Pregnancy tests are like the lottery – in one single moment, the result can change your life forever. The only difference is, if you are not ready to have a family, testing negative or losing the lottery can bring you some relief. Some of us are anxious to start a family, while others have had unexpected things happen such as an unprotected sexual encounter. Dealing with buying a test applicator for the first time can be daunting if you have never done this before. Here, we take the unknown out of how to use a pregnancy test, tell you how they work and what the different is between the various products on the market.
Pregnancy tests work based on hormones and contain material that can detect the pregnancy hormone HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) in your urine. This hormone is produced by the body when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterine wall, about a week after fertilization. HCG maintains the pregnancy and causes the embryo to develop properly. Every day of your pregnancy, your body generates a little more of the HCG hormone, with its concentration being highest after two or three months of pregnancy.
Which pregnancy test?
The types of HCG test are:
- Test stick:
A home HCG test in the form of a stick on which you urinate. You can also hold the stick in some urine which you have collected in a cup.
- Test cassette:
A home HCG test with which you have to instil some urine in a test box with a pipette.
The results of HCG tests are easy to read. After the urine is absorbed by the stick or test cassette, one or two lines will appear in the result window within minutes:
- Two lines means you are pregnant;
- One line means you are not pregnant;
- Zero lines means that the test was not performed correctly or that you have used a test that is very old.
There are some HCG tests that reflect the results in text (‘Pregnant’ / ‘Not Pregnant’), and even those that indicate how long you have been pregnant.
When to test?
A common way to test for pregnancy is after the first day that your period is late, as HCG levels in your urine will be high enough to establish pregnancy. If you do not have the patience to wait that long, you can now buy a home HCG test that is more sensitive. This early pregnancy test can already detect the smallest trace of HCG, which enables you to test four days before your period is due.
What is important to realize is that the earlier you test, there less certain it is that your pregnancy will last. In those first days after fertilization, anything can happen and you can lose the embryo.
How reliable are HCG tests?
Pregnancy tests are very reliable, with GPs using exactly the same HCG test strips or cassettes. The reliability is greatest if you follow the instructions in the leaflet. Using an HCG test too early or not holding the stick long enough in your urine can give a false reading, because the HCG test strip cannot detect the pregnancy hormone, giving a negative result when you might in fact be pregnant.
Many brands now offer more than one test per package, meaning that you can wait a few days and take a second HCG test for certainty. If you have any doubts about the outcome or other questions about the HCG test, consult your doctor.