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Can you smell hCG in urine?

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced during pregnancy. Some people claim that hCG makes urine smell different, but is this really true? Let’s take a look at the facts.

What is hCG?

hCG is a hormone made by cells formed in the placenta, which nourishes the egg after it has been fertilized and becomes attached to the uterine wall. Levels of hCG can be detected in the blood and urine of pregnant women as early as 8-10 days after conception.

The primary role of hCG is to ensure the corpus luteum continues to secrete progesterone and estrogen to maintain the pregnancy in early stages before the placenta is fully formed. It promotes fetal nutrition and growth by enhancing cellular differentiation and angiogenesis in uterine vasculature.

In addition to being produced during pregnancy, hCG may also be present in low levels in non-pregnant women and men. Certain medical conditions can cause elevated hCG as well, including trophoblastic diseases, germ cell tumors, and other cancers.

Typical hCG levels during pregnancy

hCG levels rise steadily during the first trimester of pregnancy, peaking around weeks 10-12. Here are typical hCG ranges:

Weeks pregnant hCG level range (mIU/mL)
3-4 weeks 5 – 50
4-5 weeks 50 – 500
5-6 weeks 500 – 10,000
6-8 weeks 10,000 – 100,000
8-12 weeks 100,000 – 200,000

After the first trimester, hCG levels start declining and level off for the remainder of the pregnancy. The pattern of hCG rise and fall can indicate a healthy pregnancy.

Does hCG affect urine odor?

Some pregnant women report that their urine has a stronger or unusual smell, which they attribute to the presence of hCG. However, there is no scientific evidence that hCG itself causes any detectable odor in urine.

Urine is made up of waste products that the body filters out, including ammonia, byproducts of protein metabolism, salts, and water. The actual constituents that give urine its characteristic scent include:

  • Urea – broken down protein
  • Uric acid – from the breakdown of nucleic acids
  • Creatinine – a waste product from muscle
  • Volatile organic compounds like indoles, ketones, and nitrogen-containing aromatics
  • Sulfur-containing compounds

During pregnancy, the kidneys filter more blood and there is increased fluid turnover, resulting in more frequent urination. Hormonal changes may alter the pH balance of urine. Estrogens particularly enhance the excretion of compounds that increase odor.

While hCG itself is odorless, the hormonal and metabolic changes associated with rising hCG levels could plausibly affect the smell of urine indirectly. However, there are no studies that correlate hCG levels with concentrations of specific urinary odorants.

Other causes of urine odor changes during pregnancy

There are many reasons why pregnant women may notice their urine smells different, which have nothing to do with hCG:

  • Dietary changes – Pregnant women are often counseled to increase protein intake. More protein in the diet can increase urinary urea and ammonia.
  • Nausea and vomiting – Hormones like hCG and HPL that increase in early pregnancy can cause nausea and vomiting, leading to dehydration and concentrated, smelly urine.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) – Hormonal and physical changes make pregnant women more prone to UTIs, which give urine a foul-smelling odor.
  • Prenatal vitamins – Iron supplements recommended during pregnancy can give urine a metallic smell.
  • Gestational diabetes – High blood sugar leads to sugar being excreted in urine, which may smell sweet or almost fruity.

If urine smells especially strong or foul, it should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out UTIs or other underlying conditions requiring treatment.

Using urine smell to detect pregnancy

Given that hCG itself does not directly cause urine to smell different, attempting to use urine odor as an early pregnancy signal is not very reliable.

However, some women believe that they can discern a distinctive urine smell around the time of their missed period. There are a few reasons why this may be possible:

  • In the days after implantation before a positive pregnancy test, slight hormonal changes could start impacting urine odorants.
  • Women may perceive odors differently when pregnant. Studies show altered smell sensitivity in pregnancy due to nasal inflammation, mucus production, and other factors.
  • The power of suggestion – looking for differences in urine smell could make women more attuned to any subtle changes.

Even if urine odor seems unusual for an individual woman, it should not be relied on to confirm pregnancy. False negatives are likely if hCG levels have not risen sufficiently. Urine odor also cannot indicate the stage of pregnancy.

The most reliable way to diagnose pregnancy is to take a sensitive home pregnancy test that detects hCG levels in urine or get a blood hCG test ordered by a doctor.

Tips for dealing with urine odor during pregnancy

While urine smell likely will not be pleasant during pregnancy, here are some tips to handle it:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to dilute urine.
  • Avoid strong-smelling foods like garlic and asparagus which can be excreted in urine.
  • Consider taking a vitamin B complex, which can help reduce urine odor.
  • Wipe thoroughly after urinating and rinse away any residual urine.
  • Keep bathrooms well-ventilated.
  • Emptytrash cans and avoid storing soiled diapers in bathrooms.


In summary, the claim that hCG itself makes urine smell different during early pregnancy is not scientifically substantiated. While urine odor may change subjectively in some women, this is likely due to other hormonal, dietary, and physiological factors – not hCG directly.

Relying on urine smell is an unreliable way to detect very early pregnancy. Home pregnancy tests should be used for accurate results. If strong or unusual urine odor persists, it should be evaluated by a healthcare provider to diagnose or rule out any underlying condition requiring treatment.

Pregnant women troubled by urine odor can try measures like drinking more fluids, avoiding odorous foods, and improving bathroom ventilation. But some amount of changed urine smell should be expected as a normal part of pregnancy.