Which pregnancy test is right?
April 20, 2008 3:47 PM   Subscribe

How common is a false positive pregnancy test? Do you have any experiences you can share to help us determine our situation? More details (fears, worries, etc) inside.

My husband and I were not trying to have a baby. Pregnancy was the farthest thing from our minds. However, I began having some symptoms of pregnancy last week (tender, sore breasts -- which I have never experienced at any other time in my life, some fatigue, feeling as if something strange was happening in my body). A friend of mine suggested that I might be pregnant. I took a pregnancy test (clearblue easy digital) and it was positive. Luckily, it was the kind of test that displays words, so there's no way we mininterpreted the giant word PREGNANT on the display screen.

The first test was with first morning pee. We took two subsequent tests (not with first morning pee) and both were negative. Last night, I had some spotting. We both became pretty alarmed about this, even though we read online that this can be normal. The blood was light pink and not red, and it has not happened again since last night. I had some very mild cramps as well.

Basically, we're freaking out. We can't understand why we have two negative pregnancy tests and one positive. We don't know what the bleeding means. I have irregular periods, so we have no concept of when we might have conceived. The last few days have been an emotional roller coaster. It would help us tremendously to hear some thoughts from people with more experience than us.

How common is it to get a false positive? Could the second two tests be wrong? Could I have a miscarriage with such a small amount of blood? I'm calling a doctor first thing in the morning, but I'm worried it's going to take some time before they'll give me an appointment. I want a blood test to be sure. We're confused and we don't want to get too attached to the idea of being parents without confirmation from a doctor. Anything you can share with us will be helpful, especially since I probably won't be able to get in the with the doctor for a minimum of a few days. Thank you all.
posted by theantikitty to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The bleeding might be implantation bleeding. Then again, you might not be pregnant at all. Try not to freak out until you can get a blood test done/talk to a doctor.
posted by MadamM at 3:59 PM on April 20, 2008

Early in a pregnancy, it's easy to get incorrect test results. My doctor told me that it's very, very unusual to get a false positive; after I had a positive on a home test and a negative on a test in her office, they did a blood test to make sure. Nine months later, conclusive proof appeared... But still, that doesn't mean that you're pregnant.

Try not to freak out if at all possible, but don't kick back with a bottle of whiskey, either.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:05 PM on April 20, 2008

The reason why they have you test your morning pee is because the pregnancy hormone (hCG ) is detected more easily in concentrated urine. If you tested later in the day after drinking more fluids, the urine is more dilute and he hCG, if present, is harder to find. So if you are pregnant and it's quite early, the later tests could be false negatives and the morning positive test would be correct.

If you have irregular periods, the spotting could be a period or could be implantation bleeding. Relax as best you can and test your pee again in the morning. If it's positive again, go to your doctor for a blood test.

Good luck! I hope you have a pleasant surprise.
posted by rosebuddy at 4:11 PM on April 20, 2008

I know you are looking for reassurance. Ouch. I have only to offer the opposite, unless somehow you or the stick was not clean. A first morning pee may concentrate things more, unless you were drinking or otherwise imbibing diuretics. Anyway, please start pumping folic acid and stay off the sauce until you know for sure, you know, doctors.
posted by caddis at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2008

I'm sorry you're stuck in a very distressing situation.

The test with first morning urine is most likely to be accurate. That is because the hormone for which you are testing is most concentrated when you have not peed in many hours. So before you go to bed, get another pack of tests and re-test in the morning. The results will give you more data. If you get another positive, than yeah, you're pregnant. If you get a negative, then you still need a blood test to determine what's going on.

If you want some info on specific tests, welcome to Pee On A Stick.

Second of all, blood in early pregnancy is very normal. Everyone freaks out, because everything you know about pregnancy tells you that it is bad, but it is still very common. It can be implantation bleeding, generic spotting, or a sign of miscarriage. If you are having a miscarriage, unfortunately in very early pregnancy there's nothing you can do, so it isn't considered a medical emergency.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:14 PM on April 20, 2008

ok, rosebuddy seems to know this better than I.
posted by caddis at 4:15 PM on April 20, 2008

Don't worry!

- Home pregnancy tests vary in their accuracy (i.e., how sensitive they are to hCG), and morning tests are more accurate than those later in the day (what rosebuddy said).
- False positives are pretty rare, though they can happen as a result of other medical conditions or medication.
- Spotting early on is very common.

Also, in my experience, the doctor won't see you until you're about 8 weeks along (based on your last period).
posted by ellenaim at 4:16 PM on April 20, 2008

IANAD but I believe false positives are extremely rare and false negatives are a lot more common, especially early on.
If you have to wait for a Drs appointment do another test with morning urine.
When I was pregnant the dr didn't give me a blood test, 2 positive pregnancy test results was considered enough confirmation.
posted by missmagenta at 4:20 PM on April 20, 2008

Did you use the same type of test all three times? Different tests have different sensitivity levels, so that could be a factor if they weren't all the same brand. Also, first morning pee vs. later pee really can make a difference in results if you're very early in the pregnancy.

Mild cramping is normal in early pregnancy, so don't let that freak you out too much. (That first month or so I was constantly convinced that my period was about to start because of all the cramps.) A little bit of spotting is not uncommon, I think.

If you want/need to test a lot, the $1 tests that you can buy at a Dollar Store are some of the most sensitive (so they may be able to give you a positive result a few days earlier than other brands).
posted by belladonna at 4:21 PM on April 20, 2008

Yikes, this happened to me. Except I had two positive tests, and then a negative. My negative test came up for two reasons:

1. I used urine later in the day, and it was less concentrated

2. I used a different test that was less sensitive.

If you used different tests the three times, I second the idea of checking Pee on a Stick to check the sensitivity.

My pregnancy turned out fine...I'm currently in my ninth month. However, just to prepare yourselves, you might want to read up on chemical pregnancies. That's what I thought I had at first.

Good luck.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:25 PM on April 20, 2008

I have had ambiguous results with pregnancy tests - unfortunately for me it was first an ectopic pregnancy, and then later a blighted ovum. Keep an eye on your symptoms, and test again in a week or so. If you have sharp pains in the abdomen, or in the shoulder - go to the doctor ASAP (could be ectopic). Otherwise - sometimes pregnancies don't last very long, I understand that it's fairly common to be pregnant and have the pregnancy terminate naturally by the next menstrual cycle.

Only your doctor can tell you for sure what's going on - they have much better tests and can tell by your hormone levels what's going on. Good luck either way!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:26 PM on April 20, 2008

I bled for two of my three pregnancies. It is quite common.
posted by konolia at 4:40 PM on April 20, 2008

Here's some info on the rarity of false positives and some scenarios that could be going on as well. Sorry its so confusing :(
posted by DarlingBri at 4:43 PM on April 20, 2008

I didn't know I was pregnant with my first due to implantation bleeding off and on for about 12 hours. The bleeding happened about 2 days before my period was due and I had a few negative pregnancy tests. I was sad; just assumed I wasn't pregnant (we were trying.) The spotting stopped the next day. At the end of the week, when my period didn't actually start, I took a test, with a positive result. Then another and another.

My OB was very good about seeing me immediately to confirm my pregnancy. They saw me that day. If you sound distressed on the phone - they will probably see you.

I hope this doesn't make your situation more stressful. Good luck! Hope all works out for the best!
posted by beachhead2 at 4:51 PM on April 20, 2008

Gosh, thank you all so so much for the information so far. This is incredibly difficult for us simply because we do not KNOW if we are pregnant or not. To be clear, we would be happy to be pregnant, even though it is very unexpected.

Will a doctor really not give me an appointment even for a blood test? I haven't had a yearly check up, so if they won't give me an appointment can i just try to schedule a yearly and ask for a test while I am there?

We are going to test with morning pee a second time tomorrow. I am hoping it will just come out positive for us! I think we could deal with either result, but 1 positive and 2 negatives is a really disturbing place to be. Could it be a chemical pregnancy even though I have NOT had a period in the last couple months? They are always very irregular thus the shock we are in right now. The most blood I have seen is the blood I saw last night, which I would describe as spotting vs bleeding. It was very light and pink and has not returned. I do still have some very very mild cramping going on. This morning I was sick, though I suppose it could just be nerves as well.

I would love if even more people chimed in. For some reason, just hearing about peoples' experiences is helping me feel better. I'm so frustrated because we have no clear way to know
posted by theantikitty at 4:57 PM on April 20, 2008

I had two false urine tests with my daughter (1982, so not at home, at the clinic) and I finally made them take a blood test, which was positive. I knew I was pregnant because I'd missed my period and well, I just knew they were wrong.

Fear and suggestion, however, can make you imagine things to be different. Tender breasts, etc., can be signs of PMS as well -- I never had any of the big symptoms until I was 3 months pregnant, in fact, I didn't know at all until 2 months along and I'd missed. So if you told your friend you feel strange, she suggests you're pregnant, and you go OMG I am feeling different... eh. Also if you have PMS you are gonna be emotional. I have thought I was preggers many a time and been PMS-y but just late.

After I had my daughter I switched from barrier methods to the Pill. A lot easier on my moods, my monthly cycle, and a lot easier on my mind about what would or wouldn't happen.

Try and be calm, take care of yourself until you see a doctor. Warm baths, herbal teas, make your man give you foot rubs, and decide what you'd do if you were pregnant. If it turns out you're not, you have some things to think about. Good luck and big hugs to you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:06 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I bet the doctor will see you right away, especially if you tell them you could be a few months pregnant. Most gynos are pretty good about that.

If you can't get in to your regular doc for some reason, call Planned Parenthood and they will definitely help you out.
posted by fshgrl at 5:06 PM on April 20, 2008

theantikitty > my husband was of the type that would not believe I was pregnant until the doctor confirmed it (even as I waved a positive pregnancy test under his nose). I called and didn't even need to make an appointment; the OB/GYN sent me to the blood collecting place in the same building. They drew my blood, I just had to call a few hours later to get the "congratulations".

(And now, the result of that "congratulations" does not want to go to bed. He wants to stay up and watch more Three Stooges.)
posted by Lucinda at 5:27 PM on April 20, 2008

My OB made an appointment to see me as soon as I called to say I'd had a positive home test result, so I don't think you'll really have to wait long. Especially since this is your first.
posted by HauteMama at 5:48 PM on April 20, 2008

Anti, I don't know what to tell you. Every time I've gotten a positive, it's been a real positive. I really believe the incidence of false posi is very, very low, soooo... I am willing to bet cold, hard cash that you will POAS tomorrow and get a big, fat positive.

The blood test should be really fast and easy to get. A nurse practitioner at your regular doctors should be able to do it for you, so don't take no for an answer if your test result in the morning is still confusing!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:59 PM on April 20, 2008

Your/a doctor will see you to get a blood test, I'm sure. Especially if you already have had a positive home test. And just to nth everyone else: Morning pee is more concentrated and usually has higher levels of hcG. Some tests only detect a certain level of it and the sensitivity of test brands vary, hence some tests advertising that they can detect pregnancy sooner/better. False positives are rare, false negatives are more common
posted by fructose at 6:23 PM on April 20, 2008

I bled with both my pregnancies. Heavily with my first and spent the first 12 weeks off and on bed rest. Bled with #2 but not as bad. It is very common but so scary. Please update tomorrow! Best of luck to you.
posted by pearlybob at 6:44 PM on April 20, 2008

As others have said, but I feel the need to reiterate - false positives are almost non-existent. False negatives are common, but conceptually, a false positive would mean that the test detected something that wasn't really there, instead of a false negative, which would mean that the test didn't detect something that was. However, as others have mentioned, the spotting is not a reason to worry - Mrs. jferg had similar experiences with both of our pregnancies, and, as others have mentioned, it was was just "implantation bleeding". Relax, see the doctor tomorrow to verify, and congrats!
posted by jferg at 6:54 PM on April 20, 2008

Thanks to everyone for the experiences and advice. I think, even though it's frustrating, I just have to accept that there is no way I can know at this moment. I'll take another test in the morning and update the thread. I'll also call the doctor. If I get confirmation or denial there, I'll post also. It's crazy how quickly things can change in your life in just a couple days!
posted by theantikitty at 7:06 PM on April 20, 2008

I had cramps but no bleeding with my first. All of my stick tests were just barely positive (no digital readouts then), and since I'd always had irregular periods, I was sent for an ultrasound to get an EDD.

They found absolutely nothing after trying the outer and inner ultrasound, except to say the ovaries were sealing up and the uterus looked a little thick. I kind of freaked, so the doctor was kind enough to run a blood test. The HCG count was somewhere in th 500's, indicating "OMG I'm rolling my eyes at you over the phone n00b: barely pregnant. You're fine, come back in a month."
posted by lysdexic at 7:47 PM on April 20, 2008

theantikitty, I don't know if you've gone to bed already, but if you re-read the thread, the consensus seems to be that there really aren't false positives from at-home kits. In other words, one positive and two negatives probably, very much, means you're pregnant.

For one pregnancy, after my wife called her doctor to ask if the pee stick might be a false positive. Doctor said no, told her take vitamins, and scheduled her for an early-term ultasound. That was it. Didn't even bother with the blood test.

I have some sense of the emotions you're feeling right now -- my wife and I got three unexpected positives from at-home kits for three different pregnancies, each while on a different form of birth control (and the last pregnancy was using a birth control device implantation by a medical professional!). Each time, the tendency was to disbelieve the pee stick.

Good luck, and good health.
posted by hhc5 at 8:17 PM on April 20, 2008

Could you get a couple different brands of tests and pee on em all in the morning if you are unsure of this brand's accuracy?

Don't know if that would make a difference but multiple identical results would maybe confirm things, hope you get the results you want!
posted by clanger at 8:48 PM on April 20, 2008

I tested positive at home, twice in two days with morning pee both times when I was about 6 weeks pregnant. The doc still wouldn't see me until I was 8 weeks along and even then, didn't bother with a blood test, only did another urine test to confirm my results. I guess they figured so many pregnancies end in early miscarriage that they didn't want to deal with me until the pregnancy had some greater degree of viability. But I had all the symptoms you describe: mild cramping, sore breasts, a feeling that I wasn't "myself." I might have had implantation bleeding too, I can't remember for sure now. I'm 31 weeks now though!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:48 PM on April 20, 2008

Congratulations by the way.
posted by caddis at 8:53 PM on April 20, 2008

I tested negative again this morning with first pee. I'm getting pretty upset at this point and will call the dr as soon as it opens.
posted by theantikitty at 4:18 AM on April 21, 2008

Antikitty, check your memail.
posted by pearlybob at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2008

Just to update the thread: I saw my OB/GYN today who did a negative pee test in the office. She confirmed that she believes I had a miscarriage. I will be testing my blood tomorrow just to be sure the levels are dropping. Thanks to everyone who posted here!

For future reference -- yes, it's possible to have symptoms like sore breasts very early in pregnancy. You can also have a miscarriage with just a small amount of bleeding and without getting your full period. It's likely that my first pregnancy test was actually correct at the time.
posted by theantikitty at 11:36 AM on April 22, 2008

Thanks for the update -- I'm a nosy person, and always want to know what happened with various AskMes. I hope you got the news you wanted.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:25 PM on April 24, 2008

I find the "dip the stick in a cup" more fool-proof.
posted by k8t at 6:41 AM on April 26, 2008

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