The human chorionic gonadotropin, hCG, is the hormone required for a pregnancy to sustain. Here is everything you need to know about the pregnancy hormone.

The hCG or human chorionic gonadotropin levels are one the first things that are calculated when a woman conceives, this is what confirms her pregnancy. Known as the pregnancy hormone, the hCG is a hormone produced by the placenta, and it helps in its sustenance.

During your pregnancy, your human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG levels fluctuate owing to how far along you are, and the development of the fetus. The hCG is responsible for letting the body know that it’s time to not menstruate and start preparing for pregnancy. Health Shots for in touch with Dr Sakshi Goel, Senior Consultant Obstetrics & Gynecology, to understand everything we need to know about hCG.

What is human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG?

In simple terms, the Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is responsible for a healthy pregnancy. “The hCG is a hormone that is produced during pregnancy by the trophoblast cells that form the placenta. Its primary role is to support the development of the growing fetus by signaling the body to maintain the production of progesterone, which helps sustain the pregnancy,” explains Dr Goel. Additionally, hCG is the hormone detected in pregnancy tests to confirm a woman’s pregnancy.

A home pregnancy test
hCG levels need to be on the higher side for a home pregnancy test to come positive. Image courtesy: Freepik

The presence of hCG is detected in your urine or blood, 10- 11 days after the conception. This is when the sperm fertilizes into an egg.

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How is human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) produced?

After conception, the egg is fertilized and it travels through the fallopian tubes and plants itself on the wall of the uterus. Once this happens, the placenta starts forming and this is when the hCG starts to release. “The organ known as the placenta, which grows during pregnancy to supply the developing fetus with nutrients and oxygen, produces the hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. The syncytiotrophoblasts are the specialised cells that release hCG into the bloodstream. After the embryo combines with the uterine wall, the hormone is produced,” explains Dr Goel.

What does human chorionic gonadotropin hCG do?

The Human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, starts to produce estrogen and progesterone, hormones that help in the development of the fetus. “The hCG supports pregnancy by stimulating the body to keep producing progesterone and other hormones that are essential for the fetus’s healthy development,” explains Dr Goel. It is the hormone that pregnancy tests look for to verify a woman is pregnant. It also helps maintain the uterine lining and ensures that the growing embryo is getting nourishment throughout pregnancy.

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What are normal hCG levels by week in pregnancy?

The hCG levels vary as the pregnancy proceeds. “Normal hCG levels in the first few weeks typically double every 48–72 hours. They, then reach their peak between weeks 8 and 11 of pregnancy, after which they progressively decline and stay steady until the end of the pregnancy,” says Dr Goel.

How can you test your hCG levels?

A blood or urine sample is used to measure the hormone hCG levels, which are used to diagnose pregnancy as well. “A higher level of hCG indicates pregnancy, whereas a lower level may indicate non-pregnancy or possible problems,” says Dr Goel.

A pregnant woman
hCG levels are highest at the end of the first trimester. Image courtesy: Freepik

A blood or urine sample is used to measure the hormone hCG levels, which are also used to diagnose pregnancy. The home test would indicate a positive sign if the hCG level is high. Whereas a lower level may indicate non-pregnancy or possible problems like Ectopic Pregnancy. However, this can vary and hCG levels must be evaluated by a health practitioner. Your doctor might want you to take the test again, in a few days, and then might want to compare the numbers.

What do low and high HCG levels indicate?

Low hCG levels can suggest potential issues with pregnancy, while high levels may indicate a healthy pregnancy. Some of these issues include blighted ovum or or anembryonic pregnancy. This happens when the fertilised egg does not grow into an embryo. In this case, the gestational sac or the structure that surrounds an embryo, will grow and so will the placenta, but it will remain empty as the embryo is not growing.

The other issues that low hCG levels can signify include miscarriage, where loss of pregnancy is experienced, and an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg attaches itself outside the uterus, in the fallopian tube. Also, one must remember that if last menstrual period date is not calculated accurately, it can also reflect lower hCG levels.

Very high levels of hCG can indicate that twins are on the way or a molar pregnancy, a kind of pregnancy where the placenta doesn’t develop in an ideal way.

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When do you need to see your doctor?

Where pregnancy is concerned, it’s best never to self diagnose. “Visiting a doctor is important if you are pregnant, have severe bleeding or abdominal pain, or are worried about your hCG levels. They can offer advice and make sure your pregnancy and health are properly monitored,” says Dr Goel.

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