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False Negative Pregnancy Test

Updated 24-01-2021 – Lucy Walters

Unlike what many people think, taking a home pregnancy test can actually be a stressful experience for many women, and the level of stress further escalates when you have heard several incidents about wrong pregnancy test results. It has been estimated that around 20 million home pregnancy tests are being used every year in the US alone to learn potentially life-changing information. Despite the manufacturers claiming their products to be 99 percent accurate, research conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine has revealed that around 5 percent of pregnancy tests returned false negative when, in fact, a woman was pregnant.

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What is a False Negative Pregnancy Test?

As the name indicates, a false negative pregnancy test result is when you are actually pregnant but the test result turns out to be negative.

But, why would you get a false negative pregnancy test when you are pregnant? This could be for several reasons:

  • You took the test too early and your pregnancy hormones are not sufficiently developed to enable the test to detect your pregnancy. Of course, you will be naturally curious to know if you are pregnant, especially if you have been exclusively trying, and this can lead to taking a test soon after you miss a period, but it could be too early. To know for sure, you can test again after a week of your false negative test, or even better, ask for a blood test from your physician.
  • You tested with a defective or expired pregnancy test. This is a common occurrence too; you might have a box or two of pregnant tests sitting around in your cabinet and you test without checking their expiration date. An expired test will obviously produce wrong results, and the only solution here is to check the expiration date of the test before using it.
  • Not using the first urine of the day can also lead to a false negative pregnancy test. Your urine early in the morning will be more concentrated for easy hCG detection and the test will be able to provide more accurate results. As the day progresses, the urine gets diluted and the probability of wrong results increases.

If your pregnancy test came back negative and your period is also late, you should also consider the possibility that you may not be pregnant, but your missed or late period could be due to a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • You were traveling.
  • You are breastfeeding.
  • You have been ill for some time.
  • You already have irregular periods.
  • You have been stressed lately.
  • You are/were on birth control.
  • You are on medication, especially fertility-related.
  • You are menopausal.

 

Hook Effect

You missed a period and you are even having some pregnancy-related symptoms, like nausea, sore boobs, etc., but your pregnancy test was negative, including the blood test result from your physician. But, your symptoms persist, and finally, your doctor gets an ultrasound a few weeks later, and to everyone’s shock and surprise, you are pregnant! How is this even possible? Though rare, it is possible and is referred to as the hook effect.

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Also known as a prozone effect or high-dose hook effect, the hook effect occurs when your body has high levels of hCG, which is the pregnancy hormone that all home pregnancy tests detect to confirm a pregnancy. When you are pregnant, the hCG molecules usually link with a ‘capture’ antibody and ‘signal’ antibody, which leads to a positive pregnancy test result. But, when the level of the hormone is too high in your body, it can saturate the antibodies, and this leads to your false negative pregnancy tests. It is only in recent years that topics and discussions on this condition started surfacing, and only very few people are aware of it.

As a matter of fact, there have been incidents that the hook effect caused women to get an “official” positive result only during the third trimester, despite feeling pregnant all the time. However, getting a false negative pregnancy test as a result of the hook effect is pretty rare, which is certainly a relief.

 

What to Do Next?

  • If your home pregnancy test came back negative, but you still have not got your period (if you have had a regular cycle all along!), perform another pregnancy test after a week and think about the next steps after that result.
  • Having taken a pregnancy test, if you doubt it to be false negative because you have been encountering pregnancy symptoms, the next logical step would be to make an appointment with your doctor for a blood test or ultrasound to have your pregnancy confirmed.
  • You get negative results in more than one pregnancy test and your period has not started, contact your doctor for a physical exam, because this could be because of reasons like excessive stress, thyroid disorders, ovary-related issues, etc. Your doctor will be able to help you diagnose the issue, if any, and recommend relevant solutions.

More importantly, if you seem to have signs or symptoms like severe pain in your pelvic region or abdomen, vomiting or nausea, vaginal bleeding, and/or fainting, you should see your doctor immediately, because this could be other conditions, like ectopic pregnancy, chemical pregnancy, early miscarriage, etc.

Getting a false negative pregnancy test can be equally frustrating as it is confusing. But, as you can see, there are a lot of reasons and explanations for the same, and in most cases, you have nothing to worry about. Repeating the pregnancy test at a later time or taking a blood test or ultrasound will give you an accurate result. But, if you do encounter some alarming symptoms or signs, like those discussed above, get to your doctor at the earliest to eradicate any potential complications.

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