Measuring and interpreting Blood hCG to Assess Pregnancy Viability Following ART Treatments

I know of no medical announcement associated with the degree of emotional anticipation and anguish as that associated with a pending diagnosis/confirmation of pregnancy following infertility treatment. In fact, hardly a day goes by where I am not confronted by a patient anxiously seeking interpretation of a pregnancy test result.

Testing urine or blood for the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is the most effective and reliable way to confirm conception. The former, is far less expensive than the latter and is the most common method used. It is also more convenient because it can be performed in the convenience of the home setting. However, urine hCG testing for pregnancy is not nearly as reliable or as sensitive e as is blood hCG testing. Blood testing can detect implantation several days earlier than can a urine test. Modern pregnancy urine test kits can detect hCG about 16-18 days following ovulation (or 2-3 days after having missed a menstrual period), while blood tests can detect hCG, 12-13 days post-ovulation (i.e. even prior to menstruation).

The ability to detect hCG in the blood as early as possible and thereupon to track its increase, is particularly valuable in women undergoing controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) with or without intrauterine insemination (IUI) or after IVF. The earlier hCG can be detected in the blood and its concentration measured, the sooner levels can be tracked serially over time and so provide valuable information about the effectiveness of implantation, and the potential viability of the developing conceptus.

There are a few important points that should be considered when it comes to measuring interpreting blood hCG levels. These include the following:

  • All modern day blood (and urine) hCG tests are highly specific in that they measure exclusively for hCG. There is in fact no cross-reactivity with other hormones such as estrogen, progesterone or LH.
  • Post conception hCG levels, measured 10 days post ovulation or egg retrieval can vary widely (ranging from 5mIU/ml to above 400mIU/ml. The level will double every 48–72 hours up to the 6th week of gestation whereupon the doubling rate starts to slow down to about 96 hours. An hCG level of 13,000-290, 0000 mIU/ml is reached by the end of the 1st trimester (12 weeks) whereupon it slowly declines to approximately 26,000– 300,000 mIU/ml by full term. Below are the average hCG levels during the first trimester:
    • 3 weeks LMP: 5 – 50 mIU/ml
    • 4 weeks LMP: 5 – 426 mIU/ml
    • 5 weeks LMP: 18 – 7,340 mIU/ml
    • 6 weeks LMP: 1,080 – 56,500 mIU/ml
    • 7 – 8 weeks LMP: 7, 650 – 229,000 mIU/ml
    • 9 – 12 weeks LMP: 25,700 – 288,000 mIU/ml
    • A single hCG blood level is not sufficient to assess the viability of an implanting embryo. Caution should be used in making too much of an initial hCG level. This is because a normal pregnancy can start with relatively low hCG blood levels. It is the rate of the rise of the blood hCG level that is relevant.
    • In some cases the initially hCG level is within the normal range, but then fails to double in the ensuing 48-72hours. In some cases it might even plateau or decline, only to start doubling appropriately thereafter. When this happens, it could be due to:
      • A recovering implantation, destined to develop into a clinical gestation
      • A failing implantation (a chemical pregnancy)
      • A multiple pregnancy which is spontaneously reducing (i.e., one or more of the concepti is being lost) or,
      • An ectopic pregnancy which will either absorb spontaneously (a chemical-tubal gestation), or evolve into a full blown tubal pregnancy continue and declare itself through characteristic symptoms and signs of an intraperitoneal bleed.
  •  The blood hCG test needs to be repeated at least once after 48h and in some cases it  will need to be repeated one or more times (at 48h intervals) thereafter, to confirm that implantation is progressing normally.
  • Ultimately the diagnosis of a viable pregnancy requires confirmation of the presence of an intrauterine gestational sac by ultrasound examination. The earliest that this can be achieved is when the beta hCG level exceeds 1,000mIU/ml (i.e., around 5-6 weeks).
  • Most physicians prefer to defer the performance of a routine US diagnosis of pregnancy until closer to the 7th week. This is because by that time, cardiac activity should be clearly detectable, allowing for more reliable assessment of pregnancy viability.
  • There are cases where the blood beta hCG level is extraordinarily high or the rate of rise is well above the normal doubling rate. The commonest explanation is that more than one pregnancy has implanted. However in some cases it can point to a molar pregnancy  
  • Finally, there on rare occasions, conditions unrelated to pregnancy can result in detectable hCG levels in blood and urine. They include ovarian tumors that produce hCG, such as certain types of cystic teratomas (dermoid cysts) and some ovarian cancers such as dysgerminomas.

535 Comments

Michaela

My first beta at 13dpo was only 15. At 15dpo it rose to 38. Some people have told it’s good because it doubled but I’m nervous these numbers are too low. O date could be off by a day.

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

As long as it continues to +/- double every 48h.

Geoff Sher

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Mary Ann

Hello! I am a gestational surrogate. I had a FET on 4/29/19 of a single embryo. My first beta was performed on 5/9/19 (10 days pt). My second was performed today, 5/13/19 (14 days pt). Beta one was 203 and today it was 2,116! With only one embryo transferred, what do you think is the likelihood of a multiple pregnancy?

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Dr. Geoffrey Sher

I doubt it!

But the pregnancy looks very encouraging!

Geoff Sher

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Anna

Hi,
I had 5 and 6 day embryos transferred and 11 days later my hcg was 348. Do you think its possible its twins?

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

Yes! It is possible!

_______________________________________________________
ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!
INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)
Hitherto I have personally performed IVF- treatment and related procedures on patients who, elected to travel to Las Vegas to be managed by me. However, with the launching of Sher-Fertility Solutions (SFS) in April 2019, I have taken on a new and expanded role. Now, rather than having hands-on involvement I confine my services to providing hour-long online Skype consultations to an ever-growing number of patients (emanating from >40 countries), with complex Reproductive problems, who seek access to my input, advice and guidance. All Skype consultations are followed by a detailed written report that meticulously describes and explains my recommendations for treatment. All patients are encouraged to share this report with their personal treating doctor(s), with whom [subject to consent and a request from their doctor] I will, gladly discuss their case with the “treating Physician”.
Through SFS I am now able to conveniently provide those who because of geography, convenience and cost, prefer to be treated at home or elsewhere by their chosen Infertility Physician.
“I wish to emphasize to all patients with whom I consult, that in the final analyses, when it comes to management, strategy, protocol and implementation of treatment, my advice and recommendations are always superseded by that of the hands-on treating Physician”.

Anyone wishing to schedule a Skype consultation with me, can do so by: Calling my concierge (Patti Converse) at 1-800-780-7437 (in the U.S.A or Canada) or 702-533-2691, for an appointment. Patients can also enroll online on my website, http://www.SherIVF.com, or email Patti at concierge@SherIVF.com .
I was very recently greatly honored in receiving an award by the prestigious; International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). For more information, go to the press release on my website, http://www.sherIVF.com .

PLEASE HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT SFS!

Geoff Sher

reply
Lucy

Hi Dr Sher, this site and your blog are incredibly helpful. Thank you.

We have tried over 7 years with 4 egg donation IVF, 3 IUI, 1 IVF with my own egg. This is the first time I have ever been preganant in my life. My LMP was on Mar 28, the one before was on Feb 14. I usually have 28 to 30 days cycle but with all the back to back egg donation IVF, it has not been regular. We had two 5-day expanded blastocyst embryos transferred on April 17. On April 30 the blood test showed HCG at 749. On May 9 (day 43 from LMP) did an transvaginal ultrasound and blood work: hcg at 10390. Sac size 0.9cm, saw the yolk sac but not fetal pole or heart beat, 2 fibriods anteriorly at 7mm each, one posterior subserosal fibroid at 14mm. Progesterone at 57.

I’m 45 and very worried. The nurse mentioned about my multiple fabriod issue, the sac size being smaller than norm while progesterone is higher than the mean 25. Should i be worried? What’s your thought? Should i adjust my progesterone as I’m taking 700mg oral, 1 crinone 8%, 2 progrsterone injectable 25 ml each. I did the egg donation overseas but they don’t really respond anymore after i was tested pregnant. Any help is appreciated. Thank you

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

Hi Lucy!,

I wish you well!

It is important to realize that fibroids in the uterine wall (intramural), unless very large will NOT usually prevent implantation or cause pregnancy loss. Please recognize that the causes of infertility are often the same as the one’s that cause early pregnancy loss , only they impact much earlier.

I am quite honestly a little concerned at the fact that at 6+ weeks, no fetal pole or HB was observed. I am not overly concerned about your blood progesterone. Give it 1 week and repeat the ultrasound. At that time you will have conclusive evidence…one way or the other.

Quite frankly , it sounds to me as if something else might lie at the root of your poor reproductive experience: see below…

Whenever a patient fails to achieve a viable pregnancy following embryo transfer (ET), the first question asked is why! Was it simply due to, bad luck?, How likely is the failure to recur in future attempts and what can be done differently, to avoid it happening next time?.

It is an indisputable fact that any IVF procedure is at least as likely to fail as it is to succeed. Thus when it comes to outcome, luck is an undeniable factor. Notwithstanding, it is incumbent upon the treating physician to carefully consider and address the causes of IVF failure before proceeding to another attempt:

1. Age: The chance of a woman under 35Y of age having a baby per embryo transfer is about 35-40%. From there it declines progressively to under 5% by the time she reaches her mid-forties. This is largely due to declining chromosomal integrity of the eggs with advancing age…”a wear and tear effect” on eggs that are in the ovaries from birth.
2. Embryo Quality/”competency (capable of propagating a viable pregnancy)”. As stated, the woman’s age plays a big role in determining egg/embryo quality/”competency”. This having been said, aside from age the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is the next most important factor. It is especially important when it comes to older women, and women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) where it becomes essential to be aggressive, and to customize and individualize the ovarian stimulation protocol.

We used to believe that the uterine environment is more beneficial to embryo development than is the incubator/petri dish and that accordingly, the earlier on in development that embryos are transferred to the uterus, the better. To achieve this goal, we used to select embryos for transfer based upon their day two or microscopic appearance (“grade”). But we have since learned that the further an embryo has advanced in its development, the more likely it is to be “competent” and that embryos failing to reach the expanded blastocyst stage within 5-6 days of being fertilized are almost invariably “incompetent” and are unworthy of being transferred. Moreover, the introduction into clinical practice about a decade ago, (by Levent Keskintepe PhD and myself) of Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS), which assesses for the presence of all the embryos chromosomes (complete chromosomal karyotyping), provides another tool by which to select the most “competent” embryos for transfer. This methodology has selective benefit when it comes to older women, women with DOR, cases of unexplained repeated IVF failure and women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).

3. The number of the embryos transferred: Most patients believe that the more embryos transferred the greater the chance of success. To some extent this might be true, but if the problem lies with the use of a suboptimal COS protocol, transferring more embryos at a time won’t improve the chance of success. Nor will the transfer of a greater number of embryos solve an underlying embryo implantation dysfunction (anatomical molecular or immunologic).Moreover, the transfer of multiple embryos, should they implant, can and all too often does result in triplets or greater (high order multiples) which increases the incidence of maternal pregnancy-induced complications and of premature delivery with its serious risks to the newborn. It is for this reason that I rarely recommend the transfer of more than 2 embryos at a time and am moving in the direction of advising single embryo transfers …especially when it comes to transferring embryos derived through the fertilization of eggs from young women.

4. Implantation Dysfunction (ID): Implantation dysfunction is a very common (often overlooked) cause of “unexplained” IVF failure. This is especially the case in young ovulating women who have normal ovarian reserve and have fertile partners. Failure to identify, typify, and address such issues is, in my opinion, an unfortunate and relatively common cause of repeated IVF failure in such women. Common sense dictates that if ultrasound guided embryo transfer is performed competently and yet repeated IVF attempts fail to propagate a viable pregnancy, implantation dysfunction must be seriously considered. Yet ID is probably the most overlooked factor. The most common causes of implantation dysfunction are:

a. A“ thin uterine lining”
b. A uterus with surface lesions in the cavity (polyps, fibroids, scar tissue)
c. Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID)
d. Endocrine/molecular endometrial receptivity issues
e. Ureaplasma Urealyticum (UU) Infection of cervical mucous and the endometrial lining of the uterus, can sometimes present as unexplained early pregnancy loss or unexplained failure following intrauterine insemination or IVF. The infection can also occur in the man, (prostatitis) and thus can go back and forth between partners, with sexual intercourse. This is the reason why both partners must be tested and if positive, should be treated contemporaneously.

Certain causes of infertility are repetitive and thus cannot readily be reversed. Examples include advanced age of the woman; severe male infertility; immunologic infertility associated with alloimmune implantation dysfunction (especially if it is a “complete DQ alpha genetic match between partners plus uterine natural killer cell activation (NKa).
I strongly recommend that you visit http://www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select. Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

• The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
• Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
• IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS)
• The Fundamental Requirements for Achieving Optimal IVF Success
• Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
• Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
• Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
• Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
• The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
• Blastocyst Embryo Transfers should be the Standard of Care in IVF
• IVF: How Many Attempts should be considered before Stopping?
• “Unexplained” Infertility: Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!
• IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
• The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 1-Background
• Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
• Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 3-Treatment
• Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
• Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management 🙁 Case Report)
• Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
• Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; how it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
• Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
• Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
• Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
• Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
• A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
• How Many Embryos should be transferred: A Critical Decision in IVF?

___________________________________________________________
ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!
INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)
Hitherto I have personally performed IVF- treatment and related procedures on patients who, elected to travel to Las Vegas to be managed by me. However, with the launching of Sher-Fertility Solutions (SFS) in April 2019, I have taken on a new and expanded role. Now, rather than having hands-on involvement I confine my services to providing hour-long online Skype consultations to an ever-growing number of patients (emanating from >40 countries), with complex Reproductive problems, who seek access to my input, advice and guidance. All Skype consultations are followed by a detailed written report that meticulously describes and explains my recommendations for treatment. All patients are encouraged to share this report with their personal treating doctor(s), with whom [subject to consent and a request from their doctor] I will, gladly discuss their case with the “treating Physician”.
Through SFS I am now able to conveniently provide those who because of geography, convenience and cost, prefer to be treated at home or elsewhere by their chosen Infertility Physician.
“I wish to emphasize to all patients with whom I consult, that in the final analyses, when it comes to management, strategy, protocol and implementation of treatment, my advice and recommendations are always superseded by that of the hands-on treating Physician”.

Anyone wishing to schedule a Skype consultation with me, can do so by: Calling my concierge (Patti Converse) at 1-800-780-7437 (in the U.S.A or Canada) or 702-533-2691, for an appointment. Patients can also enroll online on my website, http://www.SherIVF.com, or email Patti at concierge@SherIVF.com .
I was very recently greatly honored in receiving an award by the prestigious; International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). For more information, go to the press release on my website, http://www.sherIVF.com .

PLEASE HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT SFS!

Geoff Sher

The information you

reply
Carol

Hi Dr. Sher,
I am very nervous awaiting an ultrasound in two weeks to confirm a viable pregnancy and wondered if you have any insight.
My HCG levels rose slowly then seem like they could be back on track, and I am wondering if I should have any hope.
Ovulated: 4/17
Confirmed pregnancy: 5/1
HCG Levels:
5/6: 1,505
5/8: 2,088
5/10: 4,126
Ultrasound on 5/8 showed a sac that looked normal but too early to be definitive.
Have you seen anything like this with a healthy viable pregnancy before?

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

Frankly, these values are cause for guarded optimism.

Good luck!

Geoff Sher

reply
Lana Burton

I passed something on Sunday, then on Monday I had an ultrasound that couldn’t determine whether it was a viable pregnancy. My hCG level on Monday was 2900. Wednesday hCG= 3100 Friday hCG =4035 it’s also important to note that my Fallopian tubes were removed a few months back. Do I have a viable pregnancy?

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

You should wait a week and repeat the ultrasound. It is impossible to predict authoritatively with the information you provided.

Geoff Sher

reply
Brenda

Hi Dr. Sher,
After a 5 day FET, I found out on April 26th that I was pregnant with an hcg level of 48.6. On April 29th it doubled to 96.5, and on May 2nd it went up to 324.5. I have a fourth beta check again this coming Sunday. At first they said they were worried about the lower numbers, but after the 324.5, they said things are looking good! I have an u/s on May 14th, and hoping that everything is where it should be. It’s taken us almost 16 years to get this positive result, so I was wondering your thoughts about my numbers and viability of this pregnancy? Thank you for your time!

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

I would be “guardedly optimistic here.

Good luck!

___________________________________________________________
ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!
INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)
Hitherto I have personally performed IVF- treatment and related procedures on patients who, elected to travel to Las Vegas to be managed by me. However, with the launching of Sher-Fertility Solutions (SFS) in April 2019, I have taken on a new and expanded role. Now, rather than having hands-on involvement I confine my services to providing hour-long online Skype consultations to an ever-growing number of patients (emanating from >40 countries), with complex Reproductive problems, who seek access to my input, advice and guidance. All Skype consultations are followed by a detailed written report that meticulously describes and explains my recommendations for treatment. All patients are encouraged to share this report with their personal treating doctor(s), with whom [subject to consent and a request from their doctor] I will, gladly discuss their case with the “treating Physician”.
Through SFS I am now able to conveniently provide those who because of geography, convenience and cost, prefer to be treated at home or elsewhere by their chosen Infertility Physician.
“I wish to emphasize to all patients with whom I consult, that in the final analyses, when it comes to management, strategy, protocol and implementation of treatment, my advice and recommendations are always superseded by that of the hands-on treating Physician”.

Anyone wishing to schedule a Skype consultation with me, can do so by: Calling my concierge (Patti Converse) at 1-800-780-7437 (in the U.S.A or Canada) or 702-533-2691, for an appointment. Patients can also enroll online on my website, http://www.SherIVF.com, or email Patti at concierge@SherIVF.com .
I was very recently greatly honored in receiving an award by the prestigious; International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). For more information, go to the press release on my website, http://www.sherIVF.com .

PLEASE HELP SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT SFS!

Geoff Sher

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