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That’s not chardonnay

Is anyone else watching VEEP? There was so much press around the show, but I don’t know anyone else who watches it. Two weeks ago we find out Selina Meyers – the VEEP – is pregnant. She pees in a cup and makes her assistant test about 20 urine pregnancy tests to find the answer. The answer is yes.  In my head, the next scene is her freaking out and demanding to know that the test is wrong. I should be a TV writer. It was a good scene.

What is the chance that that yes is really a no, and the test is a mistake?
I can tell her the answer: very very low.

What is the false positive rate on home pregnancy tests?
There isn’t an exact number in the literature … but basically it almost never happens.

First, know that a home pregnancy test is a test for the hormone BhCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). This is the “pregnancy hormone”. You need to follow instructions on the test. If it tells you to check the test in 2 minutes, check the test in 2 minutes. Sometimes waiting a few extra minutes can make the yes/no line appear faintly positive when it’s really just the saturation of the urine, not the pregnancy hormone. Besides straying from the instructions, if you don’t have BhCG in your body, and subsequently in your urine, the test should be negative.

There are only rare circumstances when you will have BhCG in your body and not be pregnant:

1. If you had a recent pregnancy, the hormone can stay in your system for up to 2 months. You can get pregnant again within weeks of giving birth though. If you take a pregnancy test a month after you gave birth and want to know if you are pregnant again, there is a chance the old pregnancy will be the “yes”. In cases like these, see your doctor for more definitive testing.

2. You may be pregnant, but with an abnormal pregnancy. This needs to be a totally separate post. Your doctor will likely be the one to diagnose you with an abnormal pregnancy.

3. Infertility treatments often use BhCG. If you are injecting BhCG into your system, it will be in your system. That’s obvious.

4. Rare types of ovarian cysts may produce the hCG hormone. The symptoms might be the same as early pregnancy: bloating, abdominal discomfort, nausea or vomiting. You will make an appointment to see a doctor when your home test comes back positive anyway, and these cysts are very rare.

5. Rare types of cancer can cause a positive pregnancy test too.

There may be one or two much rarer reasons I am forgetting. But for all these reasons, if you have a positive pregnancy test, make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s most likely true!

And, not to ruin the surprise, but the VEEP has a miscarriage. That story line closed. If only they asked me to contribute … I could have made a whole series around her pregnancy 🙂


Jun 14, 2012

Original post published: 

* Content reviewed annually for accuracy 

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