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Home Pregnancy Tests: Are They Reliable?

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Reproductive System related image Photo: Getty Images

I just love that commercial where they show several different women waiting on results of the at-home pregnancy tests. If the other viewers are like me, they're busy trying to figure out which one of the women in the advertisement is happy or worried about their results. Many women have experienced a similar frustration -- in real life -- trying to figure out how to use their own home pregnancy test.

The best time to use a home pregnancy test is one week after your missed period. This is the case, even though manufacturers make the claim that you can get correct results as early as one day after a missed cycle.

But home tests are not found to be as accurate early on in pregnancy. Also, some women don’t have detectable amounts of hormones as quickly as others do, so if a home test is done too early, inaccurate results are given.

Just how do home tests work? When a fertilized egg connects to the uterine lining, the female body starts to produce the hormone HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin. These tests can reliably detect this hormone in the urine.

And just how accurate are the results? Of course, the manufacturers claim 99 percent accuracy -- even after one day of a missed cycle, as stated previously. Researchers suggest otherwise. At least a week after the missed cycle, and only when used according to package instructions, is when you’re more likely to get correct results.

Could the results be wrong? Sure. More so than anything, women will receive a negative result when they are actually pregnant (called false-negative). It’s very rare that individuals would get a positive result when they are really not pregnant or when they should have gotten a negative (called false-positive).

You may receive a false-positive if you:

• Have traces of protein in your urine

• Are taking certain drugs – diuretics and/or promethazine

• Use a damaged or expired test kit

You may receive a false-negative if you:

• Do the test prematurely. Even if you are only one day late, you may take the at-home test. But to get the best results, try to wait and do it at least a week after you’ve missed your period.

• Do it at the wrong time. Be sure to follow the instructions and test urine in the specified time (usually within 15 minutes).

• Drank too much in the way of fluids. This causes the urine to be diluted. The best advice is to test when your urine is most concentrated, usually in the mornings.

So in the end, if used correctly and at the right time, women can get reliable results from home pregnancy tests. Of course, when a positive result is received, it is very important to start prenatal care as soon as possible.

On the other hand, if you keep getting a negative result and are still missing your cycle, please check with your doctor since there are many things that can cause missed periods.


Home Pregnancy Tests: Can You Trust the Results? Mayo Clinic. Web. 15 November 2011.

Pregnancy Test Facts Sheet. Womenshealth.gov. Web. 15 November 2011.

Dita Faulkner is an advocate for women’s issues and interests. Please feel free to read her blog at: http://redtoenails.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/overcoming-negativity/

Reviewed November 16, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.