Is it Possible to Have Pregnancy Symptoms But Negative Tests?

✔ Research-backed

Experiencing pregnancy symptoms but negative test results may be disheartening for women trying to conceive. The tests for pregnancy involve checking your blood or urine for the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone. Home pregnancy tests detect the presence of the hCG hormone in urine. hCG is produced in the body after the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, and its levels increase in blood and urine during the first trimester. However, these tests are not 100% accurate and may produce false-negative or false-positive results (1) (2)
.

Continue reading this post to learn what may cause a negative pregnancy test despite having symptoms of pregnancy.

In This Article

True Pregnancy With Pregnancy Symptoms But Negative Test

Urine pregnancy tests may produce false-negative results, that is, the test may show you are not pregnant while you are actually carrying a baby. This may happen due to:

1. Taking the test too early in pregnancy

Testing too soon may give false positive results

Image: Shutterstock

The amount of hCG increases as the pregnancy progresses and may take some time to reach a level that a test is capable of detecting (3). So, the test kit may fail to detect low levels of the hormone if tested too early and show a negative result. In such a case, you can test again after a week.

protip_icon Did you know?
An average of 15% of women may not be able to detect their pregnancy on the first day of their missed menstrual cycle (4).

Some test kits may instruct you to take the test on the day you expect your period to start. However, the FDA suggests taking a home pregnancy test one to two weeks after a missed period to obtain the most reliable results (4).

A mother shares her story of getting a false negative pregnancy test due to testing too early, even before her expected period. “When I conceived my first child, I had this feeling that I could be pregnant. Then, I decided to go for a pregnancy test. After carrying out the test, the lab scientist approached me and told me I had a negative result. Although, I saw the look of confusion on his face that said he wasn’t so sure. “When it was time for me to have my period, I had repeated menstrual cramps for some days without getting my period. Finally, it came, but it wasn’t flowing as expected. Little did I know that it was implantation bleeding. I was a little worried but decided to see my gynecologist. After taking my medical history, he (gynecologist) told me to lie down for a physical examination. He checked me. Imagine my surprise when I got the news of ‘congratulations,’ you are two months pregnant (i).”

2. Having hormones in amounts lower than the detectable levels

Certain factors may be responsible for a low level of hCG hormone at the time of test (5) (6).

  • The hCG levels may naturally vary among women with normal pregnancies, with peak and low hCG levels at different times.
  • There may be an imprecise estimation of the expected day of the next menstrual period, causing low levels of hCG at the time of the test.
  • Testing later in the day where the hormone concentration may be affected by water intake.

3. Diluted sample

Diluted urine may give false negative results

Image: Shutterstock

It is advised to use the first morning urine for the test as it is supposed to have the highest concentration of hCG (4). Drinking a lot of water before the test or even the night before may dilute the urine and reduce its hCG content below the detectable limit of the test.

4. Delay in taking the test

The following situations may arise if there is a delay in taking the test (7) (8)
.

  • The mechanism of a usual positive test progresses by the sandwiching of free antibodies, fixed antibodies, and the hCG molecules. If the hCG levels are too high, they separately saturate the two types of antibodies, preventing the sandwich formation known as the hook effect. This phenomenon may give a false-negative result.
  • Different variants of hCG may be present later in pregnancy, and some tests may fail to detect these, showing a negative result.

5. Erroneous methods or a faulty test kit

A faulty test kit may yield a false negative pregnancy result

Image: Shutterstock

Though the majority of the home pregnancy test kits follow similar methods, it is always advisable to read the instructions carefully before performing the test. Not following the instructions may cause errors in the results. A particular test kit may be faulty due to manufacturing defects or improper handling and storage. Additionally, ensure that the kit is new as the results may not be reliable past the expiry date.

protip_icon Point to consider
The accuracy of the test results also relies on proper test kit usage and a correct understanding of the results (6).

Conditions Causing Pregnancy Symptoms But Negative Pregnancy Test

All fertilized eggs may not result in a healthy pregnancy and may be associated with abnormal medical conditions such as:

  • Ectopic pregnancy: It is the condition where the embryo develops outside the uterus, mostly in the fallopian tube. Initially, you may experience pregnancy symptoms similar to a normal pregnancy with signs such as breast tenderness, missed menstrual period, or an upset stomach (9). However, since it is not a normal pregnancy, the hCG levels will be too low and will lead to a negative test result.
An ectopic pregnancy may give a false negative report

Image: Shutterstock

  • Molar pregnancy: According to the American Pregnancy Association, molar pregnancies are prevalent among one in 1000 pregnancies. It is a rare condition where abnormal fertilization causes an abnormal fetus to form. The placental tissue grows as a cellular mass inside the uterus. These benign tumor cells may release high amounts of hCG, producing a hook effect or degradation products of hCG not detectable by test kits. In both the cases, a negative test result is obtained (10). A molar pregnancy may initially produce regular signs of pregnancy, such as morning sickness and sore breasts, but the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage (11)
    .

Factors That May Make You Feel Pregnant When You Are Not

Hormonal fluctuations in the body may cause pregnancy-like symptoms.

1. Premenstrual syndrome

It is a group of symptoms that occur due to hormonal fluctuations before a menstrual period. The symptoms include breast swelling or tenderness, fatigue, dizziness, backaches, mood swings, and stomach discomfort that may resemble those during pregnancy (12). The hormone progesterone is considered responsible for it (13) (14).

2. Ovulation

Similar symptoms but in milder forms may appear during the release of eggs from the ovaries (15). If the duration of your menstrual cycle varies, ovulation signs may be mistaken for signs of pregnancy.

protip_icon Quick fact
Some women may experience symptoms similar to early pregnancy during ovulation, such as bloating, cramps, light spotting, or breast soreness (21).

3. Medications

Medications used in fertility treatments consist of hormones, such as progesterone and gonadotropins, which are similar to the ones secreted by the body to initiate and maintain pregnancy. These agents may have side effects that resemble pregnancy symptoms if you are undergoing such treatments to assist fertility (16) (17).

4. Pseudocyesis

It is a rare psychosomatic disorder where a woman falsely believes she is pregnant. It manifests the signs and symptoms of pregnancy from irregular or no periods, distended abdomen, food cravings, nausea and vomiting, breast shape and size changes to even sensing fetal movements and milk secretion. Several neuronal, hormonal, and pathological conditions (tumors, cysts, or fibroids in the reproductive organs) have been found responsible (18).

Dealing With Stress When Trying To Conceive

The waiting cycle of tracking your fertile days, trying to conceive, and testing for pregnancy can become stressful. However, you must remember that stress may reduce your chances of conceiving, and it is crucial to take care of your mental well-being in addition to your physical health (19). Take care of your mental health by (20):

  • Following a good lifestyle with nutritious food and moderate exercise
  • Expressing your feelings to your partner, a trusted friend, or a family member
  • Making time to pursue your hobbies
  • Relaxing with meditation or mindfulness techniques
Meditation helps deal with the stress when trying to conceive

Image: Shutterstock

  • Seeking medical help if you feel overwhelmed or have doubts

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What should I not do before a pregnancy test?

You should not drink large amounts of fluids before a pregnancy test as it may dilute the HCG levels in the body, making it undetectable (2).

2. How long after implantation does the test show positive?

You may observe a positive pregnancy result three to four days from implantation. But the accuracy increases to 98% by the seventh day (22).

3. Can PCOS give a false positive pregnancy test?

Yes, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may give a false positive test as the luteinizing hormone (LH) levels remain high throughout the menstrual cycle (23).

4. Is it better to dip a pregnancy test or pee on it?

Most pregnancy test kits follow the dip or pee-on-a-stick method. The midstream or pee-on-a-stick method is accurate 99% of the time, while the dip method has an accuracy of 70% (24).

Several symptoms similar to but unrelated to pregnancy may excite you when you are planning a pregnancy. For example, nausea and vomiting may be associated with indigestion or an intestinal infection and stomach or abdominal cramping with frequent urination, a result of a urinary tract infection. Track your menstrual cycle accurately and undergo the pregnancy test at the recommended time. Two successive negative reports, one week apart, are seldom wrong. Make sure you strictly follow the instructions mentioned in the package insert. However, do not delay seeing a doctor if you continue experiencing pregnancy symptoms but negative test results.

Infographic: Possible Reasons For A Negative Pregnancy Test

The home pregnancy test kits show reliable results when hCG reaches detectable levels. This may be a few days after implantation. Several other factors may cause pregnancy symptoms without a viable embryo. So, scroll through the infographic below to learn about the reasons for negative pregnancy tests.

what can cause a negative pregnancy test (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • False negative pregnancy test results can occur due to testing too early, low levels of hormones, diluted urine, delay in taking the test, or faulty test kits.
  • Conditions like ectopic and molar pregnancies can cause pregnancy symptoms but negative test results.
  • Premenstrual syndrome and ovulation may cause pregnancy-like symptoms due to hormonal fluctuations in the body.
  • Dealing with stress and anxiety when trying to conceive can be crucial in obtaining a positive pregnancy result.
Pregnancy Symptoms But Negative Test_illustration

Image: Dall·E/MomJunction Design Team

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Pregnancy testing.
    https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/pregnancy-testing
  2. Pregnancy Test.
    https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/pregnancy-test/
  3. hCG levels.
    https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/hcg-levels
  4. Pregnancy.
    https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/home-use-tests/pregnancy
  5. Danielle Betz and Kathleen Fane; (2021); Human Chorionic Gonadotropin.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532950/
  6. C. Gnoth and S. Johnson; (2014); Strips of Hope: Accuracy of Home Pregnancy Tests and New Developments.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4119102/
  7. Richard T Griffey et al.; (2013); ”Hook-like effect” causes false-negative point-of-care urine pregnancy testing in emergency patients.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21835572/
  8. Flaw in many home pregnancy tests can return false negative results.
    https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/flaw-in-many-home-pregnancy-tests-can-return-false-negative-results/
  9. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
    https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/premenstrual-syndrome
  10. Tichaendepi Mundangepfupfu and Muhammad Waseem; (2013); Partial hydatidiform mole with false-negative urine human chorionic gonadatropin test in the emergency department.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24188605/
  11. Hydatidiform mole.
    https://www.thewomens.org.au/health-information/pregnancy-and-birth/pregnancy-problems/early-pregnancy-problems/hydatidiform-mole
  12. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
    https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
  13. Andrea J Rapkin and Alin L Akopians; (2011); Pathophysiology of premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22611222/
  14. Pregnancy hormones: progesterone oestrogen and the mood swings.
    https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/how-you-might-be-feeling/pregnancy-hormones-progesterone-oestrogen-and-mood-swings
  15. Ovulation signs.
    https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/ovulation-signs
  16. Walter Ciampaglia and Graciela E Cognigni; (2015); Clinical use of progesterone in infertility and assisted reproduction.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26345161/
  17. Fertility Treatments for Females.
    https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo/treatments/treatments-women
  18. Marzieh Azizi and Forouzan Elyasi; (2017); Biopsychosocial view to pseudocyesis: A narrative review.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5894469/
  19. Kristin L. Rooney and Alice D. Domar; (2018); The relationship between stress and infertility.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6016043/
  20. Planning a pregnancy and managing your mental health.
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/planning-a-pregnancy/are-you-ready-conceive/managing-mental-health
  21. Am I Pregnant, Or…?
    https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-symptoms/am-i-pregnant-or/
  22. T Chard; Pregnancy tests: a review.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1639991/
  23. Tips on getting the most from at home fertility tests.
    https://fertility.womenandinfants.org/blog/tips-on-getting-the-most-from-at-home-fertility-tests
  24. How early can home pregnancy tests show positive results?
    https://utswmed.org/medblog/home-pregnancy-tests/
Was this article helpful?
Like buttonDislike button
The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Irene (Eirini) Orfanoudaki is a gynecologist-obstetrician, having a private practice in Heraklion, Crete, and collaborating with private health clinic 'MITERA' - Euromeda in Heraklion. With around 21 years of experience as a gynecologist-obstetrician, she specializes in ultrasound, colposcopy, minimal and advance gynecologic surgery, aesthetic gynecology, fertility consulting, menopause consulting, operative obstetrics, high-risk pregnancy, normal deliveries, antenatal, intra-parum, postnatal care,...read full bio