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What Is Hcg Test

what is hcg test

What is HCG?

Human chorionic gonadotropin – or hCG – is frequently called the “pregnancy hormone”. Most trying-to-conceive women who have taken more than a few pregnancy tests already know that hCG is the hormone that is detectable by pregnancy test kits (or by hCG blood tests in your doctor’s office). However, typically only doctors know the details behind hCG and its function as a reproductive hormone. The purpose of this article is to discuss hCG – what its purpose is, how fast hCG increases in a pregnant woman’s system, and when you can begin testing during your cycle.

First of all, hCG is secreted by the placenta shortly following implantation of the egg. To summarize, shortly after ovulation takes place, the egg is fertilized (conception) and a few days later the fertilized egg (now called an embryo) implants in the wall of the uterus. At this point, the hCG hormone starts flowing – produced by the “pregnancy cells” and incipient placental tissues. hCG will pass into a woman’s system and will be present in both blood and urine samples.

HCG blood tests

The level of hCG in the blood is often used as part of a screening for birth defects in a maternal serum triple or quadruple screening test. These tests are usually done between 15 and 20 weeks of pregnancy to check the levels of three or four substances in a pregnant woman's blood. The triple screen checks hCG, alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), and a type of estrogen (unconjugated estriol, or uE3). The quad screen checks these substances and the level of the hormone inhibin A. The levels of these substances-along with a woman's age and other factors-help the doctor figure out the chance that the baby may have certain problems or birth defects.

Pregnancy: Should I Have Screening Tests for Birth Defects?

In some cases, screening tests are combined in the first trimester to look for Down syndrome. This screening test uses an ultrasound to measure the thickness of the skin at the back of the fetus's neck (nuchal translucency). It also includes a blood test for the levels hCG and a protein called pregnancy-associated plasma protein A (PAPP-A). This test works about as well as the second-trimester maternal serum quad screening.footnote 1

HCG urine tests

HCG urine tests are usually used for regular pregnancy testing. The test does not measure the exact amount of hCG, but it shows if hCG is present. Home versions of this test are easy to find and buy.

Pregnancy (hCG)

Pregnancy testing and hCG

Evidence for testing to detect pregnancy has been found as far back as ancient Egyptian cultures. In the early twentieth century human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) was identified as the major hormone associated with pregnancy.  The first pregnancy test based on hCG was called the ‘Rabbit test’ and were based on a bioassay in which urine was injected into young female rabbits. If hCG was present the rabbit ovaries would be enlarged.  Immunoassays for hCG were developed around 1960 and were latex agglutination assays. More recently enzyme-linked immunoassays were developed. The most commonly used pregnancy tests either in doctor's offices or over-the-counter (OTC) tests are based on lateral flow tests.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

hCG is a small glycoprotein hormone produced by cells that form the placenta. It stimulates progesterone production by the ovary and the placenta and helps maintain the pregnancy. hCG is composed of two different subunits, alpha (α) and beta (β). The alpha subunit is common to all members of the glycoprotein-hormone family and the beta subunit is unique to hCG and confers its biological activity. All pregnancy tests are based on the beta subunit.

There are many different forms of hCG based on the degree of glycosylation and different proteolytic forms. Not all hCG tests detect or measure all these forms of hCG equally. Although measurement o hCG is primarily done to detect pregnancy, hCG is used for other purposes such as detecting certain types of cancer.

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