hCG levels in early pregnancy

Known as “the pregnancy hormone,” human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG for short, presents itself in large quantities during pregnancy. Aptly named, detecting this hormone is how many at-home pregnancy tests work! Read on to learn what hCG is and how levels vary in pregnancy, from those early weeks and beyond.

What Is hCG and Does It Mean You Are Pregnant?

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is known as the pregnancy hormone, as your body produces it in large amounts when you’re pregnant.

Although you can have low levels of hCG in your body at any time, the levels of this hormone tend to rise sharply early on in your pregnancy for two reasons:

  1. About 10 days after conception, the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of your uterus and your body starts to make hCG. Over the next week or so, hCG levels will increase.

  2. At about 4 weeks pregnant, the egg—now called an embryo—implants further into the uterus and begins to produce even more hCG, which triggers increased productions of other hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Together, these hormones help build the lining of the uterus and send signals to the ovaries to stop releasing eggs, ultimately stopping your period.

In Summary

Levels of the hCG pregnancy hormone rise quickly once you become pregnant, especially after the fertilized egg attaches to your uterine lining and when the embryo implants into the wall of the uterus. This hormone, along with estrogen and progesterone, work together to build the lining of the uterus and stop your body from releasing more eggs.

 

During these early weeks of pregnancy, you may not show any outward signs of being pregnant and you may not even suspect that you’re pregnant! You may, however, experience implantation bleeding when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus (as described above). This is normal and may resemble spotting or a light period.

When Can Pregnancy Tests Detect hCG Levels?

Home pregnancy tests often work by detecting hCG in your urine. All of these over-the-counter pregnancy tests work a little differently, so check the instructions in or on the box. Keep in mind that hCG levels increase over time, so at-home tests are more accurate as your pregnancy progresses. Therefore, a home-pregnancy test that’s taken too early might not detect low levels of hCG and could produce a false negative, meaning the result is negative when you’re actually pregnant. If you’re wondering when to take an at-home pregnancy test, try one of the following timelines:

  • You might try taking a pregnancy test about three to four weeks after the first day of your last period, as this is when the levels of hCG in your urine will have increased enough to be detectable.

  • You could wait until around the time you miss your next period, which could be the initial clue that you may be pregnant anyway! By then, the levels of hCG are detectable.

A qualitative or quantitative blood test is the most accurate way to detect hCG levels, because more of the pregnancy hormone is present in the blood than in the urine. Plus, blood tests need less of the hCG hormone to detect a pregnancy, as explained below:

  • Blood tests. Pregnancy blood tests can detect hCG hormone levels as low as 5 to 10 mIU/mL.

  • Urine tests. At-home urine tests require higher levels of hCG to detect a pregnancy, typically at least 20 mIU/mL.

If your home pregnancy test is positive, your healthcare provider may offer a blood test to check your hCG levels. The results can help your provider confirm your pregnancy and determine how far along you are.

In Summary

Because at-home pregnancy tests require a higher level of hCG hormone to detect a pregnancy, you may wish to wait until three or four weeks after the first day of your last period to use one. Or, for more accurate results, you can wait until after you noticed you’ve missed your period. To confirm your pregnancy, your healthcare provider can use a blood test.

 

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Creative Pregnancy Announcement Ideas | Pampers

hCG Levels Chart by Week

The week-by-week chart below will give you an idea of how your hCG levels may rise during the first trimester, and then dip slightly during the second trimester. Keep in mind that, if you want your hCG blood test results explained in more detail, your healthcare provider is the best person to ask.

 

Pregnancy weekRange of hCG levels in milli-international units per milliliter (mIU/mL)
3 weeks5–72 mIU/mL
4 weeks 10–708 mIU/mL
5 weeks 217–8,245 mIU/mL
6 weeks 152–32,177 mIU/mL
7 weeks4,059–153,767 mIU/mL
8 weeks31,366–149,094 mIU/mL
9 weeks59,109–135,901 mIU/mL
10 weeks44,186–170,409 mIU/mL
12 weeks27,107–201,165 mIU/mL
14 weeks24,302–93,646 mIU/mL
15 weeks12,540–69,747 mIU/mL
16 weeks8,904–55,332 mIU/mL
17 weeks8,240–51,793 mIU/mL
18 weeks9,649–55,271 mIU/mL

 

If you’ve just found out you’re pregnant, you can get an estimate of your due date with our Due Date Calculator below, using either the date of conception or the date of the first day of your last menstrual period!

What Is a “Normal” hCG Level?

The range of hCG levels in the chart above indicate a “normal” level of the hormone at each point in your pregnancy. However, it’s important to remember that every pregnancy is different, and you may have lower or higher levels of hCG hormone than what’s indicated in our week-by-week chart. Most likely, there’s no cause for concern, but your healthcare provider will help you understand what these levels mean.

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Low Levels of hCG

Low levels of hCG are normal for non-pregnant women and men. Normally, hCG levels would be less than 5 mIU/mL and less than 2 mIU/mL, respectively, for these groups. If you’re pregnant and experience low hCG levels, it’s important to look at your entire pregnancy as a whole. Your healthcare provider will consider all the factors of your pregnancy to determine why you might be experiencing lower-than-normal levels of hCG. If your provider suspects anything like an ectopic pregnancy associated with lower hCG levels, they may perform additional tests to rule it out.

High Levels of hCG

Likewise, high levels of the hCG hormone might not indicate anything out of the ordinary. However, a higher-than-normal level of hCG may be a sign that you’re having twins or triplets! Again, your healthcare provider will work with you to determine an appropriate course of action, if any is needed. Lower- or higher-than-normal levels of the hCG hormone during your pregnancy might not indicate anything unusual. However, it’s always a good idea to follow up with your healthcare provider as a precaution, regardless of any questions or concerns you have. Read more about other pregnancy symptoms not to ignore.

In Summary

Every pregnancy is different, so your hCG levels might not fall into the “normal” range indicated in the week-by-week chart above. Your healthcare provider will look at your pregnancy as a whole and determine why you may have low or high levels of hCG. One example is that high levels of hCG could indicate twins or multiples!

 

FAQS AT A GLANCE

At 5 weeks pregnant, your hCG levels can range from about 217 to 8,245 mIU/mL.

For a non-pregnant woman, normal levels of hCG may be less than 5 mIU/mL.

Yes, your hCG levels can be high if you’re not pregnant due to certain conditions or illnesses. Your healthcare provider will be able to explain why your hCG levels might be higher than expected.

At 4 weeks pregnant, your hCG levels can range from about 10 to 708 mIU/mL.

At 3 weeks pregnant, your hCG levels can range from about 5 to 72 mIU/mL.

At 6 weeks pregnant, your hCG levels can range from about 152 to 32,177 mIU/mL.

At 7 weeks pregnant, your hCG levels can range from about 4,059 to 153,767 mIU/mL.

The Bottom Line

The hCG hormone plays an important role in your pregnancy, and the changing levels of this hormone are just one of many transformations your body will experience as your baby develops. Although hormonal changes can make you feel a little off during your pregnancy, try to take these as reassurance that your baby is growing, and you’re getting closer and closer to the day you finally get to meet them. In the meantime, prepare for your baby’s arrival and get rewards for all your diapers and wipes purchases with the Pampers Club app!

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

  • Book: Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month, Sixth Edition Paperback – January 1, 2016, by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (Author)
  • MedlinePlus: HCG blood test – quantitative
  • Mayo Clinic: Pregnancy week by week
  • MedlinePlus: Hydatidiform mole
  • Women’s health: Pregnancy tests
  • Kids Health: Week 4