Pregnancy test — How soon after sex?

Dear Alice,

How soon after intercourse can one use a pregnancy test and get results?

Dear Reader,

While some tests claim to be effective within as little as one week after fertilization, pregnancy tests are most accurate and effective if taken the first day after a missed period. As far as the test itself, most pregnancy tests provide results within a matter of a few minutes. To understand this more, it can be helpful to consider the fertilization process and learn more pregnancy tests in general. 

To start, pregnancy tests are designed to detect a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). This is a hormone that is released when a fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus. If the test detects HCG, it'll show a positive result and indicate pregnancy. If the test shows a negative result, it means that the test didn't detect any HCG. This may mean that a fertilized egg hasn’t attached to the lining of the uterus. 

When used correctly, home pregnancy tests work well. In fact, the pregnancy tests used in clinical settings are often the same ones available over-the-counter at drug stores, clinics, and even some dollar stores, and they’re considered to be 99 percent accurate. Taken at home, home pregnancy tests also provide privacy and convenience. Sometimes tests give erroneous results (usually false negatives); the most common reason for this is using the test too soon after fertilization. Two other factors to keep in mind are checking test results too soon without giving the test time to work, and using diluted urine (it's recommended to take the test first thing in the morning when urine tends to be most concentrated).

If a home pregnancy test gives a positive result, making an appointment with your provider or a local reproductive health clinic for confirmation is a great next step. In considering accessing care, doing some research may be imperative to finding resources that are appropriate for you. There are facilities around the United States that call themselves crisis pregnancy centers or pregnancy resource centers and they often advertise free pregnancy tests, information, and help related to reproductive concerns. The concern is that many of these centers aren’t staffed or run by medical professionals and studies indicate that they may provide misinformation to patients with the intention of swaying a person’s choices. Taking a look at a clinic’s website or giving them an informational call are great ways to learn more about what you can expect from accessing care. 

If the home pregnancy tests don't feel right for you, you can also make an appointment with a health care provider for a pregnancy test directly instead of testing at home first. In either case, it can only be to your benefit to find out as early as possible if you're pregnant.

Last updated Jan 08, 2021
Originally published Apr 18, 1997

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