24 Mar HCG levels – 10 things you need to know
HCG levels – let’s face it, they’re hard to understand. You know the basics: HCG is the pregnancy hormone. You may have done a home pregnancy test (HPT) and got a positive result. Then an HCG blood test. If the hormone’s pulsing through your body, those tests will confirm the good news.
Then the confusion starts. Are your HCG levels rising properly? Does a high score mean twins? A low score, disaster? Forget dodgy online calculators and vague explanations from friends. Here are the 10 key things you should know about your HCG levels.
1. You’re pregnant – it’s in the blood.
HCG is short for human chorionic gonadotropin. It’s produced by your placenta after conception. Most HPTs will pick up an HCG reading 11 or 12 days after the embryo enters the uterus. But a blood test can detect it earlier.
2. Double or quits?
A normal HCG level will roughly double every 48 to 72 hours, up to 6,000 mIU/ml. Roughly. Don’t obsess. It’s not an exact science. (Read more on ‘normal’ reference levels here.)
3. Look for rising numbers, not low ones.
A low initial HCG level doesn’t mean it’s all over. Fertility patients, in the unique position of knowing exactly when conception occurred, are the main worriers. They test early, so a low score is likely. But what matters is how HCG levels rise. 85 per cent of viable pregnancies double as they should.
4. Plan your scan.
The best way to check on your pregnancy is to have an ultrasound scan. By 6.5 weeks, your HCG levels should be at least 2,000 mIU/ml – and probably higher. That’s when you can see, and hear, a fetal heartbeat in the scanning room. Reading too much into HCG scores is a slippery slope. Have that scan.
5. Low or high? It may not matter.
Talking about ‘low’ and ‘high’ scores is, as mentioned, pretty meaningless. But, very generally, very low scores might suggest a blighted ovum, ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. And very high numbers may indicate a molar pregnancy or, more likely, multiples. Don’t panic: those are worst-case scenarios. Most pregnancies don’t go there. Scan, scan, scan.
6. Watch that trigger.
If you’ve had IVF treatment with your own eggs, don’t test early. The synthetic HCG in your trigger shot (e.g. Ovitrelle and Pregnyl), used to induce ovulation, can stay in your blood for days. You may get a false positive. Not good.
Fertility patients are sometimes given double HCG shots. These can give even stronger false positives. As can being on the HCG diet. (By the way, the HCG diet is unproven nonsense.)
7. Fast numbers are best.
Even if your HCG levels rise quite slowly, by 50 or 60 per cent in the first few days, things may be okay. Anything less is a concern. Put it this way: if your HCG scores are roaring ahead, into four and five figures, there’s reason to be particularly optimistic.
8. HCG calculator? Tread carefully.
Avoid online HCG calculators. Most are inaccurate. None give you the personal care and attention a doctor can. Some just do a doubling calculation, regardless of where you are in your early pregnancy. Pointless. HCG levels can naturally slow down. Multiple pregnancies, and fertility treatment, can make HCG interpretation harder. Does that HCG calculator you found on Google take all this into account? Probably not.
9. Beware ectopics.
HCG levels can highlight an ectopic pregnancy. Act fast if your scores suggest you have one. 1 in 100 pregnancies are ectopic. If you’ve had fertility treatment, it’s higher. If your HCG levels are going down, your pregnancy has ended, or may be coming to an end. It could also mean a self-resolving ectopic. If your HCG increases by less than 66 per cent every 48 hours, an ectopic is possible, but by no means definite. Some ectopics show normal HCG levels to begin with, then tail off.
10. Normal means nothing.
Remember the golden rule. There’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ HCG score. Just make sure your doctor monitors you closely from the moment you get a positive result. Have two or three consecutive blood tests, 48 hours apart. And an early scan. And trust a medically-qualified human being, not the internet.