An ectopic pregnancy is a serious medical problem that can be life-threatening if not treated. One way that an ectopic pregnancy can be diagnosed is by measuring the levels of a hormone known as beta HCG. Although beta HCG levels are an important part of diagnosing ectopic pregnancies, they should be combined with other techniques for diagnosing an ectopic pregnancy.
An ectopic pregnancy is any pregnancy in which the fertilized egg implants outside of the intrauterine cavity. Most ectopic pregnancies are the result of the egg implanting in the fallopian tubes, though some occur due to implantation in the ovaries, the abdominal cavity, the cervix or a part of the uterus that cannot support a fertilized egg. None of these tissues can support the fertilized egg and if the ectopic pregnancy ruptures, massive bleeding results.
HCG is also known as human chorionic gonadotropin, and a beta HCG test measures the levels of HCG in the blood. Human chonorionic gonadotropin is a hormone that is produced during pregnancy. HCG levels rise as the pregnancy progresses and are often used to confirm pregnancies. Problems with the pregnancy, such as an ectopic pregnancy, can cause these levels to rise more slowly. As a result, doctors may measure your HCG levels as part of testing for an ectopic pregnancy.
Beta HCG and Ectopic Pregnancy Diagnosis
Because HCG levels rise more slowly in women with ectopic pregnancies, a beta HCG test that shows abnormally low HCG levels may signal that you have an ectopic pregnancy. In addition to having a beta HCG test, your doctor may also utilize ultrasonography to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy. If your beta HCG levels are higher than 6,500 mIU and a transabdominal ultrasound shows no intrauterine sac, an ectopic pregnancy is suspected. In addition, beta HCG levels above 1,500 coupled with an intravaginal ultrasound that shows no intrauterine sac also suggests an ectopic pregnancy.
Although beta HCG levels are important for diagnosing problems with a pregnancy, they should not be used as the only diagnostic test. Normal pregnancies can have low beta HCG levels and a sonogram at five to six weeks is a much better indication of the health of the fetus than HCG levels. If you develop heavy bleeding during pregnancy or feel sick, talk to your doctor to see if your symptoms are a potential sign of a more serious problem.