How Soon Can You Take a Pregnancy Test?

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As recently as the 1970s, you had to miss your period before you took a pregnancy test, and the results could take up to two hours. These days, you can find out you’re expecting much earlier, faster, and with better accuracy using home pregnancy tests.

For the most accurate results, you should still wait until a day after a missed a period to take a test. However, some over-the-counter (OTC) early pregnancy tests are sensitive enough to detect some pregnancies several days before a missed period and you can get the results in minutes.

This article will explore the types of pregnancy tests, factors that can affect results, and ways to determine how soon you can test and whether or not you'll need to retest after a negative result.

When to Take a Pregnancy Test - Illustration by Ellen Lindner

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

How Do At-Home Pregnancy Tests Work?

At-home pregnancy tests check for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine. It's known as the "pregnancy hormone" because it's produced only when you are pregnant. If you have a 28-day menstrual cycle, you can detect hCG in your urine 12 to 15 days after ovulation.

Types of Pregnancy Tests

Today’s at-home pregnancy tests are easy to use and almost as accurate as those given at the healthcare provider’s office. But there are some issues to consider when deciding what kind of pregnancy test is right for you.

Urine Test

Urine tests can be done at home with an over-the-counter kit or at your healthcare provider’s office.

At-home OTC tests involve peeing on the end of a stick to check for hCG. If you take a urine test at a healthcare provider's office, it typically involves peeing into a cup and then the provider will dip a test stick into the urine sample.

Small amounts of hCG can sometimes be detected in the urine about 10 days after conception, or becoming pregnant.

If you take a urine pregnancy test fewer than 10 days after conception, the tests might give a “false negative” response. If you take an early test and it's negative, you should continue to test if you miss a period.

For the most reliable results, wait until after the first day of your missed period.

What if My Test Is Negative?

Getting a negative pregnancy test result doesn’t necessarily mean your urine doesn’t contain hCG, especially if it's taken before a missed period. It just means it doesn’t contain enough to trigger a positive result.

Blood Test

Blood tests to detect pregnancy are rarely done routinely because they are expensive and the same results can be obtained from a urine test.

However, your healthcare provider may order blood tests if you have a high-risk pregnancy, are having fertility treatments, or are concerned that you may be having multiples, a miscarriage (loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks), or complications such as an ectopic pregnancy (a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, such as in a fallopian tube).

Results of a blood test take longer than a urine test, but they can detect smaller amounts of hCG. Your healthcare provider may use one or both types of these blood tests:

  • Qualitative hCG blood test: A qualitative blood pregnancy test gives an overall picture. It tells your healthcare provider if hCG is absent or present in your blood. The accuracy of these tests is a bit higher than a urine test. 
  • Quantitative hCG blood test: Quantitative refers to a count or quantity. The results of this test are given as an exact number. This gives your healthcare provider more detailed information about where you are in your pregnancy and how it’s progressing.

Recap

Urine tests to look for the pregnancy hormone hCG can sometimes detect pregnancy about 10 days after conception. Blood tests can pick up very small amounts of hCG but are expensive and typically only done for those undergoing fertility treatments or at risk of complications.

Timing

With pregnancy testing, timing is everything. This is because the amount of hCG in your urine increases with time.

HCG levels should almost double every 48 hours at the beginning of pregnancy, so if you are pregnant and you wait a few days to take the test, it is more likely to be positive.

The Best Time in Your Cycle

After you become pregnant, it takes some time for hCG to increase to a detectable level. 

The best time to take a pregnancy test is after your period is late. If you don’t want to wait until you’ve missed your period, you should wait for at least one to two weeks after you had sex.

Everyone's fertile window (the time when you can get pregnant) is different, depending on when they ovulate.

Menstrual bleeding typically begins 14 days after ovulation. Women who ovulate on day 14 usually expect their period on day 28 or 29. Those who ovulate later in the month may not expect their period until day 31 or later.

It’s best to wait until the time you are sure you’ve missed a period to take a pregnancy test. If you are unsure when you ovulate, you can try ovulation tests kits or tracking your basal body temperature.

Are You Sure Your Period Is Late?

Many women have irregular menstrual cycles, either longer or shorter than others. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the exact date of your last period and when to expect your next period. Between 10% and 20% of pregnant people get a negative pregnancy test because they test too early.

Tracking your cycle can help you know a few things: when you ovulated, the first day of your last period, when to expect your next period, and a general idea of the length of your cycle.

Best Time of Day to Test

Taking a test first thing in the morning gives you a better chance of getting an accurate result. Assuming you have not been waking up to drink a lot of water through the night, your urine will be more concentrated. This means there is a build-up or greater amount of hCG in the urine if you are pregnant.

This is especially true if you are testing before your period is expected or just a day or two late. When you are further into pregnancy there is a greater chance of the test detecting hCG at any time in the day.

Early Result Pregnancy Tests

Early pregnancy tests are those that you can use several days before a missed period. Keep in mind that these tests are more accurate for women who conceived (got pregnant) earlier in their cycle. 

If you ovulated a little late, you may have conceived later in your cycle. In this case, there may not be enough hCG for these tests to detect until closer to or after your missed period.

If you received an hCG trigger shot to help with fertility, it's best to wait two weeks after the shot to take a pregnancy test. The trigger shot can cause a false positive if a test is taken before the medication has left your system.

Negative Test but “Feel” Pregnant?

Speak to your healthcare provider if you’ve taken a pregnancy test that has come up negative, but you are experiencing symptoms of early pregnancy such as:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Mild cramps
  • Very light bleeding called spotting
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to smells
  • Slight morning nausea

Since the amount of hCG increases rapidly when you are pregnant, you may need to retest in a few days.

How Effective Is Early Testing?

If you are tempted to take a test before your period is late, consider the pros and cons before you do.

Pros
  • Very small chance of getting a positive result

  • Helpful if you need to start or stop medications

  • Allows you to begin prenatal lifestyle changes

Cons
  • High chance of a false negative result if pregnant

  • Expense of repeated tests, if necessary

  • Not accurate with hCG trigger shots

Test Accuracy

Most tests promise 99% accuracy on the day of your missed period. But this actually doesn't apply to early results. 

In one European study, seven pregnancy tests were tested for accuracy. Three of those seven were accurate 97.6%-100% of the time. The other four had lower accuracy rates, ranging from 81.6% to 95.9%. The study did note that regulations for these tests are different in Europe than in the US and that the results may also vary based on the user.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the accuracy of these tests relies heavily on how a person follows directions and interprets the results. The FDA also noted that these tests are able to detect hCG, but if someone tests too early there may not be enough hCG for the test to detect, giving you a false negative.

Summary

Although, in theory, you could start taking pregnancy tests 10 days after conception, taking the test early may give you a negative result, even if you are pregnant.

As pregnancy hormones increase rapidly, the longer you wait, the more chance of an accurate result.

The best time to take a pregnancy test is the day after your expected period, in the morning hours, with your first urination of the day.

A Word From Verywell

When you’re anxious to see results, it’s understandable if you are tempted to test earlier. In the event of a positive result, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss your options and potential next steps.

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