Get to know Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), a Hormone Produced by the Body After Fertilization as a Pregnancy Marker

Pregnancy is closely related to the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, which is a hormone made by the placenta. This hormone signifies that you are pregnant. In the first trimester, levels of this hormone rise rapidly. However, hCG level can vary significantly throughout pregnancy. Talking about this, let us look at the explanation of hCG in pregnancy below.

Beta Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)

What is hCG Hormone?

Quoted from the Western Journal of Medicine, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) known as beta human chorionic gonadotropin (b-hCG), which is one of the most talked about pregnancy hormones.

Chemical structure of a Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) molecule
chemical structure of a human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) molecule

As we explained before, hCG is a hormone made by the placenta. Level of hCG will increase in the first trimester of pregnancy. They can be detected in your urine within 1 or 2 days after implantation. When you take a home pregnancy test, you are actually measuring the level of hCG in your body. Need to know that the hCG hormone is first created after the embryo implants into the lining of the uterus.

Dr. Brennan Lang, an Ob-Gyn at Baylor Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women explained that it happens about six days after ovulation, but can take up to 12 days. While most hormones increase in early pregnancy and continue to increase during a 40 week journey. The human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone does not follow that pattern. Instead, hCG level usually doubles in concentration every 29 – 53 hours during the first few weeks of pregnancy.

How to Test hCG Level?

A home pregnancy test can measure the hCG level in your urine. Dr. Lang said that urine pregnancy tests are very accurate. They can usually detect hCG levels of at least 20-50 mIU/mL.

Another way of measuring hCG level is by using a blood sample. Of course, there is an important difference between the hCG blood test and the hCG urine test. Usually, the hCG urine test can be affected by factors such as dehydration and the timing of the test. Whereas the hCG blood test can give conclusive results even if the hCG levels are quite low.

Also, the hCG blood tests are done for:

  • Confirmation of pregnancy.
  • Determining the approximate age of the fetus.
  • Diagnose abnormal pregnancies, such as ectopic pregnancy.
  • Diagnosing a potential miscarriage.
  • Screening for the possibility of Down’s syndrome.

According to the National Cancer Institute, Beta hCG is considered a tumor marker. It means that it is a substance that also excreted by several types of tumors.

Here are cancers that can cause hCG level to be higher than normal:

  • Uterine cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

Although the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone is closely associated with pregnant women, this hormone can also be found in men. An hCG blood test can show whether or not a man has testicular cancer. If hCG is present in a man’s blood, further testing is needed to determine the cause.

Usually, the risk of blood draw when testing for the hCG hormone in a blood test is minimal. There may be slight bruising where the needle was inserted. However, this can be minimized by applying pressure to the area for a few minutes after the needle is removed.

Why does hCG Level Rise and Fall?

During pregnancy, the level of the hCG hormone in your body goes up and down. It is hard to gauge normal levels. That is what Michele Hakakha, an obstetrician and author of Expecting 411 (2014). High or low levels of hCG can still indicate a normal pregnancy. However, doctors can gain information from looking at trends.

Usually, a normal pregnancy has hCG levels that double every 48 hours. The hCG level will peak at around 90-100,000 mIU/mL. Keep in mind that anything whose levels go up or down significantly should be checked by a doctor.

Causes of Low hCG Hormone Level and How to Overcome Them

According to Dr. Lang, low hCG level may represent a very early pregnancy or a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Quoted from Emergency Medicine News, other causes include an undeveloped ovum.

Also, an inaccurate estimate of gestational age can be the culprit, meaning the pregnancy is not as far along as previously thought. This is more likely if a woman does not have a normal menstrual cycle and does not ovulate by day 14 of her cycle.

Aside from that, ectopic pregnancy can also be the cause. This is when the fertilized egg remains in the fallopian tube and continues to develop. This condition is dangerous, as it can cause the fallopian tube to rupture and bleed excessively. Low levels of hCG can help indicate an ectopic pregnancy. At first, the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy can be similar to a normal pregnancy, but as it progresses these symptoms disappear.

Unfortunately, nothing can be done to treat low hCG hormone levels. If low hCG level is caused by a miscarriage, you may need treatment if there is pregnancy tissue left in the uterus. If there is no tissue left behind, then you may not need any treatment at all.

If there is pregnancy tissue left in the uterus, here are three treatment options that can be done:

  • Waiting for pregnancy tissue to naturally come out.
  • Taking medication to help remove the tissue.
  • Can remove it with a curette.

Usually, a doctor will invite you to discuss the best course of action. Also, it is important to remember that low hCG level is not caused by anything you do. If a low hCG level is caused by a miscarriage, this does not mean that you will not be able to get pregnant again. If the fallopian tube loss is due to an ectopic pregnancy, fertility will also not change significantly as long as the other tube is still functioning.

Causes of High hCG Hormone Level and How to Overcome Them

It is quite difficult to determine what actually raises the level of hCG hormone. As reported by the Journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, hCG level can rise and fall at different rates.

Depending on the gestational age, there are general guidelines that doctors use. According to Dr. Lang, a very high hCG level (over 100,000 mIU/mL) may represent an abnormal pregnancy. Some causes may include:

  • Calculation of the date of pregnancy which is wrong or further than expected.
  • Having more than one child.
  • Using fertility drugs.

Quoted from the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, high levels of the hCG hormone can indicate a significant complication in pregnancy namely molar pregnancy.

A sonogram and pelvic examination will confirm the doctor’s diagnosis. High levels of the hCG hormone do not necessarily indicate a problem with the pregnancy. Some women have even higher levels. If a woman has a high hCG level, it could point to a twin or triplet pregnancy.

Sometimes, an above-average hCG level indicates a higher chance of having a child with Down syndrome. One of the medical problems associated with high levels of hCG is that it can indicate gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) which can occur during or after pregnancy. The treatment depends on the mass of the cells and whether they are cancerous or benign.

To remove it, doctor may recommend dilation and curettage. Also, doctor may recommend a hysterectomy to remove the uterus. So, there is no specific treatment that can be done for this. It is because the high hCG levels sometimes indicate an underlying health condition, which may be affecting fertility.

Well, that is all you need to know about hCG levels in pregnancy. Of course, this hormone has an important role for pregnant women. Keep in mind that its fluctuating levels must be considered.

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