Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG): Interpretation of Results and Clinical Significance


Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced by the developing placenta during pregnancy. Its levels rise exponentially in the early stages of gestation, peaking around the 10th to 12th week. hCG plays a crucial role in maintaining the pregnancy and is commonly used as a diagnostic marker for pregnancy and monitoring its progression.

hCG Measurement and Interpretation

hCG levels are typically measured in milli-international units per milliliter (mIU/mL). The following table provides general guidelines for interpreting hCG results:

hCG Range Pregnancy Status
<5 mIU/mL Non-pregnant
5-25 mIU/mL Possible early pregnancy
25-100 mIU/mL Probable pregnancy
>100 mIU/mL Definite pregnancy

hCG in Early Pregnancy

In the early stages of pregnancy, hCG levels double approximately every 2-3 days. This rapid increase is essential for maintaining the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone, a hormone that supports the pregnancy. Low hCG levels or a slow rise in hCG may indicate potential complications, such as ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.

hCG in Multiple Pregnancies

In the case of multiple pregnancies, hCG levels will be higher than in a singleton pregnancy. The exact correlation between hCG levels and the number of fetuses is not always predictable, but a significantly elevated hCG level may suggest the possibility of a multiple gestation.

hCG in Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, typically in the fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies are associated with lower hCG levels compared to normal pregnancies at the same gestational age.

hCG in Miscarriage

Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation. Falling hCG levels can be a sign of a threatened or incomplete miscarriage. However, a single low hCG measurement does not necessarily confirm miscarriage, as levels can fluctuate. Serial measurements are usually required to assess the trend.

hCG in Gestational Trophoblastic Disease (GTD)

GTD is a group of conditions that result from abnormal growth of placental tissue. These conditions include molar pregnancies and choriocarcinoma. GTD is associated with extremely high hCG levels that may persist or rise after the removal of the pregnancy tissue.

hCG Monitoring

Serial hCG measurements can be used to monitor the progression of pregnancy and assess the risk of certain complications. Regular hCG testing may be recommended in the following situations:

  • Confirmation of pregnancy
  • Monitoring a threatened or early pregnancy
  • Ruling out an ectopic pregnancy
  • Evaluating the progression of multiple pregnancies
  • Surveillance after a miscarriage or GTD

Limitations of hCG Testing

While hCG testing is a useful tool in pregnancy management, it has certain limitations:

  • hCG levels can vary between individuals and may not always be indicative of the exact gestational age.
  • hCG levels can be affected by certain conditions, such as assisted reproductive technologies or thyroid disorders.
  • hCG testing alone cannot diagnose all pregnancy-related complications, and further evaluation may be necessary.


hCG is a valuable marker in the diagnosis, monitoring, and management of pregnancy. Its levels provide insights into the status of the pregnancy and can help identify potential complications. However, it is important to note that hCG testing should be interpreted in conjunction with other clinical information and may require serial measurements for accurate assessment.

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