. However, you should wait three to four days after your missed period to take a homepregnancy test—if it turns out that you are not pregnant, using the urine of someone who is pregnant will give you an inaccurate reading.
What in urine makes a pregnancy test positive?
Many pregnancy tests work by looking for beta human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone produced by cells that develop into placentas. In fact, hCG is so vital to pregnancy that it's sometimes called the pregnancy hormone. It’s hCG that’s measured in urine and saliva during pregnancy tests and blood tests at your doctor’s office.
Pregnancy test at home
A positive result on your home pregnancy test doesn’t mean you’re necessarily pregnant. If you suspect you might be expecting, use first-trimester blood tests as well as second- and third-trimester blood tests to check your levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone produced by your placenta during pregnancy.
If you’re not pregnant and take multiple pregnancy tests, your body can develop antibodies to hCG. This can lead to falsely positive results on your test, so speak to your doctor for further clarification. If you have concerns about an at-home pregnancy test and have had a negative result from an at-home pregnancy test after missing periods, make an appointment with your OBGYN or GP. They will perform an ultrasound in order to check for signs of fertility issues, such as fibroids or endometriosis. Your doctor may also want to check hormone levels through blood work if they suspect infertility or another issue is at play.
How long does it take for hCG to show up in urine?
The hormone that shows up in positive pregnancy tests is called human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. hCG isn't produced by your body until implantation (when an egg attaches to a woman's uterine lining). The first dose of hCG is released 10-12 days after conception and will then be present in urine at levels high enough to detect with home pregnancy test kits.
If you test early, right after you miss your period, your hCG levels will be too low to show up on pregnancy tests. For best results, wait two weeks or until day 14 of your cycle (about 14 days from when your period would have begun if it had started on time) and then take a home pregnancy test.
Can a negative pregnancy test turn positive?
While positive pregnancy tests are easy to read, false positives do happen. In fact, for every 10 women who believe they have a positive pregnancy test, only one actually has one. A negative pregnancy test can sometimes turn positive because of contamination from urine samples from other people or from household items that have enzymes similar to those in your urine. Sometimes it’s just because you were too early in your cycle when you took it or tested incorrectly.
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While it’s good to know that you can experience positive pregnancy tests for reasons other than pregnancy, it can be disappointing and anxiety-provoking to get one. The important thing to remember is that a negative pregnancy test does not mean you aren’t pregnant. Most womenwill have positive results on their first visit to their doctor, but some take two or three before they get an accurate reading. It usually takes 10 days from ovulation or implantation of your fertilized egg for hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) levels in your blood to reach detectable levels.
The Importance of Continuing Pregnancy Tests
Although pregnancy tests are usually accurate, it’s important to have regular blood or urine tests done at your doctor’s office. Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy and what kind of test is used, positive home pregnancy results may be due to an irregularity that doesn’t actually mean you’re pregnant.
Sometimes, false positives are caused by an irregularity in your menstrual cycle. For example, it’s possible for ovulation to occur very early in your cycle or outside of your normal pattern, which means you may release eggs before your period even starts. Similarly, if you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), you may have a longer or shorter luteal phase than normal and produce hCG levels higher than expected for your stage of pregnancy.
False positives also can be caused by birth control pills or other fertility medications. The good news is that these types of irregularities often resolve themselves quickly and don’t mean there is any type of medical problem occurring with your body.