What is the earliest pregnancy test with accurate results?
Pregnancy tests are weird. Half the people hope to fail, while the other half hope to pass. What other kind of test is like that? Regardless, both groups are usually quite anxious to find out the answer as soon as possible. We’re going to cover everything you need to know about your earliest pregnancy test options.
First, we’ll cover the early normal signs of pregnancy. Then, we’ll cover the types of pregnancy tests and dig further into the issue of accuracy. Finally, we’ll make our recommendation for best early pregnancy test, and also warn you about brands to avoid.
The Earliest Signs of Pregnancy
Before we jump into the earliest pregnancy test you can take, let’s take a brief review of early pregnancy symptoms. Really, the earliest pregnancy test only works if you take it early! If you don’t even think to take the test until later, that defeats the purpose. These are signs that a test might be a good idea.
- Missed period. This is the first and the most common general sign of pregnancy. If you are quite regular with your menstrual cycle, this is also a fairly strong indicator as well. However, missed periods occur for many other reasons as well, including illness, stress, weight change, or even when starting or stopping drugs and oral contraceptives.
- High body temperature. It’s normal for the body temperature to rise during ovulation and then return to normal. Measuring this temperature peak is a common method of trying to time conception. If the temperature of your body stays high after ovulation and remains high through when your period would start, this could be a sign of pregnancy. A high body temperature and a missed period are probably the most common earliest signs of pregnancy.
- Breast changes. Pregnant women tend to complain about tenderness or swelling of their breasts. The breast sensation may be similar to the pain some women experience a few days before their period. But like other symptoms, this symptom may also be due to other causes like a hormonal imbalance or birth control pills. Breast discomfort usually eases up in the later stages of pregnancy.
- Dizziness. Lightheadedness and nausea can arrive just a week after becoming pregnant due to all the hormonal changes. Fatigue is also common. Of course, these symptoms are hardly specific to pregnancy, so they aren’t too helpful on their own.
- Morning sickness. This one is a Hollywood classic. Morning sickness, despite its name, can occur any time during the day. A heightened or altered sense of taste and smell can trigger strong aversions to certain foods you used to like. Common culprits include spices, fish, milk, coffee, and other foods with strong odors. Morning sickness usually occurs in the earlier stages of pregnancy.
- Light bleeding or spotting. Ironically, a small amount of bleeding can occur in a process called implantation bleeding. This bleeding can occur 1-2 weeks after ovulation, leading to confusion as a weak period.
Each of these symptoms by itself doesn’t make a strong case for pregnancy. However, if you experience more than one, it might be a good idea to use a real pregnancy test. Of course, in all cases, early pregnancy doesn’t necessarily lead to a full-term baby. In fact, about one-third of all fertilized eggs miscarry, in many cases so early that the woman was not even aware of being pregnant (source: Wikipedia).
Types of Pregnancy Tests
All pregnancy tests measure the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG for short, which is a hormone only produced during pregnancy by placenta cells. However, there are different ways to measure this hormone.
Pregnancy Blood Tests
The most definitive pregnancy test is a blood test performed at the doctor’s office. It can also detect pregnancy the earliest of any test at 7-12 days post ovulation. Bloods tests are also more sensitive than home pregnancy tests come in two varieties. The quantitative blood test is the most accurate and measures your actual hCG blood levels. Below 5 mIU/mL hCG is considered a negative result meaning no pregnancy. (Here, mIU/mL is just the unit used to measure the hormone. Instead of grams or tablespoons, mIU/mL stands for milli-International Units per milliliter.) Between 5 and 25 mIU/mL hCG is is unclear, and above 25 mIU/mL is generally taken to be a positive sign of pregnancy. A quantitative blood test has an accuracy of about 98-99%. The second type, a qualitative blood test, simply gives you a “yes” or “no” answer but is less accurate and depends on the calibration of that particular test.
On average, a pregnant woman will have an hCG level of 100 mIU/mL on the day of her first missed period. However, the actual level can vary, so some women will not be able to confirm the pregnancy until later. Given this uncertainty, though, a clinical blood test is still the most reliable early pregnancy test because a qualified expert administers the test. You are sure they didn’t make a mistake. The downside is the inconvenience and cost compared to do-it-yourself home testing kits.
If your blood test that shows an hCG level above 500 mIU/mL, your doctor will usually order an ultrasound to go along with it. Different kinds of ultrasounds can detect pregnancies at around 4-5 weeks. A positive blood test followed by a positive ultrasound is definitive confirmation of a pregnancy.
Over-The-Counter Pregnancy Tests
Before going to the doctor, most women will use a home an over-the-counter pregnancy test. These home tests are cheap, private, and extremely fast. When used correctly, vendors claim a 97% accuracy rate, although we will look at the issue of accuracy more carefully in a later section.
Home pregnancy tests all measure hCG levels in urine. There is wide variability between different brands, and some measure as low as 10 mIU/mL hCG while others have a threshold of 100 mIU/mL hCG. The most sensitive tests claim they can detect pregnancy four or five days before your first missed period, but more tests are not very accurate and need to be re-taken a few days later.
Urine tests come with a variety of instructions for dipping the test, spotting, or using other methods to test the urine. Test usually have a control line and a test line. If the test line appears, regardless of how weak or strong, that indicates a positive pregnancy test. The control line should always appear. If the control line is absent, that means the pregnancy is expired, incorrectly performed, or otherwise wrong and should be discarded. A simple way to think about this is that two lines means positive, and single line means negative.
What’s the most accurate pregnancy test?
Understanding the accuracy of a pregnancy test is a bit complicated, but here are some general considerations:
- Later tests are always more accurate. If you wait an extra day or an extra week, your result will be more reliable.
- The doctor’s tests are the most accurate. Home pregnancy tests can be quite accurate as well, especially if you take them at later times, but the doctor’s tests are the most definitive.
- Combining multiple tests is more accurate. This can mean trying several brands of home pregnancy tests. Or it can me confirming a home test with a doctor’s visit. In any case, getting the same answer from different tests is more accurate.
- Following instructions carefully is more accurate. For home pregnancy tests, be sure to follow the instructions closely. If you must wait 3 minutes for the bands to develop, don’t come to premature conclusions after 30 seconds because you are too impatient to wait. At the doctor’s office, the experts performing your tests follow instructions very well, which is part of why their results are accurate.
The accuracy of a pregnancy depends on which test you use and also how you use it. The accuracy also depends on the individual woman’s pregnancy. Here are further details for determining accuracy.
The day that you test
Home pregnancy tests give specific instructions on which day to use the test for the highest accuracy. Usually, this is on the day of the missed period or the day after. Unfortunately, there are no industry standards for describing this, so many women use the test earlier than recommended. If you take the pregnancy test too early, there is not enough hCG. This leads to a negative test when in fact you are pregnant. The best thing to do in this case is to wait longer and re-test.
The hour that you test
Since pregnancy tests measure hCG concentration, it makes sense that they will be most sensitive when the hCG in urine is most concentrated. This is usually in the morning right after you wake up, which is why most early pregnancy tests indicated that you should use the FMU or first morning urine for your sample. Drinking large amounts of water or other dilution of the urine will reduce the sensitivity of the test and cause you to miss the positive result.
The minute you read the test
Pregnancy tests come with specific instructions on how long to wait to read the strips. If you are too early, you will miss out detecting on weak levels of hCG. On the other hand, if you wait too long, evaporation can cause a faint false band that some can misinterpret as a positive result. Be sure to follow the instructions down to the minute.
The problem with manufacturer’s sensitivity claims
Different brands claim to be sensitive to different levels of hCG. If you want the most accurate early pregnancy test, you would naturally choose the brand that claims to have the highest sensitivity. However, this is a double-edged sword. If your test can only measure 100 mIU/mL hCG, you would probably take the test later and obtain a reliable result. If your test claims to measure 10 mIU/mL hCG, you might be tempted to take the test earlier, where results are less reliable. So the whole picture about accuracy is not so clear.
The folks at MadeForMums.com recently did a survey of over 1000 moms or hopeful moms. They found that 6.5% of the pregnancy results were wrong, which is a lot worse than the 99% accuracy you see advertised on pregnancy test packaging. Of the incorrect results, 5.4% were false negatives (the test says you aren’t pregnant, but you are) and 1.1% were false positives (the test says you are pregnant, but you aren’t). Much of the inaccuracy is likely due to people using the tests much earlier than they are supposed to. In order to understand pregnancy test results, you should be aware of false negatives and false positives.
What you need to know about false negatives
False negatives occur when your pregnancy test is negative, but you are actually pregnant. The most common reason is that the test was taken too early before there was enough hCG to detect. Of course, there could be other reasons like improper use or expired tests.
Anxious women will not want to hear this, but the best course of action after a possible false positive is to wait. Wait a week and retake the test. You could also try taking another brand’s test in the meantime, but that may or may not help.
What you need to know about false positives
False positives occur when your pregnancy test is positive, but you aren’t pregnant. These are much less common than false negatives. If you think you have a false positive, you should wait and retake the test or see a doctor to confirm.
Often, false positives are real pregnancies. but some pregnancies spontaneously terminate within the first weeks of pregnancy. Such pregnancies are only detected with the pregnancy test and are termed “chemical pregnancies”. If you didn’t take the pregnancy test, you may have never noticed. Other medical conditions such as certain fertility treatments or recent birth can also give false positives, but these are much rarer occurrences.
Best early pregnancy test recommendation
Going to the doctor will always be the most accurate course of action. However, a home pregnancy test is usually the first step in trying to figure out if you are pregnant. Now that you understand some of their limitations, here are some home pregnancy tests you may want to consider. Our recommendations are available for ordering online through Amazon for maximum privacy and convenience.
Our choice: ClinicalGuard hCG pregnancy test strips
The pregnancy test strips from ClinicalGuard (Amazon link) are our recommendation. They are much cheaper than some more expensive name brands, but ironically, they are also more accurate and reliable. The ClinicalGuard test is no-frills. You dip the strips in urine and look for a control band and positive band to indicate pregnancy. The kits is rated for 25 mIU/mL, which is the FDA standard.
The first reason that we recommend the ClinicalGuard pregnancy test is its very low cost. A 20-pack (yes, that’s right, 20!) costs the same as 1-2 test strips from more expensive manufacturers. No matter what you obtain for your first home pregnancy result, you are strongly encouraged to take another test. If you need to pay $5 for every test, this can add up quickly. For example, you might see a faint band on the first day. Is it real or not? If you see a weak band 3 days in a row, you will be more confident that it is real. The band may also start turning darker over each day. Because the ClinicalGuard pack is so cheap, you don’t need to worry about which day to start testing. Just test every single day for 20 days straight if you really want to be sure! Ten days before your expected period and ten days after your expected period would cover pretty much all possibilities. You paid the price of one cup of Starbucks, and that’s it.
This leads to the second reason we recommend ClinicalGuard, which is accuracy. One way to increase accuracy is to take multiple tests over time, and that is very easy and economical with the ClinicalGuard pack. However, this isn’t the only reason the ClinicalGuard kit works well. It is simply just more accurate compared to other more expensive brands, which you can see for yourself from reading the Amazon user reviews. Out of almost 2000 user reviews, ClinicalGuard maintains the highest star rating of all the early pregnancy tests.
How early can you use the ClinicalGuard pregnancy test? Using the day of your expected period or the day after is the standard starting point. However, Amazon customers report that they successfully detected pregnancy 3, 4, and even up to 6 days before their expected period. What’s more impressive is the general lack of negative reviews. If you look at other brands that claim to detect pregnancy very early, they have many one-star and generally bad reviews. We’ll discuss this in the next section on which brands to avoid.
Worst pregnancy tests to avoid
Unfortunately, most big name brands are not very reliable, as revealed by the many negative Amazon customer reviews. Companies will claim to have the most sensitive or accurate results, but the plain fact is that many users are left disappointed. You also pay more for these failed tests. Let’s look at some of the culprits to avoid,
- First Response (Amazon link) claims to make an early pregnancy test that is the only one that works 6 days before your missed period. Almost a full quarter of all user give a one-star review for First Response’s early pregnancy test kit. One enterprising user claimed to test a larger number of brands and found First Response to be the only one that failed. Apparently First Response recently changed their design, and since the change, the test accuracy has been horrible. Another customer’s doctor warned her to stay away from this brand. You can see the horrible reviews yourself at the Amazon link above. As we mentioned, you pay almost twice the price as the ClinicalGuard kit, but only get 3 tests compared to 20. This is not a good value, either.
- Blue Cross (Amazon link) makes another early pregnancy tests kit with terrible customer reviews. These tests are cheap, in that you get a 25-pack for a reasonable price. However, the tests are not sensitive at all, despite their claim to detect 10 mIU/mL hCG. A quarter of all users give one and two star reviews. According to one user, the Blue Cross test still failed to detect pregnancy even when supposedly less sensitive 25 and 50 mIU/mL hCG tests all read positive. There are many angry customers at the perceived false advertising. Perhaps the users did not follow directions correctly, but if other brands work well and this one doesn’t, it is probably the product’s fault.
- Clearblue (Amazon link) makes some of the most expensive pregnancy tests that now include a digital readout. Unfortunately, these are very inaccurate in user’s hands. When we last checked, a whopping 43% of users gave Clearblue a one-star review. One apparent problem is that the digital readout is not accurate. Upon breaking open the digital device, a user found two bands indicating a positive test even though the digital readout gave a negative result. The doctor’s visit confirmed a positive result. Apparently false positives, which should usually be quite rare, also occur with Clearblue’s pregnancy test. When you see that many one-star reviews, something must be wrong with the product. Steer clear away from this one.
- Wondfo (Amazon link) sells a 25-pack pregnancy test for a reasonable price. Of the four brands listed here, it is probably the best. However, ClinicalGuard still has much better customer reviews. Wondfo has problems with false negatives, and one customer complained that the expiry date on the package was too early. Another complained that only 2 out of 25 strips gave a positive result when 7 weeks pregnant. It sounds like there may be quality control or reliability issues with this brand.
Earliest pregnancy test: conclusions
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a long time, you might be nervously excited by the prospects of a positive pregnancy test result. On the flip side, if you aren’t prepared or weren’t looking to be pregnant, you might be stressed and worried. With modern pregnancy tests, you don’t need to be stuck in limbo for too long. There are many cheap options for home use, and going to a doctor is always a good choice. Above all, patience will get you the right answer in the quickest time.
If you were hoping that the pregnancy test gave you a positive result, check out our compilation of touching and funny pregnancy test results caught on video.
If you were hoping that pregnancy test gave you a negative result, check out our guide to online birth control to make sure you get the answer you want!