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Human Chorionic Gonadotropin hormone (hCG)

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin hormone (hCG)

What exactly is a hCG level chart? Well unless you’ve been undergoing fertility assistance or been initiated into the unique language of fertility specialists, you aren’t likely to know. So don’t feel alone if you’re a little confused. hCG is the acronym for human chorionic gonadotropin hormone. This is a pregnancy specific hormone which is can be very important to women who are pregnant but not of much interest to those who aren’t.

hCG is the hormone which is responsible for all those early pregnancy symptoms which make millions of women the world over question “am I pregnant?”;  many of them even before they’ve done a pregnancy test. Breast tenderness, feeling a little emotional, nausea and fatigue – they’re all due to hCG surging around the body.

hCG levels chart during pregnancy

Generally, a woman’s hCG levels double every 72 hours. hCG levels reach their peak in week 8 to week 11 of her pregnancy and then they will tend to level off for the next two trimesters. This is why in the first trimester (3 months) of pregnancy symptoms can be so much stronger and intense.

hCG levels can vary between individual women and whether they are carrying more than one embryo. How she as an individual responds to pregnancy and how her body reacts is entirely unique.

hCG levels in weeks from the last normal menstrual period:

3 weeksLMP

5 – 50 mIU/ml

4 weeksLMP

5 – 426 mIU/ml

5 weeksLMP

18 – 7,340 mIU/ml

6 weeksLMP

1,080 – 56,500 mIU/ml

7-8 weeksLMP

7, 650 – 229,000 mIU/ml

9-12 weeksLMP

25,700 – 288,000 mIU/ml

13-16 weeksLMP

13,300 – 254,000 mIU/ml

17-24 weeksLMP

4,060 – 165,400 mIU/ml

25-40 weeksLMP

3,640 – 117,000 mIU/ml

Women who are not pregnant

<5.0 mIU/ml

Women who are pregnant

Any reading above 25 mIU/ml is considered positive

N.B. It is important to remember that these numbers are intended as a guideline only. They are not definitive and are just meant to give an indication of what can be an average hCG range. Every woman and her pregnancy are unique and what is considered normal for one may not be for another. If you have any concerns about your individual hCG readings then it is important that you seek reassurance from your health care professional.

What’s interesting about hCG is that if the measurements start off high, they don’t continue to expand at the same rate. In around 85% of normal pregnancies, a woman’s hCG level doubles every 48-72 hours. For women whose level of hCG is a little slower to get going, their increase can be much quicker than others. It’s as if nature knows that the wellbeing and survival of the embryo is dependent on the concentration of hCG increasing and there is no time to waste!

Where does hCG come from?

hCG is produced by the cells which will eventually become the placenta. Long before it is fully formed, the early placental tissue sends a message to the site of the ovarian follicle where the egg was released. This area is known as the corpus luteum and it plays a really important role in influencing the production of oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for building up a rich vascular (bloody) lining in the walls of the uterus which will nurture and feed the developing embryo before the placenta has had a chance to form. Without this feedback loop occurring, the chances of the embryo surviving would be slim. Issues relating to the function of the corpus luteum are thought to account some women experiencing fertility problems and early miscarriage.

But of course, all of this upswing in hCG levels is occurring long before a woman has had her pregnancy confirmed. hCG starts being produced around a week after the egg has been released and then fertilised by the sperm. The woman may suspect she’s pregnant and be doing the date calculations, but it’s too early for there to be any definitive proof.

But how can I tell if I’m producing hCG?

hCG is the hormone which is detected in a pregnant mother’s urine and blood. It’s the one which is responsible for those two positive lines on the stick. If you think you’re feeling a little sensitive right now, this is nothing compared to how sensitive the hCG detectors are on even the cheapest of home pregnancy test.

But whether the test you’ve just done says you’re pregnant or not, it won’t actually give you any idea of what your hCG levels actually are. Even a standard pregnancy test won’t detect the exact level of hCG, just whether it’s present or not. Unless of course you’ve been receiving fertility assistance and precision is the key. Finding out there’s been the slightest rise in hCG can cause the hearts to flutter in couples who are getting conception support.

It’s worth remembering that it’s possible to have a false negative pregnancy test. Doing a test too early, before hCG is at a sufficiently high concentration to detect, can lead to a false negative result, even if a woman is pregnant. But it’s virtually impossible to have a false positive pregnancy test because of their sensitivity. 

What do I need to know about hCG?

  • Most pregnant women don’t know what their individual hCG reading is or will be.
  • Even if you do find out your hCG level, don’t make too much of it. A low reading of hCG can still mean you are going to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
  • A pregnancy ultrasound gives a more accurate outcome prediction than an hCG reading done in isolation.
  • An hCG reading which is measured at less than 5mlU/ml is insufficient for there to be a positive pregnancy result. A reading above 25 mlU/ml is high enough to be considered pregnancy positive.
  • Women can have a transvaginal ultrasound and hCG blood measurements simultaneously to work out the exact gestation of their pregnancy. A comparison of the two results can provide a very accurate assessment of the gestational age of the embryo. A transvaginal ultrasound will show a gestational sac once the hCG level is between 1,000-2,000IU/ml.
  • An hCG reading in isolation is not useful. For real benefits, a series of hCG blood tests are taken a couple of days apart and the readings are compared. There is often variation with a rapid increase in numbers especially in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
  • Dating a pregnancy or gestation from hCG readings alone should not be done. This is because there is such a big variation between women, and what is considered “normal”.
  • hCG levels are not indicative of the strength, intelligence or gender of the baby. They are simply a marker for whether sufficiently high levels of hCG have been detected and then measured.

What can a high hCG mean?

There are a few reasons why a woman’s hCG can be particularly high. Miscalculation of pregnancy dates, carrying a multiple pregnancy or very rarely, a molar pregnancy. It is common for health care providers to recommend repeat testing with 48-72 hours to check for changes in the level of hCG.

hCG tips

Don’t get too worked up about your hCG levels. There’s little you can do to influence them and worrying and agonising over what your level is will do nothing but cause you undue stress.

In order to definitively know your hCG level it’s necessary to have blood tests. hCG levels can vary at different times of the day, from day to day and week to week. Remember – a one off hCG reading doesn’t provide much information; only what the level is at that specific point in time. It’s the pattern of readings and levels which gives a far more accurate indication of the status of the pregnancy and its viability.

Your job is to care well for yourself and do everything you can to stay healthy and fit. Doing this will give your baby the possible chances of growing to full term. Be confident that your body knows what to do – your hCG level is not under your power or control.

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