Beta Tests Reveal How Much Of The Pregnancy Hormone, Called HCG, Is Present In Your Blood

There are many different brands of pregnancy tests available on the market today, but many times you might hear about a friend, family member or message board member talking about going and getting a "beta." What is a beta, and what can it tell you?
By Monica Beyer

Explaining a beta test
There are two basic types of pregnancy tests -- blood and urine. You will use a urine pregnancy test at home (and even sometimes in your doctor's office) but to get a blood test you generally need to see a healthcare provider or have your blood drawn in a lab on doctor's orders.

The pregnancy hormone, hCG, is what both of these types of tests detect. A urine test will tell you that you are or are not pregnant, but a beta hCG blood test can actually give you a number. To muddle the matter some more, there are actually two different types of beta tests -- the qualitative beta hCG is more of a yes or no test, like a urine test, but a quantative beta hCG will give you and your provider a number. Some women have a very small amount of hCG at various points in her cycle but in order to be considered pregnant the number must be above a certain number. This number may vary from lab to lab (or office to office) but often a level above 5 is considered positive.

Who gets a beta?
Not all expectant mothers get a beta hCG test. Many offices do not even require an in-office urine test if you've tested for pregnancy at home, and blood tests are not common in many practices. Some providers only do them in emergencies, such as vaginal bleeding or unusual cramping in early pregnancy.

On the other hand, women who have been working closely with a fertility specialist (called a Reproductive Endocrinologist, or an RE for short) will often have beta tests drawn routinely at the end of a cycle to test for pregnancy. Other women will be a patient in a medical practice where betas are used or can be requested, so it really depends on your medical provider and your insurance policy.

What does the number mean?
By itself, a beta hCG number can tell you if you are pregnant or not. What it cannot tell you is how pregnant you are, such as how far along you are and if everything is growing as it should. What a provider will often do, then, is do a repeat beta test in two days. The comparison of the two numbers will help you and your healthcare provider how your pregnancy is progressing.

Generally, in a healthy pregnancy, the beta hCG number will double itself every 48 hours. This is known as doubling times and can tell you a lot about how your pregnancy is going. For example, if your first beta is 40, your second one two days later should be around 80. A lower number can alert your provider to a possible problem, and a number that is where it should be can help reassure you and your partner that everything is progressing as it should be for now.

It can be hard to not get caught up with the numbers game, particularly if you have experienced one or more losses in the past, but taking it easy and reducing stress should be a high priority for an expectant mother, so try to do your best to think positive thoughts!

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