Taking a pregnancy test at home is always a puzzle. The accuracy of the results depends a lot on when you take them and what the lines in the test screen reveal.
Expectant parents aren’t exactly known for their patience, especially when it comes to checking – and rechecking – whether or not their efforts to have a baby have been successful. If you’re in this group, you’ve probably stocked up on pregnancy tests and use them on a regular basis.
But while they’re an affordable, easy and convenient way to find out if you’re pregnant, home pregnancy tests can be puzzling, especially if you’re very early in your pregnancy. Here’s a guide to help you decipher the meaning of these little lines or positive signs.
What does a weak line on a home pregnancy test look like?
Depending on the type of pregnancy test you use, you may see a plus or minus sign or, more often, one or two lines in the window indicating the result.
Read the instructions on the pregnancy test package carefully to find out what to look for.
If you are pregnant, but still very early in your pregnancy, the line or double line on your pregnancy test will likely be hardly visible, like a chalk smear. If you are more advanced and hormones are circulating, the line or lines will look like markings drawn with a Sharpie.
The absence of a line or a positive result does not necessarily mean that you are not pregnant (although it is a possibility). It could simply mean that there is not yet enough human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the hormone produced by the cells that form the placenta after implantation, to be recognized by the test.
What does a very weak line on a pregnancy test indicate?
A very low line on a pregnancy test typically means that implantation has taken place and that you are in the initial stages of pregnancy. However, you should re-test a few days or weeks later to see if the line has become stronger and darker, which means that your pregnancy is advancing – and you can rejoice!
You may see a faint line on your pregnancy test and have your period a few weeks later, which means you’re not really pregnant or you’ve only been pregnant for a short time. This doesn’t mean that the test didn’t work, but you may have been experiencing a very early and frequent pregnancy loss, called a chemical pregnancy. It may also point to other types of early pregnancy loss, such as an ectopic pregnancy.
As disturbing as this may be, you probably never would have realized what was happening if this weak line hadn’t alerted you, and the event has no impact on your chances of getting pregnant again. In fact, it can be considered positive, as it is proof that you can get pregnant successfully again.
The best way to know for sure that you are pregnant is to make an appointment with your gynecologist/obstetrician and take a blood pregnancy test to confirm the pregnancy. This test provides a number for your hCG level, which your doctor can use to tell if everything is okay in the early stages of pregnancy.
What does a positive pregnancy test result look like?
A positive pregnancy test result usually looks like a plus sign, two double lines, or a line in a circle or results window, although there are other types of test results, including numeric results that indicate “yes” or “pregnant” if the result is positive.
Can a barely visible pregnancy test result be negative?
A barely visible pregnancy test result usually can’t be negative – because it detected hCG – but it can indicate a false positive for a true pregnancy or early pregnancy loss. You may also get a false negative result.
Most home pregnancy tests claim to be 99% accurate – and when tested by lab technicians under ideal conditions, they probably are – but studies of home pregnancy tests used in the real world by women at home suggest they are somewhat less reliable.
Here are some cases where you may see a faint line on a pregnancy test but not actually be pregnant or have a nonviable pregnancy:
Menopause. When a menopausal or perimenopausal woman skips her period and takes a pregnancy test, the results are sometimes (but rarely) positive because the level of luteinizing hormone is abnormally high.
If you are taking fertility and other medications. False positive results can be caused by traces of fertility medications or other hCG-containing medications (although this is unlikely). If you have had an hCG injection as part of fertility treatment, the levels may remain high for at least seven days afterwards, even if you are not pregnant.
If you have an early pregnancy loss. A false positive result may also indicate a recent chemical pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy, or another type of early pregnancy loss.
Disease. Very rarely, certain cancers that interfere with hormone production can cause a misleading pregnancy test.
Here’s why you can be pregnant and still see a negative result on your pregnancy test:
It’s too early. If your pregnancy is very early, the hCG level may not have reached detectable levels yet. It is best to wait a week and test again.
You checked the results too early. Of course, you are impatient! However, perform the test completely as recommended on the package insert to determine the results. You can use your watch timer or a kitchen timer to make sure you wait long enough.
Your urine is diluted. This is good for you because you stay hydrated. However, if your urine is too dilute for the test to detect hCG, the results may not be accurate. Although it is often recommended to test in the morning when your urine is most concentrated, this is not necessary because modern pregnancy tests are very sensitive and can detect hCG at any time.
Human error or expired test. If you have not followed the instructions carefully or if you have an expired pregnancy test, it is possible that the results will be inaccurate.
f you get a low-positive pregnancy test, are you definitely pregnant?
If you get a low-positive pregnancy test, you are almost always pregnant, but it may be too early to announce it. Home pregnancy tests vary in their capability to detect pregnancy in women who have recently missed their periods, either be it due to chemical pregnancy or other reasons.
If you have a negative test but think you are pregnant, or the opposite, rerun the test one week after you missed your period or consult your OBGYN. And remember that a blood pregnancy test by your gynecologist/obstetrician is always more accurate.