|For anyone undertaking a cycle of IVF you will be well aware of the personal and very emotional investment which goes into the process. At the end of it all, you want one thing - to be pregnant. In this blog, we investigate the technical side of pregnancy and what being pregnant actually means.
Scientifically put, a quantitative beta hCG result of more than 50 IU/mL* at what would be approximately four weeks of pregnancy (i.e. the end of that cycle or when your period would be otherwise due or missed) is the benchmark for a positive pregnancy blood test. Simple right? Well truth is, no, it may not be that cut and dried.
Sometimes, even though the timing is right, the result comes back at less than 50. This is known an equivocal or inconclusive result, and is sometimes referred to as a “low beta”.
It’s a difficult result to get your head around. Unfortunately, it does mean we can’t confirm whether or not you are (technically speaking) pregnant. This result does tell us that at a point in time the embryo began to implant. And it may or may not continue to do so.
What does a low beta result mean?
There is hope – I’ve seen firsthand beautiful, healthy babies born to mothers who had low level pregnancy test results. Just be mindful that this isn’t the case for everyone and there isn’t anything that can actively be done to change the outcome – what will be, will be.
Where does that leave you?
When a result of less than 50 occurs in our clinic, we schedule a repeat blood test for two to three days’ time. This timing is chosen because if implantation is progressing normally, the level of hCG in blood should double in value every two to three days. And of course, this is what we hope to see. Once the hCG level reaches (and ideally, exceeds) 50, we can confirm a biochemical pregnancy (the first milestone) and will continue to monitor your progress.
On the other hand, we may find that the hCG level is not rising and implantation has been interrupted for any number of reasons. As in natural conception, sadly not all embryos are destined to lead to pregnancy and babies.
If your hCG level is falling, we will ask you to attend for a blood test each week until it is negative (hCG no longer detected). Even though the cycle was not successful, it is important to confirm that your body has completely recovered and everything is back to normal. In very rare cases if the hCG plateaus and stubbornly won’t drop to zero, a patient may need medication or surgical intervention to assist with this resolution.
If your hCG level is rising, we will continue to schedule repeat blood tests once or twice a week, until the hCG rises above at least 1000. Alternatively, approximately six to seven weeks of pregnancy (two to three weeks after the first pregnancy blood test), when we will ask you to attend an ultrasound. The sonographer will be looking for evidence of a developing pregnancy (second milestone). The best result is a sac in the uterus, and (if it’s not too early) a strong heartbeat.
Frustratingly, it’s possible this ultrasound may be inconclusive, and you may need to have it repeated in another week. Or sadly it may confirm that the cycle has not been successful this time. If this is the case, you will need to wait for a period; or in some cases you may need medication or surgical intervention to help your body resolve the non-viable pregnancy.
Receiving an inconclusive pregnancy test result can be confusing and upsetting. We understand that after so much effort and waiting, you expect an answer one way or the other but instead you end up in limbo. Whilst you can’t control the outcome, you can choose how you will cope with it. Whether you are someone who sees the silver lining and keeps positive, or someone who expects the worst to make bad news easier, your Nurses are a phone call away. Once you’ve taken some time to process the news and talked to your partner or support person, write down any questions you have or things you don’t understand and make time to have a chat with your Nurse (or your Fertility Specialist).
Glass half full or half empty?
Some patients also find it helpful to talk to one of our Fertility Counsellors. The specially trained experts can provide you with a non-clinical, safe and open environment to talk about how you are feeling and suggest strategies to make this time of uncertainty easier. Whether or not you choose to talk to a counsellor, be sure to be kind to yourself and those around you.
If you’ve experienced a low beta result after natural conception or with another clinic, get in touch with our Fertility Advisor to find out how Genea can help.
Disclaimer: Please note that this is a Genea Group blog and as such information may not be relevant for all clinics. We advise that you consult clinics directly for further information
* 50 IU/mL is the value we use in Genea’s laboratories – this value may vary between pathology laboratories.