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hCG - Human Chorionic Gonada-what?

By Susan Tanner

...Tropin. Human chorionic gonadotropin. Sound

Familiar? You may or may not have heard of hCG,

but if you have, it may be because you read it on the

box of your home pregnancy test. That's because

hCG is the basis of home pregnancy tests. It's also

the basis for the blood and urine pregnancy tests that

your doctor performs. But there is much more to hCG

than simply being an indicator of pregnancy.

HCG is a hormone produced by the placenta during

pregnancy. It begins being produced and released

into the blood almost immediately after the egg

attaches to the uterine wall. Since hCG is released

into the blood so soon after conception, it can be

detected there even before your first missed

menstrual period, as early as six days after

implantation. Its function is to prevent the disintegration of

the corpus luteum of the ovary and thereby maintain

production of one of the main pregnancy hormones,


HCG Levels

HCG levels rise steadily for the first 14 to 16 weeks

after your last menstrual period, doubling every 48-

72 hours in about 85% of normal pregnancies. After

this time, the levels will slowly decrease. The

increases in the hCG levels in early pregnancy can provide

invaluable information about your pregnancy and the

health of your baby. HCG levels return to zero shortly

after pregnancy.

HCG levels are often measured as part of a maternal

serum triple or quadruple screening test. These tests

are done by measuring three or four substances in a

woman's blood and are used to estimate the baby's

risk of certain problems or congenital birth defects.

The triple screen measures beta human chorionic

gonadotropin (beta-hCG), alpha-fetoprotein (AFP),

and a type of estrogen (unconjugated estriol or uE3).

The quad screen measures the hormone inhibin-A in

addition to the other three.

Abnormal hCG levels do not necessarily mean that

there is a problem. It could simply be due to a

miscalculation of pregnancy dating. Unfortunately

though, abnormal hCG levels could also indicate a

more serious issue. There are several things that could

cause a high or low hCG level, so you should be

retested within a few days to see how the levels are


A high hCG level could be an indicator of a multiple

pregnancy, in which there is more than one fetus

present, or a molar pregnancy. A low hCG level

could be an indicator of a possible miscarriage or

blighted ovum, or an ectopic pregnancy, where the

fertilized egg implants itself somewhere other than

the uterus.

By now it should be apparent that you will be hearing

quite a bit about hCG during your pregnancy, and

now you will know more about what you are


About The Author
Susan Tanner is a wife and mother of three. She is also the editor of Pregnancy-Guide is an online community for mothers to find support and valuable information. Please visit Pregnancy-Guide at


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