Did you take a pregnancy test, get a faint line, and now you find yourself staring at it and wondering if it is positive or not? Did your excitement get the best of you, and you took a pregnancy test before Aunt Flo was due to make her monthly visit?
You’re not alone — it’s nerve-wracking when you’re waiting to find out if a new addition is on the way. In this day and age, we aren’t left waiting months to see if our periods show up, but even the minutes and days it sometimes takes us to find out definitive results can seem like ages.
So, what do we do when we’re staring down a test, wondering if that line is really there?
This article will help you figure out if that line is legitimate or not, and what to do in either case. But first, let’s talk about how pregnancy tests work.
How Pregnancy Tests Work
Home pregnancy tests have come a long way since they were first put on the market in 1978. Today’s pregnancy testing is simple and easy compared to the first model, which resembled old chemistry sets and took two hours to get results compared to the two minutes it takes today (1).
But as easy as today’s tests are to take, do you know how they really work? What exactly causes that line to appear? The answer is a little hormone called human Chorionic Gonadotropin, or hCG for short (2).
Your baby’s placenta makes hCG to help nourish the embryo (3). hCG is vital in maintaining the proper levels of the main pregnancy hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Pregnancy test strips are specially treated, so when your urine hits them they conclude whether hCG levels are detected. If no hCG is detected, the dye does not stick on the test line. But if it is, the test line will change colors, making two lines appear in the window instead of one (4).
If you take a pregnancy test before you have missed your period and get a faint line or even a negative result, do not fret. Not all pregnancy tests are created equal, and some require more hCG to show a positive result than others.
What Does a Faint Line Mean?
If your pregnancy test shows a positive result, this is what could be happening.
1. It’s Truly Positive
Have you still not had your period? Did the positive results come up within the allotted time frame? Can you see the line without squinting or holding it up to a light, even if it’s faint?
Congratulations, you are indeed probably pregnant.
Although the amount of hCG in your body doubles every two or so days, it can take a few days for that line to go from faint to dark (5). Levels of hCG can be detected in the urine after about two weeks from the time of conception. The levels will reach its maximum at 8-11 weeks of pregnancy. Chances are you are testing early, or possibly conceived later than you thought. As the days go on, and your hCG levels rise, your test should continue to get darker.
Most pregnancy tests have instructions on the packaging. Make sure to read and follow them for the most accurate results.
2. It’s An Evap
If you are choosing to use a traditional pregnancy test instead of a digital, there is always the chance you could get an evaporation line, often called an evap or an indent line. That is because every pregnancy test comes with two lines, a control, and a test.
Even if your test does not pick up any hCG, that test line is still there, and when the test dries, it can often be seen.
So how do you know if the line is a positive or simply an indent? If the line has no color, or if it did not appear until after your test has dried, you can bet it’s probably an indent. This is why you should never read a pregnancy test after the allotted time, which is often 10 minutes (6).
If it’s in the time frame, but you can’t tell if it’s a positive or an indent, you can also use an app or invert a picture of the test. If the line has any color, it will show while inverted. If it doesn’t, the test is probably negative.
3. Chemical Pregnancy
A chemical pregnancy is a term used to describe an early miscarriage usually before 5 weeks of gestation or one that happens before the fetus can be detected on an ultrasound. About 50 to 75 percent of these occur during early pregnancy, and generally, do not affect a woman getting pregnant again later on (7).
There is no definitive reason as to why chemical pregnancies occur. Many believe they are often due to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo.
The good news is that chemical pregnancies normally have no impact on your ability to get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy in the future. And it is usually safe for you to try to conceive immediately after a chemical pregnancy (9).
some people are at higher risk for chemical pregnancies. This includes being above age 35 and having medication conditions that you are not getting the proper treatment for. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your medical condition and the risk of a chemical pregnancy.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
Did you take a pregnancy test before with a brighter line, but all of a sudden, the line has gotten lighter? Did you see your fetus on an ultrasound but then get a faint positive on a test afterward?
If this is the case, it is, unfortunately, possible you are suffering a miscarriage.
Miscarriages are pregnancy losses that happen before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most of them usually occur during the first 13 weeks.
Miscarriages can come without any symptoms other than bleeding, but some common ones include back pain, cramping, diarrhea, and even contractions.
Clinical miscarriages occur in approximately 10-25 percent of all pregnancies (10). A clinical miscarriage is different from a chemical pregnancy because it occurs after either a heartbeat has been detected, or the fetus has been seen on an ultrasound.
What You Can Expect
While there is nothing that can currently be done to prevent an early miscarriage, you can talk to your doctor if you feel the need. If this has happened more than once they might want to run tests to make sure there is not an underlying issue, such as low progesterone or other hormonal issues (12).
Your doctor can also advise you on when it’s safe to start trying to conceive again.
Blue Dye, Pink Dye, Or Digital?
Over the years, many different home pregnancy tests have made their way onto the market. But with pink dye, blue dye, and even digital pregnancy tests to choose from, which one should you go with?
The short answer is anything but a blue dye. That’s because blue dye tests are notorious for evaporation lines. These evaporation lines tend to have a grey tint to them thanks to the blue dye running across during the testing process, making them look like a faint positive when in fact no hCG was picked up (13).
So, with blue dyes out, should you reach for a pink dye or a digital? It depends on where you are in your cycle.
While digitals are easier to read, they tend to be less sensitive than pink dye tests. If you want to test before you miss your period, a pink dye test is recommended (14).
If you get a negative result but don’t really trust the test results, repeat the test. Do this after at least 3 days to allow your hCG levels to go up higher.
Morning Or Evening Urine?
It’s often said for best results you should take a pregnancy test with your first-morning urine, but does it really matter? The answer is yes, sort of.
Taking a pregnancy test first thing in the morning is often recommended because that is the time when your urine is the most concentrated. The more concentrated your urine is, the higher the concentration of hCG (15). This is especially recommended if you are testing your urine early in pregnancy.
If evening rolls around and you just can’t wait to test, we understand. But there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Hold your urine for at least 4 hours before testing: By holding your urine for at least four hours, you will give your body enough time to build up the concentration of hCG. The longer you hold your urine, the more concentrated the hormone will be.
- Hold off on the fluids: Remember, you want your urine to be as concentrated as possible. The more fluids you put in your body, the less concentrated your urine will be.
- If your test is positive, it’s more than likely correct: If you test at night and get a positive when your urine is less concentrated, you more than likely are pregnant. If you test again in the morning, chances are your positive results will be even darker.
- If your test is negative, don’t lose hope: Negative test results might be a result of your hCG levels not being concentrated enough. Test again in the morning, and you may get the results you were hoping for.
What To Do Next
If you saw a faint test on your pregnancy test, here is what you should do.
1. Wait A Few Days And Test Again
Because some pregnancy tests require higher hCG levels than others, it might not be picking up enough of the hormone to cause a dark line just yet (16). If in a few days you are still seeing a faint line it might be a good idea to call your doctor.
There they can do a blood test to determine if your hCG levels show you are pregnant, as well as see if they are going up like they should be (17). In the meantime, start taking a prenatal vitamin, just in case you truly are pregnant because it can help prevent birth defects.
The blood test can tell the amount of hCG in your body. This will also help determine how far along you are in your pregnancy if you are not sure.
2. Ask Your Doctor For An Ultrasound
If you test again and are still getting a faint line, it might be a good idea to ask your doctor for an ultrasound. This is important especially if you are experiencing sharp pains in your abdomen or pelvis.
These could be signs you are experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants inside the fallopian tube instead of your uterus (18).
It’s important to detect an ectopic pregnancy early because if the embryo is not removed, the fallopian tube can rupture. This can affect a mother’s fertility, cause severe internal bleeding, and in severe cases even result in death (19).
Ideally, the doctor will do both an ultrasound examination and a serial hCG test, which involves two quantitative hCG tests on the blood performed 2 days or so apart to see if the appropriate rise in hCG is occurring.
What Pregnancy Tests Give the Best Early Results?
As we discussed before, all pregnancy tests are not made alike. Tests vary in price, sensitivity, and how they give you your answer. If you want to test before your period is due, it is best to choose a test that can detect hCG at a low level.
Below is a comparison chart to help you choose the test that is right for you:
|Test Name:||Lowest hCG Levels Detected:|
|Accuclear Pregnancy Test||25 mIU|
|Answer Early Result Pregnancy Test||25 mIU|
|Clear Choice||25 mIU|
|Clearblue Easy Digital||25 mIU|
|Clearblue Easy Plus +/-||25 mIU|
|Confirm 1-Step||25 mIU|
|CVS Digital||25 mIU|
|CVS Early Result Pregnancy Test||25mIU|
|Dollar Store Brand||25 mIU|
|e.p.t. +/- Test||25 mIU|
|e.p.t. Digital Test||25 mIU|
|Early Detect||25 mIU|
|Fact Plus + / –||25 mIU|
|First Response Early Result Pregnancy Test||25 mIU|
|First Response Early Results||25 mIU|
|One Step Be Sure Pregnancy Test||25 mIU|
|Rite Aid Pregnancy Test||25 mIU|
|Up & Up Pregnancy Test||25 mIU|
|Walgreen Digital||25 mIU|
|Walgreen Midstream Pregnancy Test||25 mIU|
|Wondfo Pregnancy Test Strip||25 mIU|
|e.p.t. Certainty Digital Test||40 mIU|
|Fact Plus Cassette||40 mIU|
|Fact Plus Pregnancy Test||40 mIU|
|CVS “Early Result” Cassette Pregnancy Test||50 mIU|
|CVS One-Step||50 mIU|
|Drug Emporium Brand Pregnancy Test||50 mIU|
|early Pregnancy test||50 mIU|
|Eckerd One Step||50 mIU|
|Walgreens Cassette Pregnancy Test||50 mIU|
The Bottom Line
We know it can be frustrating when your pregnancy test results are not clear. There are a lot of questions and concerns that can come with unclear results. And, unfortunately, we cannot tell you definitively whether that second line is really there or not.
Take a few days, relax, and test again. We hope your next test gives you clear results, with the outcome you want.
Have you ever had a pregnancy test where the results were unclear? Share your story in the comments below. And share this article with any woman you think will benefit from it!