If you’ve ever experienced a missed period but had a negative pregnancy test, you may be wondering if you can actually trust the results of the test.
Although it is possible to be pregnant and still have a negative pregnancy test, there are also some other reasons why you might get a negative result with a missed period.
There are six primary causes of a missed period but a negative pregnancy test, including low hormone levels, lifestyle factors, ectopic pregnancy, breastfeeding, medication use, and certain medical conditions.
Low Hormone Levels
Pregnancy tests work by detecting the presence of enough hCG hormone (or human chorionic gonadotropin) in the urine or blood.
This hormone is sometimes referred to as the pregnancy hormone because it is produced in excess during pregnancy.
An elevation in the amount of hCG starts at conception and typically peaks at about 8 to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
Rising levels of hCG are one of the early signs of pregnancy, detected both by a urine test and a blood test.
The date of conception can vary widely between individuals depending on their unique ovulation cycle.
A study conducted in 2014 found that at-home pregnancy tests need to detect hCG levels above 25 milli-international units per milliliter (mIU/mL) in order to detect pregnancy in 99 out of 100 cases.
However, depending on when a woman conceives, her hCG levels may not be high enough shortly after a missed period to be detected by the pregnancy test.
Women who conceive later in their cycle will still miss a period but may still get a negative test result because there simply hasn’t been enough time for hCG to accumulate.
This is called a false-negative result because although the woman is pregnant, the test is falsely showing a negative result that indicates she is not pregnant (as opposed to the much less common false positive, where the test indicates a pregnancy when the woman is not actually pregnant).
If you think you might be pregnant but get a negative test result, wait a few days before taking another urine pregnancy test.
Remember that a faint line still counts as a positive pregnancy test. Pregnancy tests offer the most accurate results when taken at least one week after a missed period.
A missed period can also occur as a result of other factors, including specific elements of a person’s lifestyle.
One of the lifestyle factors most commonly attributed to a missed period is stress.
Experiencing a large amount of physical or psychological stress can delay a woman’s period even though she is not pregnant.
Consistently excessive exercise can even lead to a reduction in body fat so significant that it can cause a woman to stop menstruating, resulting in a period occurring well past the expected period date.
A poor diet, specifically failure to take in enough essential nutrients or enough calories, can also cause a woman to miss her period.
On the note of dietary habits, higher-than-average daily caffeine intake is an often-unexpected cause of an irregular period.
An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs when an egg is fertilized by a sperm but implants outside of the woman’s uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube.
Because the egg has been fertilized, the body begins preparing for pregnancy, resulting in a missed period. However, levels of hCG in the urine or blood may not be detectable, thus resulting in a negative pregnancy test.
Studies show that up to 3 percent of ectopic pregnancies may result in a negative test.
While rare, it is possible to have a negative pregnancy test and still experience an ectopic pregnancy.
If you have a missed period and experience any of the following symptoms with a negative pregnancy test, seek medical attention:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Severe pain in the lower abdomen or one side of the abdomen
- Bleeding or spotting
If you’ve ever heard the old adage that it’s not possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding, you’re not alone.
While it is true that breastfeeding can cause irregularities in a woman’s menstrual cycle, including late periods or missed periods, it is still possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. However, the chances are less likely.
As your baby grows, his or her feeding needs change from month to month, which can place increased stress on your body.
These changes can make your cycle irregular from month to month, resulting in a missed period with a negative pregnancy test.
The use of certain medications can also contribute to a missed period with a negative pregnancy test.
The medications most commonly associated with a missed period are birth control pills or other forms of hormonal contraceptives. These medications help to prevent pregnancy by thinning the lining of the uterus, which is shed during menstruation.
Women who have taken hormonal contraceptives for an extended period of time or who take high doses of hormones can stop having periods completely.
Approximately 15.4 percent of women with a hormonal IUD were found to completely stop having periods, in one study.
Other medications that can contribute to a missed period include certain types of blood pressure drugs or allergy medications.
If you miss your period but experience a negative pregnancy test and you’ve recently started or changed medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if one of the drugs you are taking could be the cause.
Certain medical conditions can contribute to an irregular menstrual cycle or even missing periods altogether.
Women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can experience significantly irregular cycles, causing missed periods (or more accurately, skipped periods).
Women with thyroid or other hormonal disorders can also experience missed periods.
Women with eating disorders may also miss periods if they lose too much body fat. The condition, called amenorrhea, is commonly found in women suffering from severe anorexia or exercise bulimia.
The Bottom Line
There are six primary causes of missing a period but receiving a negative pregnancy test result, including low hormone levels, lifestyle factors, ectopic pregnancy, breastfeeding, medication use, and certain medical conditions.
If you think you might actually be pregnant, try waiting two or three days before retesting to see if you get a positive result.
Always seek medical attention from a healthcare provider if you have a missed period and negative test but are experiencing early pregnancy symptoms or those of a possible ectopic pregnancy.
References and Sources:
Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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