Pregnancy & Birth

When to Take a Pregnancy Test

There are pregnancy test options at every pharmacy and at your OBGYN’s office. What are the different types of tests, and when should you take them?

Nov. 10, 2022 5   min read

You may be eagerly awaiting a positive pregnancy test or hoping for a negative response. Either way, you want the most accurate results as quickly as possible.

A pregnancy test can let you know if you are pregnant, and many can give you results before a missed period, or within a matter of minutes. These tests are about 99 percent accurate, and help to prepare you for what comes next.

Beth Fjeldheim is a Certified Nurse-Midwife with Rochester Regional Health and describes how these tests work and what to expect.

What is a pregnancy test?

Pregnancy tests check your urine or blood for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is made after a fertilized egg has attached to the wall of your uterus.

Typically, your hCG levels rise about 6-10 days after fertilization and double every 2 to 3 days.

Types of tests

At-home pregnancy tests use your urine to detect hCG. When you’re considering an at-home test, think about what day you’d like to test (early, or after a missed period), and know how you’d like to read the results.

Some test options will clearly say “Pregnant,” or “Not Pregnant,” while others have lines indicating the results, but all at-home tests work in essentially the same way to detect a pregnancy.

Most pregnancy tests claim to be 99 percent accurate, but that accuracy can depend on:

  • Following directions correctly – the most accurate results are ready about 10 minutes after taking a test. Tests read before then may not have enough time to show a positive result, and tests read after then may be read incorrectly due to “evaporation lines”, which are often mistaken for a positive result.
  • The expiration date – the chemicals used to detect hCG do have a shelf life, so taking a test after its expiration date may result in a false negative.
  • The brand of the test - some tests are more sensitive than others. Check with a pharmacist to see which brand may be best for your needs.
  • When you use the test - hCG increases with time, so the earlier in your cycle you take the test, the harder it can be to detect a pregnancy.

OBGYN providers recommend taking a second test in a few days, either at home or at your provider’s office, no matter the results of the first test.

Sometimes your primary care or OBGYN provider will perform a blood test at their office, if needed. Providers will perform blood tests for patients who:

  • have any bleeding after a positive pregnancy test
  • had both positive and negative pregnancy tests at home
  • exhibit signs of an abnormally developing pregnancy, including pregnancy outside of the uterus

These require a small sample of blood that will be analyzed at the hospital or in the provider’s office. Results for a blood test may take a little longer than a urine test.

Time to take a test

If you think you may be pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to take an at-home test around the day you would be expecting your period. If you are tracking ovulation, this is usually about 10-14 days after your ovulation date. Some at-home tests say they can detect pregnancy up to 5 days before a woman’s period, but the accuracy of tests taken earlier than the day of your expected period can vary widely and can often result in false negatives.

Depending on when you’ve ovulated, it may even take several days after your expected period to receive a positive pregnancy test result.

Keep testing every few days until you have a positive test or your period returns. Try to test first thing in the morning when your urine is the most concentrated.

If your test is positive, call your provider to set up a visit.

“If your pregnancy test at your midwife or OBGYN care provider’s office is positive, the education and support work start there,” Fjeldheim said. “We work at that time to organize follow up appointments for an ultrasound, a visit with our nurse educators, and your physical exam. We can also use this visit to address additional needs and align appointments with specialists, nutritionists, and social work.”

Taking the next steps

If your pregnancy test is positive, schedule an appointment with your OBGYN provider. Having a conversation with a health care provider will be helpful.

An OBGYN provider will be able to tell you what to expect with your body in the coming weeks and months, schedule additional appointments, and be a source of support. They will also help you understand your options and point you to any resources you may need.

“When you follow up with a provider at one of our practices, our goal is to support you in making the best choices for you and your family,” Fjeldheim said. “We are educators at our core and will give you all of the available information to make sure that you have the support you need to meet your family planning goals. We are here to care for you.”

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