Pregnancy Tests: Why Are There So Many And Which One May Be Right For Me?

Shopping for a pregnancy test? Maybe you’re suspicious about a late period or stocking up for your planned fertility journey. Either way, choosing between all the different pregnancy tests can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be.

For starters, there are two basic pregnancy tests: a urine pregnancy test and a serum (blood) pregnancy test. Most over-the-counter (OTC) pregnancy tests are urine tests. Blood tests can be ordered by a medical provider.

Why are there so many urine pregnancy tests available? What are the differences? And how do they work? This article will break down four popular types of urine pregnancy tests. 

Choosing The Perfect Pregnancy Test

At-home pregnancy tests are typically designed to detect the hCG hormone in urine. Some are very sensitive and can detect the hormone earlier than others. But because hCG is only produced after implantation occurs, pregnancy tests are usually not  able to immediately detect whether conception has occurred.

The shelf-life of most pregnancy tests is 2-3 years after the manufacture date. Be sure to follow the storage instructions and double-check that your tests are within the expiration date before using.

  1. Midstream Tests

    Midstream tests are the popular “pee-on-the-stick” pregnancy tests. This name comes from how the tests are designed –  they test urine “midstream.” (Basically, the instructions are to let out a little bit of pee first and then use the rest for the test).

    Some midstream tests are digital, and others provide easy-to-read results with a plus (+) or minus (-), giving you clear and confident results like the Clearblue Rapid Detection Pregnancy Test or the Test & Confirm 6 Days Sooner from First Response.

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  2. Dipsticks

    Dipstick tests work a little differently. Urine is collected in a cup. Then a paper dipstick is inserted for the allotted time to render a result.

    Some people like dipsticks because they are more cost-effective. For instance, you can get a box of 20 Easy@Home Pregnancy Test Strips for only around $10.

    Dipsticks are also generally more sustainable, using less plastic than midstream tests.

     
  3. Cassettes 

    Cassettes are another way to test pregnancy, though they are a little less popular. After urinating into a cup, a pipette is used to drop urine onto the test strip paper within a small plastic rectangle or “cassette.” A line will appear if hCG is detected (similar to a home COVID test).

    Cassettes, like McKesson Consult hCG Urine Test, are also cost-effective and often come in packs.


  4. Blood Test 

    You can also schedule a visit to your medical provider’s office to get a serum (blood) hCG test if needed. A blood test will generally show a positive result slightly sooner than a urine test.

    Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or trying not to, now you can make an informed decision about the best pregnancy test for your budget and lifestyle. 

 

Wondering How Urine Tests Work?

How do pregnancy tests work? Once egg fertilization and implantation occur, the placenta begins to form. The placenta starts to make and release a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This is important!

HCG levels will continue to rise through the first trimester of pregnancy. HCG is the hormone that is detected on a pregnancy test. All pregnancy tests are designed to test for the presence of hCG.

Most urine pregnancy tests typically have a special kind of paper that absorbs urine and reacts if there is hCG. If hCG is present, the majority of tests will show a line, symbol, or the word ‘Pregnant’ indicating likelihood of pregnancy.

Looking to learn more about fertility? Check out our Simplified blog. 

 

Citations

Barnhart KT, Sammel MD, Rinaudo PF, Zhou L, Hummel AC, Guo W. Symptomatic patients with an early viable intrauterine pregnancy: HCG curves redefined. Obstet Gynecol. 2004;104(1):50-55. doi:10.1097/01.AOG.0000128174.48843.12

Cole LA, Ladner DG, Byrn FW. The normal variabilities of the menstrual cycle. Fertil Steril. 2009;91(2):522-527. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2007.11.073

Johnson SR, Miro F, Barrett S, Ellis JE. Levels of urinary human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) following conception and variability of menstrual cycle length in a cohort of women attempting to conceive. Curr Med Res Opin. 2009;25(3):741-748. doi:10.1185/03007990902743935

Kissell KA, Danaher MR, Schisterman EF, et al. Biological variability in serum anti-Müllerian hormone throughout the menstrual cycle in ovulatory and sporadic anovulatory cycles in eumenorrheic women. Hum Reprod. 2014;29(8):1764-1772. doi:10.1093/humrep/deu142

Lenton EA, Neal LM, Sulaiman R. Plasma concentrations of human chorionic gonadotropin from the time of implantation until the second week of pregnancy. Fertil Steril. 1982;37(6):773-778. doi:10.1016/s0015-0282(16)46337-5

Reed BG, Carr BR. The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. Updated 2018 Aug 5. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/