What is Human Chorionic Gonadotropin?

One of the terms which you will hear a lot if you have recently become pregnant (or are trying to become pregnant) is “Human chorionic gonadotropin.” What is human chorionic gonadotropin? Human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG for short, is a type of glycoprotein hormone which is produced by the pituitary gland of all men and women, but is most abundantly found in pregnant women. During the early stages of pregnancy, HCG is produced by the embryo itself, but later it is a part of the placenta called the syncytiotrophoblast which is responsible for the continuing production of HCG. The levels of HCG vary during the course of pregnancy.

What role does HCG play in pregnancy? HCG plays an important part in the production of progesterone, another hormone which lines the uterus with extra blood vessels and capillaries. This provides a safer and more supportive environment for the growing embryo. Another role of HCG is to protect the fetus from the mother’s own immune system, which may try to reject the baby in the initial trimester of pregnancy, recognizing the fetus’s cells as foreign to the body.

Why is HCG of interest to you, beyond its biological role in the growth of your new baby? HCG levels can serve as a benchmark to alert you to what changes are going on in your body and whether your pregnancy is progressing normally. In fact, it is HCG which urine pregnancy tests measure. HCG levels by themselves don’t prove anything about your baby’s status, and they vary quite a bit from woman to woman. In general though you should expect your HCG levels to double every two to three days. The range of normal levels is quite wide, but the progression should be about the same. After two or three months though the HCG levels will increase more slowly and eventually will plateau for the rest of your pregnancy. There may even be a slight decline just before the plateau; this is normal. If your HCG levels are “abnormally” high, you may also have twins or triplets, but this cannot be determined without additional tests. Sometimes levels are just high for no particular reason, because everybody is different. What you think may be “abnormal” could be quite normal for you.

If your HCG levels aren’t doubling every few days in the early stages of your pregnancy or if they are declining, you should speak to a doctor and ask for additional tests. It’s no cause to panic; you and your baby may both be just fine. It’s always best to make sure though, which is what ultrasound and other medical tests are for. Only these tests can confirm for certain whether things are going smoothly or there might be a problem.

HCG levels are something which are great to keep track of throughout your pregnancy. Just don’t forget that by themselves they indicate nothing for certain, and you will always need to follow up with a more concrete medical test. Have fun keeping track of your pregnancy and good luck!

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