Can an Ovulation Test Detect Pregnancy?
The traditional way of detecting pregnancy is to urinate on a home pregnancy test and wait for the results. However, there are other ways of determining whether you are pregnant.
An ovulation test is intended to determine when you are ovulating. Basically, the test is used to figure out the best time to have sex in the hopes of getting pregnant or the best time to abstain to avoid getting pregnant. However, some women have used these tests as an alternative to a pregnancy test.
If you suspect that you may be pregnant, an ovulation test may not be your best option.
What Is an Ovulation Test and How Does it Work?
Ovulation tests are very similar to home pregnancy tests. Both tests require a urine sample to detect the presence of a hormone in your urine. The primary difference is the hormone that you are trying to detect.
While a home pregnancy test helps to detect human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, ovulation tests are designed to detect the luteinizing hormone (LH) produced by your pituitary gland.
Throughout your menstrual cycle, LH levels are relatively low. About 24 to 36 hours before ovulation, your pituitary gland releases a surge of the LH, giving an accurate indicator as to when you are going to ovulate.
For most women, the days when they are most fertile are the five days leading up to ovulation. If you use an ovulation test and detect an LH surge, ovulation may come one to two days later, giving you a window when you are most likely to get pregnant.
There are two primary types of ovulation tests. There are digital ovulation tests that measure changes to your LH levels compared to your own personal baseline. There are also testing sticks that simply measure your current LH levels.
With the digital tests, you test before your LH levels begin to surge to establish a baseline. Subsequent testing then compares your LH levels to this baseline to give an accurate estimate as to when you are going to ovulate.
With the testing sticks, you need to continue testing every day around the time that you think you may experience an LH surge. These tests typically include seven testing sticks, allowing you to test your LH levels throughout an entire week.
Ovulation Tests May Give a Positive Pregnancy Result
While ovulation tests are not designed as pregnancy tests, they may offer a positive result for pregnant women. As mentioned, both types of tests detect hormone levels in your urine. However, the ovulation test looks for LH while the pregnancy test looks for hCG.
The tests and the hormones that they look for are similar. LH and hCG are both glycoproteins and they appear very similar. In fact, the typical ovulation test cannot distinguish between hCG and LH.
Basically, if you use an ovulation test after a missed period and you are pregnant, the test may detect the increase in your hCG levels. You can essentially use an ovulation test as an alternative to a standard home pregnancy test.
Why You Should Stick with Home Pregnancy Tests
It is possible to use an ovulation test to help determine if you are pregnant. However, it is not recommended. Most doctors will tell you to stick with the standard home pregnancy tests.
There is a very important reason why you should avoid using an ovulation test to check your hCG levels. These tests are not as sensitive as a home pregnancy test. While it may detect hCG levels, it is less likely to confirm an early pregnancy.
Doctors typically recommend that you take a pregnancy test at least one week after your last missed period. The very earliest that you can take a home pregnancy test is the day of your missed period.
During these seven days, your hCG levels are still low even if you are pregnant. The ovulation test is simply not sensitive enough to always detect low hCG levels.
If you decide to wait only a few days or so after your missed period, you may also end up with a false positive result for pregnancy. Instead of detecting an increase in hCG levels, the test may simply be detecting your surge in LH.
The bottom line is that an ovulation test should not be used as a pregnancy test. The risk of getting a false negative or false positive is too great. While the ovulation test may be useful for determining when you are ovulating, it should not be used as a replacement for a typical pregnancy test.
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Choi J, Smitz J. Luteinizing hormone and human chorionic gonadotropin: distinguishing unique physiologic roles. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2014 Mar;30(3):174-81. doi: 10.3109/09513590.2013.859670. Read the full text.