Reasons for a Negative Pregnancy Test

The 4 Things a Negative Result Can Tell Us

Woman looking at a pregnancy test stick
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A negative pregnancy test result can be disappointing, particularly if you've been trying and are feeling confident that this time may be it. When faced with such a result, your first instinct may be to question whether the test may have somehow gotten it wrong. And in truth, while rare, it does sometimes happen.

In the end, a negative pregnancy test can tell us one of four things:

1. You Are Not Pregnant

The most obvious answer may also be the most disappointing.

If you had some of the signs of an early pregnancy—such as a missed period, breast soreness, and unexplained nausea—it's understandable how you may have assumed you were pregnant. But, sadly, there may be other explanations for these symptoms. Some may be incidental; others may, in fact, require medical attention.

If you are suddenly experiencing abnormal periods accompanied by other symptoms, such as cramping or constipation, it’s a good idea to see a doctor and have it checked out.

2. You Tested Too Early

While modern home pregnancy tests have a high level of accuracy, their sensitivity can vary in the early stage of pregnancy.

Pregnancy tests are designed to detect the presence of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This is the hormone produced soon after the fertilized egg implants in the uterus. While the body starts to produce hCG soon after implantation, it usually takes around two to three weeks for levels to be high enough for accurate detection.

Before this time, you may, in fact, be pregnant, but the test is simply not sensitive enough to pick up any signs of hCG.

If you are convinced you are pregnant and have simply have tested too early, take a step back and retest in a week. Levels of hCG tend to double every two days, so the longer you wait, the more likely you'll receive an accurate—and hopefully positive—result.

3. You Had an Early Miscarriage

While your pregnancy symptoms may have been all too real, a negative test may suggest that you’ve experienced a very early miscarriage (also known as a chemical pregnancy).

This occurs when there is a problem with the fertilized egg, most commonly a chromosomal disorder that makes the pregnancy non-viable. When the body detects this, it will spontaneously abort the fetus, often times before a woman even knows that she’s pregnant. Up until this point, however, symptoms of pregnancy may develop as hormones are steadily released into the system.

While an early miscarriage can occur in anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies, overall rates could very well be in excess of 50 percent. Miscarriages tend to be a one-off event with most women able to achieve and maintain a healthy pregnancy in later attempts.

4. The Test Was Inaccurate

A bum test is the most unlikely cause of a false negative result, but it does happen. However, in almost all cases, some level of human error is involved. Beyond taking the test prematurely, there are other possible causes for a false negative result:

  • Not leaving the dipstick in the urine stream for the recommended time
  • Diluting your urine by drinking too much water before taking a test
  • Using an expired pregnancy test
  • Tests that have been exposed to excessive heat or sunlight

Whatever the results of your pregnancy test, you can get confirmation from your health care provider if you're not entirely sure the test was accurate.

Sources:

Gnoth, C. and Johnson, S. “Strips of Hope: Accuracy of Home Pregnancy Tests and New Developments.” Obstetrics Women’s Health (Ger). 2014; 74(7): 661-669.

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