How Early Can You Detect Pregnancy?

Missed period is usually the earliest sign of pregnancy but often there may be irregular spotting, along with mild cramps simulating menstruation. So it is important to take note of the amount and duration of bleeding. These spotting, popularly known as Placental sign or Implantation bleeding , usually lasts for 2-3 days and are much less in amount than regular bleeding during menstruation.

Absence of periods for months can also occur due to various other reasons like cysts in the ovary, abrupt loss of weight, thyroid hormone disorders etc.

Many women, especially the first time mothers encounter changes in breast during first 8-12th week of pregnancy. Breasts become heavier and fuller; and there is darkening of the area around the nipple.

Fatigue, increased urge to use the bathroom, changes in appetite and often morning sickness indicate pregnancy in early stages. It is important, therefore, to ascertain whether you are pregnant or not by taking a few confirmatory tests.

What are the tests available to detect the pregnancy?

Both blood and urine can be used to perform a pregnancy test. In both the samples, presence of a hormone, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), confirms pregnancy. Advanced non-invasive procedures like sonogram can also be performed.

Do you know how early you can detect pregnancy?

Pregnancy can be detected as early as 5 days before your first missed period, i.e. 7-10days after fertilisation of the egg or ovum.

Another reliable method to detect pregnancy is by performing a sonogram. A clinician will perform a transvaginal ultrasonography which can confirm pregnancy as early as the 5th week. Foetal heart sounds can be monitored via sonogram earliest by the 7th week.

How can you perform the tests?

Urine test can be performed at home or in clinic and results can be obtained within minutes. Pregnancy test kits are available that contain a stick which needs to be placed in your urine stream so as to catch the midstream urine.

Results can be interpreted as positive or negative according to appearance of two lines, colour changes or digital signs as per the instructions given with the corresponding kit.

In case of blood, the samples need to be collected and sent for either quantitative or qualitative estimation of hCG.

Is it possible to get an accurate reading before a missed period?

Detection of hCG in urine or blood can be made as early as 5 days before a missed period by ELISA method. It is the most advanced method used nowadays. So any woman suspecting pregnancy can opt for a blood test and can confirm even before the initial symptoms start to show.

However, it is usually advised that the pregnancy test should be taken after the first missed period to minimize the chances of a false negative result. Sufficient amount of the hormone hCG needs to be present in urine or blood for the test to detect it.

Can I get a false positive test?

The workings of pregnancy test kits are based on presence of hCG in the body. False positive results can be obtained in conditions apart from pregnancy where this hormone is produced abundantly. Disorders like choriocarcinoma, ectopic pregnancy, hydatidiform mole may give a false positive result. In such cases, a sonogram of the lower abdomen will help in diagnosis.

If my test is negative, can I still be pregnant?

Estimation of serum hCG and testing of urine sample is almost 97.4% accurate when done by experts. False negative results can occur when the tests are not done properly. Pregnancy tests are usually negative if taken before 5 days to the first missed period. In such a situation, a repeat test after a few days will yield a more reliable result.

A thorough clinical examination is always preferable after first missed period if you are expecting pregnancy. A series of suggestive signs along with a confirmatory sonogram has the ultimate say when it comes to detection of pregnancy.

Newer methods

Early pregnancy factor (EPF) assay is now believed to be the test for earliest possible detection of pregnancy. EPF is a substance produced by maternal serum in response to the fertilized ovum that helps the mother’s immune system to resist from attacking the embryo. EPF can be detected as early as 48 hours after fertilisation of egg, as compared to 7-10 days in case of hCG. This test has high accuracy but its requirement of strict controlled setup and expense make it unfeasible for the majority of population.

In this context, it must be remembered that estimated age of pregnancy at which different tests are said to be accurate may vary from one individual to another. So a repeat test is always advisable.