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Are Home Pregnancy Tests Really That Accurate?

How accurate are home pregnancy tests?

Updated
Let's talk sex
3 min read
A standard home pregnancy test will show two coloured lines in case of pregnancy
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You missed a period, and the next logical thought is getting a home pregnancy test. There are many pregnancy tests available over the counter at a chemist or a pharmacist. These tests are simple enough to use, can be conducted in the secrecy of your home, and give quick clarity to a confusing situation. But how accurate are these tests?

Some of the signs that you are pregnant are a missed period, if you have cramps and your breasts hurt, and if your body feels different. It’s important to pay attention to your body, and if these signs are there, it’s a good idea to take a home pregnancy test. A standard home pregnancy test requires peeing on stick or on a strip. Depending on the test, it could show a positive or negative symbol, or two colored lines might appear, which will indicate whether you are pregnant or not. It’s because that stick or strip detects the level of hCG (Human chorionic gonadotropin) in your urine, a hormone the level of which goes up in case of a pregnancy. So if the hCG levels are increased in your urine, the test will detect and indicate it.

‘I had these strange cramps for a few days and generally felt weird. When I missed my period, I did a pregnancy test at home, and it came out negative. When I still didn’t get my period, a friend suggested that I do the test again, and I did it, but it came negative again, so I thought there is nothing to worry about. My body still felt weird though, so I visited the doctor, who did a blood test. And that came out positive, which was pretty shocking, because after the two negatives, I was sure that couldn’t be it.
Ishita (name changed), an educational consultant from Delhi

But How is a False result Possible?

So can these tests give a false result? Many home pregnancy tests claim a 99% accuracy rate. But these tests are based completely on the measure of hCG in your urine. Around two weeks after conception, the hCG reaches detectable levels, doubling every 2-3 days in the first few days of the pregnancy. The result can be a false negative in case the pregnancy test has low sensitivity and is not able to detect the lower levels of hCG in the urine yet. Additionally, if you test too soon, that can also be a problem: the hCG level in the urine would just not be enough for a home pregnancy test to pick it up.

On the whole, I would say pregnancy tests are pretty accurate. Just around when you are about to have your period or already missed it, the hCG levels in urine are high enough to be detected. But sometimes it can happen that the test is inaccurate in case the urine is diluted, for example, if one drank a lot of fluids before.
Dr. Ranjana Sharma, Obstetrician-Gynecologist at Apollo hospital

Some Ways to Ensure Accuracy of Pregnancy Tests

Using the first urine of the morning helps in making the test more accurate. If the first test is negative, trying again in a few days may have a different result because the hCG level may have gone up. Additionally, while getting a false positive certain drugs, such as tranquilizers, anticonvulsants, hypnotics, and fertility drugs, could cause false-positive results. According to WebMD, you could be getting a false negative in the following scenarios:

  1. The test is past its expiration date.

  2. You took the test the wrong way.

  3. You tested too soon.

  4. Your pee is too diluted because you drank a lot of fluids right before the test.

  5. You’re taking certain medications, such as diuretics or antihistamines.

Our recommendation? Take the pregnancy test at least two times a few days apart, and then go for a blood test if you want to be totally sure. If any symptoms linger, it’s best to get an accurate picture before it’s too late. A period can also be delayed by many other factors such as stress, diet or an imbalance in hormones, but it’s best to know what exactly your body is going through and make an informed decision.

(For long, women's health has been sidelined and put on the back burner, not taken seriously, not researched, not explored, silenced. FIT is launching its 'Her Health' campaign, that will focus on health stories that put women and their health issues front and centre. What would you like us to talk about? Write to us at FIT@thequint.com)

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