hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone closely associated with fertility and pregnancy — in fact, hCG and pregnancy have long been associated, so much so that the first home pregnancy tests, developed in the 1960s, were developed to test for hCG levels.
Though levels of hCG in pregnancy can vary significantly from person to person, the rate at which hCG rises during pregnancy is fairly constant. Your actual hCG levels are not nearly as important as the rate at which those levels rise.
So, when do you start producing hCG? How long do you produce it for? What is considered a “normal” level of hCG? Let’s discuss.
hCG and Pregnancy — When Do hCG Levels Become Detectable and What Are “Normal” Levels?
“Normal” hCG levels (when you’re not pregnant) are somewhere around 5 mIU/ml or less, but this amount is an average taken from many different women, which means that what is “normal” for you may be quite a bit more or quite a bit less than 5 mIU/ml.
Remember, what’s important here is not your level, but rather whether your levels are changing over time. For some women, a normal level of hCG may be significantly higher than 5 mIU/ml, but if that level is not increasing over time, they’re likely not pregnant.
However, in most cases, even when variation of normal hCG levels is taken into account, a level above 25 mIU/ml likely indicates pregnancy — again, this can vary from person to person.
Now, when it comes to hCG and pregnancy, once your levels start to rise, it still takes a while for an at-home pregnancy test or a test with your medical provider to be able to tell if you’re pregnant or not. Generally speaking, that’s about two weeks after you believe you may have gotten pregnant, or a little bit after your first missed period, though it can be earlier than this or later than this, depending on you and your body.
These tests are generally very accurate, as long as you follow the directions closely, but it’s always a good idea to speak with your medical provider as soon as you believe you may be pregnant.
Now, I do want to step back for just a second and mention that testing hCG levels, which can be done by a urine test, either at home or with your healthcare provider, or with a blood test, is only one way of determining if you’re pregnant, and though accurate, it’s not as accurate as identifying the fetus via ultrasound.
An ultrasound test is probably the most accurate method of determining pregnancy — once an experienced technician has identified a fetus, the results speak for themselves — but ultrasounds are generally not accurate until 2–4 weeks after your missed period, so it’s better to rely on hCG tests in the early days of pregnancy to determine if you’re pregnant or not.
hCG and Pregnancy — How Long Do You Produce hCG for and How Much Do You Produce?
Again, these numbers are ranges, and they are wide, but hCG is generally produced throughout the entirety of your pregnancy, it reduces to normal levels after a pregnancy is over, and it usually peaks somewhere between 7 and 9 weeks of pregnancy, and then decreases to a plateau around 24 weeks.
These levels will reach between 1,000 mIU/ml and 2,000 mIU/ml around 4-6 weeks (the time period when an ultrasound is first likely to accurately detect the fetus), will peak in a range between about 25,000 mIU/ml and 300,000 mIU/ml, and will plateau between 4,000 mIU/ml and 150,000 mIU/ml.
As you can see, these ranges are extremely wide, and while very high levels or abnormally low levels can be indicators of a variety of issues, in terms of hCG and pregnancy identification, the numbers stop being useful after about the 9th week of pregnancy or so.
hCG and Pregnancy — How hCG and Male Infertility Are Related
Though hCG and pregnancy are closely related in the female body, hCG also plays a crucial role in male fertility and conception.
To learn more about the role hCG plays in the male body, click the button.