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Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test

Last updated April 16, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Madprime

Diagram of typical immunoassay home pregnancy test which detects human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). (A) A urine sample is applied to the stick. If pregnant, this should contain hCG. (B) As the sample is absorbed into the stick it goes through free dye-labeled antibodies that recognize and stick to hCG. (C) An anchored set of antibodies stick to and capture hCG molecules (and the attached dye-labeled antibodies), creating the first line. In the "not pregnant" sample no hCG is attached to the dye-labeled antibodies, so they wash past this point and no line appears. (D) A second anchored set of antibodies captures the dye-labeled antibodies, providing a positive control to indicate that the test is working properly.


What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Beta hCG Test
  • Total hCG Test
  • ß-hCG Test

What is Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test? (Background Information)

  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced by the placenta, 8-10 days after a woman becomes pregnant. After fertilization by a man’s sperm, a woman’s egg takes roughly 8-10 days to travel down the uterine tubes and implant in the uterus. The egg, now called a blastocyst, begins secreting hCG
  • hCG stimulates the corpus luteum of the ovary. The corpus luteum is the leftover portion of the follicle, after it has detached an egg. The hCG hormone “rescues” the corpus luteum from becoming a corpus albicans and disintegrating. The hormone also “rescues” the endometrial lining from being shed, enabling it to facilitate pregnancy
  • The end result of hCG release by the blastocyst is that it stimulates the corpus luteum to secrete progesterone. Progesterone (“pro-“, supporting; “gest,” gestation) enriches the uterine lining and protects the developing blastocyst from the mother’s immune system. It is essential for pregnancy to be successful
  • The Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test is a urine or blood test to assess the levels of hCG hormone. It is used to detect pregnancy and is also used to detect complications of pregnancy, tumors, and neural tube defects in the fetus

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test:

  • Screening for prenatal neural tube defects
  • Screening for Down syndrome (trisomy 21)
  • Monitoring status of pregnancy or abortion
  • Monitoring effects of surgery or chemotherapy
  • Missed period
  • Nausea, due to morning sickness
  • Tender, swollen breasts

How is the Specimen Collected for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test:

Sample required: Most commonly urine is collected; sometimes, blood may also be used.

Process:

  • Urination into a sterile container for collecting urine sample
  • Insertion of a needle into an arm vein for blood sample

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test.

What is the Significance of the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test Result?

The significance of the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test is explained:

Decreased hCG levels may indicate:

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Partial or complete abortion, which can be:
    • Clinically induced, or
    • Spontaneous (miscarriage)

Increased hCG levels may indicate:

  • Pregnancy
  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Ectopic hCG-producing tumors (e.g. stomach, lung, colon, breast tumors)
  • Erythroblastosis fetalis
  • Hydatidiform mole

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • The Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test is often performed alongside estriol and alpha-fetoprotein tests. Collectively, these are called triple markers. They are used to detect neural tube defects
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water, prior to performing this test may dilute the urine and result in a false negative outcome

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

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References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Lab Tests Online (2013, July 20). Retrieved July 13, 2014 from http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/hcg/

Martini, F., Nath, J. L., & Bartholomew, E. F. (2012). Fundamentals of anatomy & physiology (9th ed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.

Schnell, Z. B., Van, L. A., & Kranpitz, T. R. (2003). Davis's Comprehensive handbook of laboratory and diagnostic tests: With nursing implications. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 17, 2014
Last updated: April 16, 2016