What is Human Chorionic Gonadotropin?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2016
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Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is a hormone produced when women are pregnant, and in some rare instances when certain tumors develop. In most cases, pregnancy tests look for the presence of this hormone. Initially when a woman gets pregnant, the fetus produces human chorionic gonadotropin, and then later the placenta produces it.

For the pregnant woman, the production of HCG is vital to maintaining the pregnancy. Human chorionic gonadotropin keeps progesterone levels up, which keeps the lining of the uterus at a thickness that will help to sustain life in the womb. This lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, typically thins and deteriorates as progesterone levels decline when pregnancy is not present. In the presence of a growing fetus and HCG, the endometrium remains thick to protect the developing fetus.

In addition to the benefits of human chorionic gonadotropin in helping to maintain pregnancy, many use an injectable form of the medication to combat infertility. When HCG is injected, it can cause a woman to ovulate within about a two-day period. This can help increase chances of pregnancy. It is common to use this hormone in injected form before trying in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, the medication must be carefully dosed and controlled because when it is used on women who are already pregnant, it can result in birth defects. Birth defects are not a result of HCG that is naturally created by a fetus or the placenta.


One unorthodox use of human chorionic gonadotropin is when people use steroids for bodybuilding. Since HCG can help produce testosterone, men may use this as medication to prevent some side effects of long-term steroid use, like shrinking of the testicles. Use of steroids to bulk up muscles has many risks and is not advised.

Another persistent rumor about human chorionic gonadotropin is that it will help to promote weight loss. It may be sold as a fabulous weight loss drug that will easily help the obese shed pounds. There are numerous studies conducted by organizations like the US National Institutes of Health that suggest any claims regarding weight loss are categorically false. HCG should not be used as a weight loss aid. It doesn’t work and there are health risks associated with using it.

Some side effects of injected HCG that are not life threatening include headache, weight gain, breast tenderness, water retention and temporary mood swings or depression. More serious sides effects include development of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). This can be life threatening and causes symptoms like very severe pelvic pain, diarrhea or nausea, swelling of the hands, legs, feet and stomach, shortness of breath, and low urination output. If you have just started HCG treatments and you develop these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.


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Post 1

If a home pregnancy test was negative with missed periods of more then five weeks, does it rule out pregnancy?

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