Last updated December 12, 2018.
So, what is hCG levels, exactly? The Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), commonly known as the pregnancy hormone is generally used to determine if you are pregnant (high hCG levels) or how far along your pregnancy is based on the amount of hCG present in the body. hCG is a vital part of your pregnancy but can fluctuate a lot through out your pregnancy (hCG is highest in the first trimester of your pregnancy). It can be fun to track hCG levels as they fluctuate and some abnormal hCG levels could be cause for concern but for the most part hCG can be different for everyone and the best way to track the health of your baby and how far along you are in your pregnancy is by consulting your doctor.
- What is hCG and What Does it Do?
- What are Normal hCG Levels?
- Do You Have hCG Levels When You are Not Pregnant?
- What Level of hCG is Considered Pregnant?
- Can You Estimate hCG Levels with a Home Pregnancy Test?
- Can Your hCG Levels Fluctuate in Early Pregnancy?
- What is the Beta- hCG Test for Pregnancy?
- What is the hCG Diet?
- Should I Worry About My hCG Levels During Pregnancy?
- Key Points About hCG & Pregnancy
What is hCG and What Does it Do?
So what are hCG levels and why is it so important to my pregnancy anyway? First off, it’s important to understand how pregnancy tests work and how they measure hCG levels in the body. When you take a pregnancy test, either by blood or urine, it either measures how much hCG is present or whether hCG is present at all. False positives are pretty rare, so elevated hCG levels are a good bet for pregnancy, with some exception.
As soon as 10 days after conception, a woman will start to produce hCG via the placenta. hCG helps with the secretion of progesterone during the first trimester, which strengthens the uterus with a lining of blood vessels and capillaries able to support a fetus.
hCG levels typically double every 48 to 72 hours, reaching their peak within the first 8-11 weeks of pregnancy and hCG will generally decline after.
What are Normal hCG Levels?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, it can be difficult to attach a number to “normal” when it comes to hCG. When women are not pregnant, however, their hCG levels will be under 5 mIU/mL — anything above 25 mIU/mL hCG is considered positive for pregnancy.
hCG levels can vary pretty widely, otherwise, with some increasing much faster and others tapering off more quickly. However, here are some general hCG readings based on gestation, with how many weeks have passed since your last missed period (LMP).
- Weeks from LMP (Last Missed Period)
- 3 weeks
- 4 weeks
- 5 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 7-8 weeks
- 9-12 weeks
- 13-16 weeks
- 17 to 24 weeks (second trimester)
- 25 weeks to term (third trimester)
- After several days postpartum
- Amount of hCG (in mIU/ml or IU/l)
- 5-50 hCG
- 5-426 hCG
- 19-7,340 hCG
- 1,080-56,500 hCG
- 7,650-229,000 hCG
- 25,700-288,000 hCG
- 3,300-253,000 hCG
- 4,060-165,400 hCG
- 3,640-117,000 hCG
- nonpregnant levels (<5) normal hCG
As mentioned above, elevated hCG levels are a pretty good sign you’re pregnant, but if you are on certain antibiotics or have cancer, your hCG levels also can be out of whack.
See also: Pregnancy Problems: Early Warning Signs
Do You Have hCG Levels When You are Not Pregnant?
Even though hCG is generally thought of as the pregnancy hormone, every woman normally has some hCG floating around in there. Although these levels are typically extremely low (around 5 IU/mL) and shouldn’t give you any trouble on a pregnancy test.
What Level of hCG is Considered Pregnant?
Normally your hCG levels start showing up on a pregnancy test at around 25 IU/mL which is considered significantly higher than the base hCG that all women have.
Can You Estimate hCG Levels with a Home Pregnancy Test?
With a typical home pregnancy test you are unable to see the exact amount of hCG in your body but you may see the line get darker as your hCG levels rise. If you want to get an exact number on your hCG levels you can request a beta- hCG test which is more accurate.
Can Your hCG Levels Fluctuate in Early Pregnancy?
Yes, absolutely. While hCG levels can be an indicator of a healthy pregnancy, low levels do not necessarily indicate an unhealthy pregnancy, and should be rechecked every 48-72 hours. An ultrasound, instead of hCG level, is going to be your best test for determining the development of baby after 5-6 weeks gestation.
However, low hCG levels could mean a couple of things: a miscalculated pregnancy date, an ectopic pregnancy, or a miscarriage. High levels, on the other hand, also can indicate a miscalculated pregnancy date, multiples, or a molar pregnancy. Molar pregnancies are the result of a genetic error during fertilization, are rare, and will rarely develop into an embryo but can be caught quickly with a high hCG level. Abnormal hCG levels also have been associated with preeclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy condition, and pre-term delivery.
If you are bleeding or have a history of miscarriage, your doctor may recheck your hCG levels often. However, some bleeding during the first trimester is common, and you shouldn’t assume the worst based on hCG levels alone. You should, however, contact your doctor right away, as spotting can indicate an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is life-threatening to the mother if not treated immediately.
If you unfortunately do experience a pregnancy loss, your hCG levels will return to non-pregnant levels in about 4-6 weeks.
All that said, hCG levels should never be the sole determinant of the viability of a pregnancy, otherwise your doctor may tell you the wrong news.
What is the Beta- hCG Test for Pregnancy?
Depending on what type of pregnancy test you take, it’ll have a different name and a different way of measuring hCG. The beta- hCG test is one name for a quantitative blood test — how much hCG is in your blood — and is done to confirm pregnancy, determine the age of the fetus, and screen for Down syndrome. It also can diagnose an ectopic pregnancy or early miscarriage.
This hCG test also may be called one of the following in your doctor’s office:
- quantitative serial beta- hCG test
- repeat quantitative beta- hCG test
- quantitative blood pregnancy test
If one of these tests comes back negative for hCG, it usually means you’re not pregnant — unless it was performed too early in the pregnancy before your hCG levels began to rise. The test can be repeated every 48 to 72 hours, as often as hCG levels fluctuate.
What is the hCG Diet?
A bit of a fad — and dangerous one, at that — the hCG diet has nothing to do with pregnancy or what you should do during pregnancy, but you’ve probably heard of it. That’s why we thought it was worth mentioning here.
The hCG diet an extreme weight-loss regimen that’s been around since the 1950s that involves injections of the hCG hormone and a very low-calorie diet of about 500 calories per day. Proponents claim that it helps boost metabolism without leaving you feeling hungry, but it is neither safe nor approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and studies even have found hCG ineffective at curbing hunger.
The average woman gains 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, consuming up to 2,400 calories per day in the third trimester of rich, wholesome foods. Your hCG levels should increase naturally with out needing to boost it.
Should I Worry About My hCG Levels During Pregnancy?
Given how much hCG levels can fluctuate early on in pregnancy, it’s better to stress less and wait for an ultrasound to determine the health of your baby. However, we do know that seeing “good” hCG levels is encouraging. Whatever you can do to remain positive will help both you and your developing baby throughout the wonderful journey of pregnancy.
If you do have any concerns about your hCG, make sure to reach out to your doctor. He or she will best be able to put your mind at ease or at the least, give you more information to help you throughout the course of your pregnancy.
Key Points About hCG & Pregnancy
- hCG levels tell you if you’re pregnant. Pregnancy tests measure how much hCG — the pregnancy hormone — is in your blood or urine. hCG begins producing 10 days after conception, doubling every 48 to 72 hours in the first trimester.
- Normal hCG levels in pregnancy vary, but when women test above 25 mIU/mL, they’re pregnant. hCG levels can reach a height of nearly 300,000 mIU/mL by 9-12 weeks. Low levels do not necessarily mean an unhealthy pregnancy, but hCG levels can be rechecked every 48 to 72 hours.
- Low hCG levels could indicate a miscalculated conception date, ectopic pregnancy, or miscarriage. hCG levels that are very high could also indicate an incorrect pregnancy date, multiples, or a molar pregnancy. Abnormal hCG levels have been associated with pre-term delivery, preeclampsia, and other pregnancy conditions, so it’s best to discuss any concerns with your OB/GYN.