The History of the Pregnancy Test from Rabbit Tests to Websites
Testing for Pregnancy >> The History of the Pregnancy Test from Rabbit Tests to Websites
A pregnancy test is used
determine if a woman is pregnant or not. Today, we know that any test that detects
the hormone, hCG, will offer the quickest and most accurate solution for determining
if you have a baby on the way. hCG is secreted by the placenta right after a
fertilized egg implants in the uterus and this hormone will show up in both
your urine and in your blood. Urine pregnancy tests are great for convenient
home use; but your doctor may opt to use urine or blood, as the latter can provide
a "quantitative" hCG number. Both methods are quite reliable, highly
history of the pregnancy test is an interesting one, and is
naturally colored by myth, wives’ tales, and folk hypotheses. And though
"ancient" pregnancy tests were typically based on false assumptions
or pseudo-science, the ancient Egyptians at least knew where to start looking:
they considered a woman's urine to be the best source for prognosticating a
pregnancy. To this end, the ancient Egyptians were purported to mix urine with
various grains; if the grains germinated, you had a positive result, and depending
on which grain germinated, you could also determine the gender: a two-in-one
pregnancy and gender test! Fortunately, the Egyptians did not spend very much
on patenting this technique, as it turned out to not provide very accurate results...
Middle Ages brought us slightly more empirical techniques, though
the science was still off a bit. Various physicians would closely analyze (describe)
a urine sample or mix it with wine or alcohol to determine a pregnancy result.
Of course, during the Middle Ages, the body was thought to be governed by the
four humours (the fluids that corresponded to our "four natures"),
and not influenced by hormones. So urine was studied and interpreted in the
same way tea leaves might read the future - solely on the basis of how it looked.
And while the descriptions of various urine results are quite detailed, it's
likely that the Renaissance pregnancy test was not very reliable either. A "smart"
doctor might inquire about a few other physical symptoms in order to sharpen
the accuracy of his urine prophecy.
As might be expected, the
Age of Reason brought more rational and scientific approaches
to detecting pregnancy. But while much was learned about the physiology of reproductive
systems, the discovery of a hormone-driven reproductive system was
still a century or two away. Instead, medical science developed increasingly
sophisticated analyses of pregnancy symptoms as well as a clearer understanding
of the male and female body. Still, pseudo-science reigned, and despite the
fact that anatomy books were quite detailed and exact, nothing could prevent
odd theories and practices from developing. For example, doctors still analyzed
urine, but this time rather than try to determine pregnancy by changes in urine
color, sheen, or consistency, or how it might mix with alcohol, they focused
on the presence of bacteria or crystalline structures (viewed through the microscope).
And while giant steps in pregnancy test research were not achieved until the
20th Century, the 19th was noted for more important progress in prenatal health,
hygiene, pregnancy care, and overall reproductive and infant wellness.
100 years ago, the first major steps were made in developing
the modern pregnancy test. So while we map out the human genome today, a century
back researchers were mapping out how hormones worked during the different phases
of a woman's menstrual cycle. This finally led to the discovery of human
chorionic gonadotropin hormone, or hCG, around 1925. Here, significant amounts
of hCG were only found in pregnant women, meaning that science had finally found
a reliable, empirical marker (or detectable substance) that could be used for
This discovery, however,
was not good news for the baby rabbit,
mouse, or rat. That's because hCG, when injected into one of our fuzzy friends
would do a number of things. For a young, sexually immature rat or mouse, the
presence of hCG could cause them to "be in heat". Later, researchers
found out that injections of hCG in rabbits, rats, and frogs would cause ovulation.
Therefore, you could inject a urine sample from a human woman into a rabbit
to find out if she was pregnant - this is the rabbit test you have always wondered
about. The problem for the rabbit was that this testing method required the
bunny to sacrifice his or her life in the name of determining a test result.
Fatal surgery was required. Fortunately, pregnancy testing during the rabbit
era was not popular or widespread; moreover, the results were not accurate either.
References to the rabbit test are still current in popular culture, from an
episode of the TV show MASH, to Aerosmith song lyrics, and a Billy Crystal
movie from the 1970s.
At any rate, by the early
60s, new research on hormones were yielding better methods for finding out if
a woman was pregnant. A precursor to our modern pregnancy test technique appeared
when researchers used anti-hCG antibodies to facilitate a diagnostic reaction.
While this method yielded better results, there were still some problems: cross-reactivity
with medications or other hormones (like LH) which caused false negative or
false positive results. The problem with LH (luteinizing hormone) is that it
is often present in a woman's urine throughout her cycle, at least in low levels.
It reaches particularly high levels right before a women ovulates. Hence, false
results were a problem during this era.
By the early 1970's, a woman
could collect a urine sample at home and either bring it to the doctor for analysis
or send it via mail to a laboratory. Unlike today's quick and easy one-step
pregnancy tests, early diagnostic kits were composed of solutions, test tubes,
and many other components. These were only to be used by doctors or medical
professionals. This, of course, changed, and the first home pregnancy test hit
the market in the late 70s. Nevertheless, a woman was still required to mix
her urine with solutions using test tubes - and the procedure was still rather
complex, requiring a few hours for the result to appear. Accuracy rate were
not quite as impressive as with today's test, and false negative results were
From here, improvements
were made throughout the 1980s and 90s, and pretty soon the "home chemistry"
mixing-mess was ancient history, as well. Tests were created in one-step formats
in which the testing reagent could be contained on a single "strip"
- and situated within a hand-held applicator. Urine would be absorbed through
the test - through the anti-hCG antibodies - and across a control line (color
band) that would appear if the test was used properly. A color band or plus
sign, etc, in the test area of the strip would indicate a positive result with
ten minutes or so. Test sensitivity also increased. Not long ago, manufacturers
required that you wait up to two-weeks after a missed period before
beginning to test. More sensitive tests decreased the wait-time to just after
your missed period, and more recently, some high-sensitivity products indicate
that they can detect pregnancy before a missed period (around eight to ten days
after a woman ovulates). When
can I test?
Today, a wider array of
testing options are available for women. Digital pregnancy tests were the first
innovations of the 21st century, along with clinical-style testing strips that
are both highly accurate (offering early-detection) and quite affordable. Early-Pregnancy-Tests.com,
the leading Internet vendor of home pregnancy tests, appeared on the scene in
2001 to help women to take charge of their fertility with a wide selection
of preconception products and articles like this one! Together, we've come a
long way in just thirty years. And best of all, the martyrdom of rabbits is
no longer required.
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