Human Chorionic Gonadotropin: An Overview
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Updated on 03 November, 2023
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What is Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)?
Structure and Function
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a glycoprotein hormone that plays a vital role in human reproduction. It consists of two subunits, alpha, and beta, which combine to form the active hormone.
The alpha subunit is similar to other glycoprotein hormones like luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), while the beta subunit is unique to hCG and provides its specific biological activity. The beta subunit of hCG has several different forms, including intact hCG, free beta-hCG, and beta-core fragment. The beta subunit of hCG is important in pregnancy testing because it is the specific subunit that is detected in most clinical tests for human pregnancy. hCG is one of the two main pregnancy hormones.
Production and Secretion
hCG is primarily produced by the placenta of pregnant women. Its secretion begins shortly after the fertilized egg implants into the uterine lining, usually around 8-10 days after ovulation.hCG is produced by the trophoblast cells that make up the outer layer of the blastocyst, which is the early stage of development that implants in the uterus after fertilization. hCG is responsible for maintaining the corpus luteum, which is a temporary structure that forms in the ovary after ovulation and produces progesterone to support early pregnancy. hCG levels during pregnancy rise rapidly, peaking around 10 weeks of pregnancy, which is also known as the first trimester of pregnancy, and then gradually decline in the later weeks of pregnancy until delivery.
While the placenta is the primary source of hCG during a normal pregnancy, small amounts can also be produced by other tissues, such as the pituitary gland and certain tumors. In non-pregnant women and men, these levels are usually too low to be detected by standard tests.
Roles of hCG in the Body
hCG plays a critical role in the maintenance of pregnancy by stimulating the corpus luteum to continue producing progesterone. This hormone helps support the developing human embryo and prevents the mother’s body from rejecting it. hCG also aids in the growth of the placenta during pregnancy, which provides vital nutrients and oxygen to the developing fetus.
A reduced level of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) may be a sign of several conditions, including:
Ectopic pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, typically in the fallopian tube. hCG levels may be lower than expected in ectopic pregnancy.
Miscarriage: A miscarriage is the loss of a human pregnancy before the 20th week or the second trimester of pregnancy. In most cases, the hCG level will fall rapidly after a miscarriage, as it is no longer needed in the maintenance of pregnancy.
Blighted ovum: A blighted ovum is a type of miscarriage in which a fertilized egg implants in the uterus but does not develop into a viable embryo during human pregnancy. In this case, hCG levels may be lower than expected.
Molar pregnancy: A molar pregnancy is a rare type of pregnancy in which abnormal cells grow in the uterus, leading to the formation of a mass or tumor. In this case, hCG levels may be higher or lower than expected, depending on the type of molar pregnancy.Advertisements
Failed pregnancy: A failed pregnancy is a term used to describe a human pregnancy in which the embryo stops developing but the pregnancy is not miscarried. In this case, hCG levels may plateau or drop over time.
hCG is used in fertility treatments to trigger ovulation and support the implantation of the fertilized egg. In some cases, hCG injections are administered to women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) or IUI (intrauterine insemination) to improve the chances of a successful normal pregnancy.
Some weight loss programs promote the use of hCG injections to suppress appetite and promote fat loss. However, scientific evidence supporting these claims is limited, and the FDA has not approved hCG for weight loss purposes.
Elevated hCG levels can also be a sign of certain types of cancer, such as testicular cancer, ovarian cancer, or placental tumors. In these cases, hCG can serve as a tumor marker, helping doctors diagnose and monitor the progress of the disease.
hCG Detection Methods
Blood tests can detect hCG as early as 10 days after conception, making them a reliable method for confirming early pregnancy. Quantitative blood tests measure the exact amount of hCG in the blood, while qualitative tests simply provide a positive or negative result. Doctors may use blood tests to monitor hCG levels throughout pregnancy, as they can indicate potential complications like ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages.
Home pregnancy tests are urine-based and detect hCG levels in the urine. These tests are generally less sensitive than blood tests and may not provide accurate results until 12-14 days after conception. However, they are a convenient and non-invasive way for individuals to confirm pregnancy at home.
Side Effects and Risks
When used as part of fertility treatments, hCG injections can cause side effects in some individuals. These may include headaches, mood swings, fatigue, and pain or swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, hCG injections can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which causes the ovaries to become dangerously enlarged.
The misuse of hCG injections for weight loss or performance enhancement can lead to a range of health issues. These can include hormonal imbalances, blood clots, and an increased risk of developing certain cancers. It is essential to use hCG only under the guidance of a healthcare professional and for its intended purposes.
Human chorionic gonadotropin is a crucial hormone involved in human reproduction. It plays a significant role in the maintenance of pregnancy, and its detection is an essential aspect of early pregnancy confirmation. While hCG is used in fertility treatments, its misuse for weight loss or other purposes can have serious consequences. As with any hormone therapy, it is crucial to use hCG responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the primary function of hCG during pregnancy?
A: hCG maintains pregnancy by stimulating the corpus luteum to produce progesterone, which supports the developing embryo and prevents the mother’s body from rejecting it.
Q: Can hCG be used as a tumor marker?
A: Yes, elevated hCG levels can indicate the presence of certain types of cancer, such as testicular, ovarian, or placental tumors.
Q: How soon can a blood test detect hCG?
A: Blood tests can detect hCG as early as 10 days after conception.
Q: Are hCG injections safe for weight loss?
A: The FDA has not approved hCG for weight loss purposes, and scientific evidence supporting its use for this purpose is limited. Misuse of hCG injections can lead to various health issues.
Q: What are the potential side effects of hCG injections?
A: Side effects of hCG injections can include headaches, mood swings, fatigue, and pain or swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, they can lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
MedlinePlus. Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG). (2022). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a606017.html
U.S. National Library of Medicine. HCG Injection. (2022). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a606017.html
American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Medications for Inducing Ovulation: A Guide for Patients. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.asrm.org/globalassets/asrm/asrm-content/news-and-publications/patient-resources/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/medications_for_inducing_ovulation.pdf
American Pregnancy Association. Understanding hCG. Accessed April 20, 2023. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/hcg-levels/
UpToDate. Physiology of hCG. Accessed April 20, 2023. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/physiology-of-hcg
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. Human chorionic gonadotropin. Accessed April 20, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/1081