Unclear Results From Home Pregnancy Kit

I want to know more about over-the-counter pregnancy tests. Does a faint line still mean positive?

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Toni Weschler, MS

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The short answer is a qualified yes. A faint line usually means that you're pregnant. About a week after the woman's egg is fertilized in the fallopian tube, it travels down to the uterus, where it burrows in and starts releasing HCG, the pregnancy hormone.

If the levels of HCG are very low, the line will usually appear faint. There are two main reasons why the pregnancy hormone may appear low:

  1. The woman is so recently pregnant that her HCG can barely be registered in her urine
  2. Her pregnancy is further along, but she only releases a small amount of HCG.

In the first case, a common mistake women make is to take the home pregnancy test too early. Pregnancy tests are only accurate if they test at the right time! Testing needs to be done at least 10 days (and often longer) after fertilization. Many women make the mistake of assuming that they ovulated on that magical Day 14, and thus test by about Day 24. In reality, they may not have ovulated until Day 30, in which case testing through a home pregnancy test would be totally useless, until at least Day 40.

If a pregnancy test is "wrong,‚" it is more often a false negative rather than a false positive. In other words, it is quite common for a pregnancy test to appear negative, leading the woman to believe she is not pregnant, when in reality, she just tested too soon. Testing even a few days later will often reveal a positive. But it is imperative that she test at least ten days after fertilization, hence the value of women charting their fertility signs to know when they've ovulated. But it is very rare to have a pregnancy test show that the woman is pregnant when she really is not.

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