What is the Beta hCG hormone?
The Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone is produced mainly by the trophoblast tissues of the placenta in the female body. The hormone is generated specifically in the early embryos. Since the hormone is found in maternal blood and urine, it is the basis of many pregnancy tests.
The hormone which is essentially a glycoprotein can be classified into alpha and beta subunits. Small quantities of the hormone are also produced in the pituitary gland, the liver, and the colon. Some of the most important functions performed by the hormone are listed below.
– To promote corpus luteal progesterone production.
– Cytotrophoblast differentiation
– Ceasing of uterine muscle contraction.
– To promote the growth of uterus in proportion with fetal growth.
– Activities related to immuno-suppression.
– Growth and development of the umbilical cord.
– Promotion of growth and differentiation of the fetal organs including the male genital system.
What is the Beta hCG test?
In general, the hormone can be detected by a blood test around 11 days after conception and about 12-14 days after conception through a urine test. The hormonal levels vary and reach their peak between the first 8-11 weeks of pregnancy.
The levels then gradually decrease to a stable value during the rest of the pregnancy. In many cases, instead of a single test, multiple HRG tests are carried out through a period of time to make the correct assessment of a situation. Since the hormonal levels can vary from one individual to the other, the test is not used to date a pregnancy.
Apart from confirming pregnancy, the HCG test along with ultrasonography is also used to diagnose various issues related to complicated pregnancies. There are some abnormal tissues, tumors, and cancers that produce the hormone and the test is also used as a tumor marker.
The test is also used to detect gestational trophoblastic disease which is a particular condition in a woman’s uterus that can develop abnormal tissue masses during pregnancy. The hormone levels can also be elevated due to liver, breast, lungs, skin, and stomach cancers. The HCG test is not an exact diagnosis of any condition but points to an issue that needs to be looked into.
Why do I need to undergo a Beta hCG test?
The test is done mainly for the following reasons.
– As a confirmation for pregnancy
– To detect ectopic pregnancy and the chances of a miscarriage.
– Monitoring a woman’s condition after a miscarriage.
– To check for any issues related to the growth and development of the fetus.
– Help diagnose some types of cancer and other conditions.
– To check for germ cell tumors when there are specific symptoms.
– To check if cancer treatment is working.
Watch out for cancer during follow-up care.
– To screen for Down’s syndrome.
– For conditions like cirrhosis, duodenal ulcer, and inflammatory bowel disease.
The test is also conducted for women to check for pregnancy during any medical process which is likely to hurt the baby. In men, the level of Beta hCG is checked at times in cases related to testicular cancer.
How is a Beta hCG test performed?
The pregnancy-related hCG tests are also called as qualitative tests as they just provide positive or negative results. This version of the test can be done in a laboratory or even in a home by using a home pregnancy test kit. The basic method involves dripping a test strip into a collected sample of urine and a color change indicates the results. This is a simple test that is usually completed within 5 minutes.
The second form of the test is also termed as quantitative hCG testing, which measures the amount of the hormone present in the blood. This is carried out by the process of venipuncture and involves the following steps.
– An elastic band is tied in the upper arm to make the vein swell with blood, thus making the collection process easier. The collection site is generally around the elbow region and the healthcare practitioner disinfects the area where the needle will be inserted.
– A needle is inserted into the vein and the required volume of blood is drawn through it in an attached tube. A slight stinging sensation is felt when the needle is inserted.
– The needle is withdrawn and pressure is applied on the site through a gauze or a cotton role to prevent any excess bleeding. The spot is then covered with a sterile bandage and the sample is sent to the laboratory for testing.
– The entire process is safe and is generally concluded within a few minutes. Since the size of the veins varies from one person to the other, venipuncture may be difficult for some patients and multiple punctures may be needed.
– In some exceptional situations, a patient might feel dizzy or lightheaded after the collection and may need proper care.
– Any pain or bruising in and around the collection site is generally cured within a few days. Chances of infection are rare but might happen in exceptional cases.
What is the price for a Beta hCG test in India?
The cost of a quantitative Beta hCG test in India varies between Rs 450 to Rs 800, depending on the location and the facilities used for the test.
When will I get the test results?
The time taken to get the test results will vary depending on the laboratory or the clinic involved. It can range from a day to a few days.
What is the normal range for a Beta hCG test?
As mentioned earlier, the levels of the hormone vary depending on the period of pregnancy. The hormone is generally measured in terms of milli-international units per milliliter (mIU/mL). In general, the levels indicating less than 5 mIU/mL is considered negative for pregnancy and results indicating figures above 25 mIU/mL is considered positive for pregnancy. A basic guideline to the general levels of the hormone in various stages of pregnancy is listed below.
|Weeks from last menstrual period||Normal hCG levels (mIU/mL)|
It is to be noted that these levels can vary depending on the patient’s condition.
What do the results mean?
For a qualitative test, negative results indicate that the woman is not pregnant. In case the test is carried too early, there is a chance of false-negative results. For such cases, the test can be repeated after a week, if the chances of pregnancy are high.
For a quantitative test, low levels of the hormone can indicate any of the following conditions.
– Miscalculation of pregnancy dating
– Possible miscarriage or blighted ovum
– Ectopic pregnancy
High levels can be indicative of the following conditions.
– Molar pregnancy or multiple pregnancies.
– Gestational trophoblastic disease.
– Germ cell tumors of the ovary and testicle.
– Chances of liver, stomach, pancreatic, lung, breast or skin cancer in case pregnancy is absent.
The change in the levels can also indicate problems related to the growth of the fetus. The doctor can also order a recheck in case you have continuous symptoms like bleeding, severe cramping, or a history of miscarriage. The decreased or back to normal levels of hCG also helps the doctor to ascertain that a particular treatment is working positively.
Do I need to fast for the Beta hCG test?
Fasting is not necessary for this test.
What else do I need to know before I appear for a Beta hCG test?
The following points will throw further light on the various aspects of the hCG test.
– In many cases, the hCG test results can be false-negative or false-positive for pregnancy. The doctor can assess the situation accurately and order follow-up testing as needed.
– Certain drugs like antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, diuretics, anticonvulsants, antiparkinson drugs, and tranquilizers can generate a false-positive result. It can also be generated by the presence of blood in the urine. So it is best to inform the doctor about any kind of medication that you might be consuming and then proceed with the test.
– Certain medications related to fertility can contain hCG and interfere with the test results.
– The test results are also affected by smoking marijuana.
The levels of the hormone change very quickly during pregnancy and in many cases, retesting can be done within 48 to 72 hours for checking the rate of change.
Can pregnant women undergo a Beta hCG test?
Pregnant woman can undergo the test without any restrictions.
Is the Beta hCG test possible for new-born babies?
It is not generally necessary to conduct the test on new-born babies. In some rare cases, it can be conducted as advised by the doctor.
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