What is a positive beta hCG level?

A positive beta hCG levels means that you are pregnant. The hCG level depends on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy.
A positive beta hCG levels means that you are pregnant. The hCG level depends on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy.

A positive beta human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) level usually means that you are pregnant. Pregnancy tests detect the hCG hormone in the blood and urine.

The beta hCG levels are also measured using a test known as quantitative hCG testing. This test measures the quantity of hCG in your urine in terms of mIU/mL or IU/L.

The following beta hCG values will be used to detect whether you are pregnant

Negative: less than 5 IU/L

Indeterminate: 5 to 25 IU/L

Positive: greater than 25 IU/L

The indeterminate value represents the grey area. The beta hCG levels will be tested multiple times during the pregnancy to confirm a healthy pregnancy. High beta hCG levels may be observed in twin pregnancy or in a type of cancer called choriocarcinoma.

The beta hCG levels are matched against the chart given below.

The chart shows the approximate hCG levels found at a particular week of pregnancy.
Weeks from last menstrual period (LMP) Approximate amount of hCG (in mIU/mL or IU/L)
3 weeks 5-50
4 weeks 5-426
5 weeks 19-7,340
6 weeks 1,080-56,500
7-8 weeks 7,650-229,000
9-12 weeks 25,700-288,000
13-16 weeks 3,300-253,000
17-24 weeks (second trimester) 4,060-165,400
25 weeks to term (third trimester) 3,640-117,000
After several days postpartum <5

What is hCG and what are the two types of hCG tests?

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, often called the pregnancy hormone, is initially made by the lining cells of the embryo and later by the cells of the placenta. Its function is to nourish the egg after it has been fertilized.

The hCG level reaches its peak anywhere between 9 and 12 weeks of pregnancy. It then goes on declining until it remains steady for the rest of the pregnancy.

Two types of beta hCG testing are usually used

  1. Qualitative testing: Also known as the urine pregnancy test, the qualitative beta hCG test is the over-the-counter pregnancy test that only indicates whether you are pregnant.
  2. Quantitative testing: It measures the amount of the hormone present in the blood. A blood sample will be collected from your vein and sent to the laboratory to check the blood levels of beta hCG. It is also known as
    • hCG blood pregnancy test
    • Serum hCG

A doctor usually orders a beta hCG blood test to confirm pregnancy after a positive urine pregnancy test. It is important to note that an ectopic pregnancy may also cause the test to be positive. This is a dangerous condition requiring urgent medical intervention.

Sometimes, your doctor may not be very much concerned about your hCG level. This is because you may have a perfectly healthy baby irrespective of low hCG levels. An ultrasound done at 5 to 6 weeks is more reliable than the beta hCG blood test.

The doctor will probably ask you to undergo beta Hcg level testing not once but multiple times during the pregnancy.

The hCG level is not a completely accurate way to date a pregnancy because these numbers can vary so widely.

Why is the beta hCG blood test performed?

Your doctor can ask for a beta hCG blood test to

  • Confirm pregnancy
  • Determine the approximate age of the fetus (baby)
  • Check if there is an ectopic pregnancy (an abnormal pregnancy)
  • Diagnose miscarriage
  • Screen if the baby has Down’s syndrome

The beta hCG blood test can also be performed to check for the status of certain types of cancer. The levels are used to determine whether a particular cancer treatment is working.

Increased hCG levels are found in cancers of the

  • Uterus
  • Lung
  • Breast
  • Ovary

Sometimes, the beta hCG levels are used in the management of other condition such as

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Medically Reviewed on 2/2/2021
References
Medscape Medical Reference

American Pregnancy Association