10 April 2019

Faint line on pregnancy test: what does it mean?

pregnancy test false positives
By the Editorial Comitee IVI Blog

In just the same way as there’s no such thing as being ‘a little bit pregnant’, when you take a pregnancy test at home, there should ideally be no such thing as an ambiguous result. But unfortunately that is in fact sometimes the case. Even though a faint positive pregnancy test sounds almost as illogical as ‘a little bit pregnant’ it can be the result you have to deal with, albeit only temporarily.

In this IVI blog article, we look at the early signs of pregnancy which may be the trigger for your test, how pregnancy tests work and what a very faint line on pregnancy test results actually means. We also explore how you should go about clarifying the situation and when a pregnancy test positive faint line means that you are pregnant and when it may mean you’re not and how you can be absolutely sure.

What are the early signs and when should you take a pregnancy test?

Of course the best-known and recognised early sign of pregnancy is a missed period. But not everyone keeps track of their periods down to the exact day, and many people have a slightly erratic and therefore unpredictable cycle. As a result you can’t always be sure you can follow the normal advice, which is to delay testing until about a week after your period was due. If you don’t want to wait, you should at least wait until one to two weeks after you last had sex to allow your body time to develop the hormones that are measured by the pregnancy test. If you are not sure of your dates, there are some other signs to look out for.

  • Implantation cramps are a common but not universal early sign of pregnancy, feeling a lot like period cramps making you think your period is imminent but then it does not arrive.
  • Breasts may feel tender or with painful nipples, they may appear larger or with darker and more discernible veins. However this too signals the onset of a period for many women and so is not diagnostic.
  • If you feel different in any way, for example with unexplained nausea, food aversions, frequent urination or a feeling of tiredness, it may indicate that you should take a pregnancy test.

How does a home pregnancy test work?

Home pregnancy tests are easily available over the counter. They work by testing your urine for human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is produced by your body when you are pregnant. The hormone is produced in increasing amounts from the moment a fertilized egg implants in your uterus, until it stabilizes at between 8-12 weeks. The time taken for your body to produce detectable levels of hCG is about 7-12 days after implantation, but different brands of test kit vary in their ability to detect low levels.

You take the test either by dipping the test stick into a container of urine, or holding it in your urine stream mid-flow. After testing you should allow the recommended length of time to elapse before reading the results. This is most commonly indicated in the form of a line or lines, but some brands display a change of colour, a plus or minus sign, or even the words ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’. Most tests are 99% effective if taken after a missed period, but less reliable if you take the test too early. This is the point at which uncertainly can arise, when a faint line on pregnancy test results can leave you guessing.

A faint line on pregnancy test result: when it means you are pregnant

Some tests show a single line to show that you are not pregnant and a double line to show a positive. But what about when you have a pregnancy test positive faint line as your result? If this is your dilemma you need to know that there is a possibility, in fact a good chance, that you are pregnant. A faint positive pregnancy test is normally the outcome of taking the test quite early, before your body has produced enough hCG to register strongly on the test. The faded or faint reading is simply a result of low levels of the pregnancy hormone and because of the way the test works, the more hCG is in your system, the easier it becomes to see a strong positive line on the result.

When you’ve taken the pregnancy test, the positive faint line is not completely conclusive. You could also have a faint positive pregnancy test if you have been pregnant but have undergone an early, and otherwise undetectable, miscarriage. This is a fairly common occurrence and often happens without your awareness of anything different from a normal period. In this case when you retest you will get a negative result as the hormone fades from your system. However, since there is a high possibility that you are indeed pregnant, you should act accordingly. First and foremost, take another test after a few days and you should have a clear result.

Faint line on a pregnancy test: when it can mean you’re not pregnant

If you see a very faint line on your pregnancy test result, it’s still possible that you are not pregnant at all. This brings us back to how the tests work. As the urine on the testing stick evaporates, the chemistry of the stick makes the result line ‘develop’ in a similar way to a photographic negative, over a set period of time. This is always clearly set out in the instructions. If for some reason you don’t check the result until, say, 10 minutes after the specified time has elapsed, it is possible that a very faint line on the pregnancy test will have formed. This is an evaporation line which can easily be misinterpreted as a faint positive result.

This shows how important it is to follow the instructions carefully! For most brands, the instruction is to read the results within 3-5 minutes. In these circumstances, you should repeat the test after 2-3 days for an improved likelihood of an accurate result.

How can you be completely sure whether or not you are pregnant?

For the majority of people using an over-the-counter testing kit, the results are conclusive, especially if you wait until after your period was due before taking the test. In order to be 100% certain, you should visit your doctor, who can carry out a blood test. In any case, if you have a positive result from a home test and you have been hoping to become pregnant, you will almost certainly want to visit your doctor both for definitive confirmation and to plan future steps. There are two types of blood test which can be arranged through a doctor’s surgery, with the results being supplied after analysis in a laboratory.

  • Qualitative testing checks for the presence of any hCG in your bloodstream and delivers a simple yes/no result. If yes, one of the next steps is to confirm how far the pregnancy has progressed.
  • Quantitative testing measures the amount of hCG in your blood and this level will give a very accurate indication of how many weeks pregnant you are and therefore can be used to extrapolate your due date.

What’s next after the pregnancy test results?

Of course there are two primary reasons why you would decide to take a pregnancy test in the first place: either you want to avoid becoming pregnant and fear a contraceptive failure of some kind, or you are hoping for a positive result. If you don’t want to be pregnant and get a negative result, all well and good. Equally, if you hope for a positive result and get one, congratulations! But what about if you really hope for a pregnancy and have to bear the disappointment of a negative result?

One easy answer is to keep trying. However you need to know the point at which this is not enough and when you should take steps to seek help through a fertility clinic. Our normal advice is to seek help after a year of trying unsuccessfully to conceive if you’re under 35, or after 6 months if you’re 35 or older.

Finding out more about IVI and your options for fertility treatment

We at IVI are world leaders in assisted fertility. In spite of our size and our 65 clinics in 11 countries around the world, we know that every patient is unique. We understand all too well how the repeated disappointment of negative pregnancy tests can be disheartening to say the least. But once you’ve taken the decision to consult one of our clinics, we’re sure you can start to feel optimistic again. A good start is the fact that 9 out of 10 couples who consult IVI due to problems with infertility and who put their trust in us achieve their goal.

If you are interested in finding out more, do browse our website to familiarise yourself with out treatments and techniques, and have a look at our video introducing IVI internationally. If you would like to make an appointment, or just find out more about your options, you can use our online contact form and one of our experts will get back to you.

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1 Comment

  • Nancy Westberg says:

    Thanks for the information I also got a faint line and I was really stressed about it

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