Pregnancy Tests 101

Illustration of pregnancy test, hCG hormone, and digital clock

Taking a pregnancy test can be a nerve-racking experience, whether you are trying to fall pregnant or not. While pregnancy tests are easy to use and accurate, what happens when you get a faint line on a pregnancy test? This article will answer this question and provide everything you need to know about at-home urine pregnancy tests.

When is the right time to take a pregnancy test?

There are several reasons why you might need to take a pregnancy test, including missing your period, experiencing pregnancy symptoms, or when you’re worried after having unprotected sex. While these are all valid reasons to take a test, there is a specific time that you can get the most accurate reading.

Most pregnancy tests are pretty accurate, starting on the first day of your missed period. However, some of us have irregular cycles or don’t track our cycles, so it may be difficult to calculate. In this case, you can take a pregnancy test two weeks after last having unprotected sex. Some pregnancy tests are even more sensitive and, thus, can detect pregnancy even before a missed period, but these may be less accurate (1). This is because if done before that period of time, the pregnancy hormone might not be detected, which can lead to inaccurate or false-negative results.

Where can I get a pregnancy test?

If you think you might be pregnant and the time is right to take a test, there are a few ways that you can get hold of one. One of the easiest ways is to buy a urine pregnancy test from the pharmacy, drug store, dollar store, or grocery store. These tests are easy to do at home, are private, and produce quick results. Additionally, they can be relatively inexpensive. You may also be able to get pregnancy tests from sexual health centers or from your health-care provider (1).

How does a pregnancy test work?

Pregnancy tests function by detecting human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone produced by the ovaries and placenta during pregnancy. Usually, the placenta starts creating this hormone roughly six days after fertilization occurs, when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. Thus, its presence will yield a positive result if you are pregnant. You won’t make HCG unless you are pregnant (1,2).

How do you take a pregnancy test?

There are a few ways to take a pregnancy test, and directions will differ depending on the test you take; one of the easiest ways is to place the test strip into your urine stream as you pee. However, you can also pee into a clean cup and then place the test strip in the urine. When taking a pregnancy test, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Try to test with your first pee of the day, in the morning. This is because HCG levels are highest in the morning, combined with the accumulation and concentration of hormones throughout the night and, thus, more easily detected.
  • Avoid drinking large amounts of fluid. Drinking too much liquid can dilute your urine, making it more difficult to detect HCG.
  • Always read the instructions of your particular test, and follow the steps verbatim.
  • Always check that your pregnancy test is not expired (3).

What happens if I get a faint line on a pregnancy test?

As mentioned, a line indicates that you are pregnant. However, what happens if you see a faint line on a pregnancy test? A faint line on a pregnancy test typically indicates that HCG is present but the levels are low. Low HCG levels usually mean you are pregnant but it’s still very early on in the pregnancy. You may also see a faint line on a pregnancy test because you’ve ingested too much liquid. Drinking too much water, or other drinks, can dilute the amount of HCG in your urine (4).

How accurate are pregnancy tests?

Pregnancy tests are very accurate when they are taken correctly. In fact, they are expected to work about 99 percent of the time, and they are just as accurate as a test done at a medical facility. However, the accuracy of these tests will depend on when exactly you take them. They are most effective when taken after a missed period.

There is always the chance of a false positive, meaning that the home pregnancy test yields a positive result even though you are not actually pregnant, especially if you have recently had a miscarriage or an abortion. For a false positive to occur, one of two things may have happened. First, the test may be defective and may not have worked correctly. A pregnancy test might also be positive if you have HCG in your system for reasons other than being pregnant. For example, if you have had an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, you may still have HCG from the prior pregnancy in your system, even though you are no longer pregnant. Additionally, certain fertility medications can contain the HCG hormone, which may skew results (2).


The earlier you find out you are pregnant, the earlier you can begin considering your options, specifically if you want to continue the pregnancy. The first step before making any decisions is to confirm the pregnancy and gestational age. It is highly recommended that you do a pregnancy test to confirm your situation. You can find more information on how to confirm a pregnancy and you can also take a pregnancy quiz to find out if you are pregnant.

If you choose not to continue the pregnancy, there are multiple abortion options available. For more information on abortion methods or how to receive abortion care, contact our counselors at safe2choose.

  1. “Doing a pregnancy test.” NHS,,before%20you%20miss%20a%20period. Accessed February 2024.
  2. “Pregnancy Tests.” Planned Parenthood, Accessed February 2024.
  3. “I have a faint line on a pregnancy test: Am I pregnant?” Clearblue, 2019,,see%20a%20faint%20positive%20line. Accessed February 2024.
  4. “Pregnancy Tests.” Cleveland Clinic, Accessed February 2024.