Understanding hCG Levels in Early Pregnancy

The Trend Is More Important Than Any Single Number

Pregnant person at a prenatal appointment

Verywell / Julie Bang

Human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, is a hormone produced during pregnancy in the cells of the placenta. Especially in early pregnancy, the amount of hCG present in the mother's body rises rapidly. In fact, it is the hormone detected in the urine by at-home pregnancy tests.

It is also found in the blood as early as 11 days after conception, and when a physician wants to confirm a pregnancy, they may order one or more quantitative hCG blood tests. The test identifies the amount of hCG in the pregnant person's blood, expressed as an amount by milli-international units of hCG hormone per milliliter of blood (mIU/ml).

How Physicians Interpret hCG Results

Many people with routine pregnancies don't ever get their hCG levels monitored. But if you do, note that any single hCG test in early pregnancy does not tell much about the health of the pregnancy. Individual people have a wide variation in hCG levels, and the same person may experience a big difference in hCG numbers from one pregnancy to the next. Plus, if you are pregnant with multiples, the hCG levels will be quite a bit higher than with singleton pregnancies.

Physicians look at the trend in the number of two or more tests. The hCG doubling time, over two separate blood tests spread over a period of days, usually provides more useful information than a single hCG level when evaluating a pregnancy. In most cases, the number will double over a period of 48 to 72 hours.

Typical hCG Results

While there is a wide variation in hCG levels, researchers have identified ranges of hCG typical of most pregnancies, based on the number of weeks from the pregnant person’s last menstrual period.

The typical hCG by the week of pregnancy, according to a 2015 study:

  • Under 9 weeks: 455 - 142,584 mIU/ml
  • 9 - 12 weeks: 22,655 - 164,125 mIU/ml
  • 13 - 16 weeks: 4,618 - 132,084 mIU/ml
  • 17 - 24 weeks: 5,637 - 49,392 mIU/ml
  • 25 - 40 weeks: 3,354 - 74,719 mIU/ml
  • Non-pregnant people: <5.0 mIU/ml
  • Postmenopausal people: <9.5 mIU/ml

Remember that your exact level of hCG is less important than how it changes over time. Plus, these ranges are based on the length of the pregnancy dated from the last menstrual period. Any person with abnormal cycles may see significant variation in these ranges.

For example, a person with six-week menstrual cycles should fall roughly in the same range as a woman with four-week menstrual cycles. In other words, at eight weeks after their last menstrual period, they should fall roughly in the same range as a person with four-week menstrual cycles would at four weeks.

When hCG Results Can Signal a Problem

In instances where a first hCG measurement is lower than expected, a second test will most likely be ordered. Additionally. when there is cause to worry about miscarriage due to previous loss or other symptoms, hCG levels may be monitored, When there is a decline in the level of hCG from the first test to the second test, this often means a miscarriage is likely, also known as an impending miscarriage.

Note that there is nothing you can do to increase your hCG levels when they're in decline, or sadly, to prevent an early miscarriage if it is happening. Typically, when an early miscarriage occurs there is a chromosomal abnormality or another issue with the embryo that causes the pregnancy to not be viable (and the body responds by lowering the hCG levels).

A Word From Verywell

If you are concerned about your hCG levels, contact your doctor to get your questions answered. However, try not to read too much into any single measurement, as what really matters, in early pregnancy, is if your hCG levels are increasing.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.