Human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, is often referred to as the "pregnancy hormone." It's the substance that, when detected in a woman's urine, indicates pregnancy, notes the Hormone Health Network, and it also can be taken as an infertility treatment. But one of its risks is high blood pressure.
Read more: 5 Ways High Blood Pressure Affects Your Body
HCG in Pregnancy
HCG rises in the first eight weeks of pregnancy and peaks around 10 weeks of gestation, according to a StatPearls review posted by the National Library of Medicine. Even among normal, healthy pregnancies, HCG levels can vary widely from woman to woman. However, if the level is low, it may be a sign of a nonviable pregnancy, the review article indicates.
Given wide variability in HCG levels and rates of increase, doctors don't rely on this hormone to tell the story of your pregnancy. HCG testing is typically paired with ultrasound to monitor the health and viability of the fetus, according to the StatPearls review.
HCG as Medicine
Human chorionic gonadotropin is not only present during pregnancy — it's also frequently used as a fertility treatment for couples having difficulty conceiving. According to the Cleveland Clinic, women can take HCG along with other fertility medications to increase their odds of getting pregnant. It can also be prescribed to men to stimulate production of both sperm and testosterone.
Delivered through an injection by a doctor, the hormone can cause a number of side effects, says Cleveland Clinic. These include allergic reactions, breathing problems, nausea, vomiting, acne, breast enlargement and several other issues.
"Before introducing HCG to treat infertility, it is important to speak with your physician to determine if this is the right course of action for you," says Sanjay Shetty, MD, division chair of cardiology for AtlantiCare in New Jersey. "You should not use HCG if you are pregnant, are allergic to HCG or have certain cancers caused by male hormones, such as prostate cancer."
HCG and High Blood Pressure
Among the many side effects of the HCG hormone is the potential risk of high blood pressure. This was noted in a study of pregnant women that was published in 2018 in the American Journal of Biochemistry. Over the course of nearly three years, the researchers studied 50 pregnant women who had preeclampsia, which is a medical condition that occurs during pregnancy and is characterized by high blood pressure, swelling of the hands and feet, and protein in the urine, among other symptoms.
What the researchers discovered was that HCG levels and high blood pressure were very closely linked in the pregnant women. In fact, it was determined that pregnant women with high arterial blood pressure almost always had elevated levels of the hormone HCG as well.
"When used to treat infertility, HCG can increase your risk for two types of high blood pressure associated with pregnancy — preeclampsia and gestational hypertension," says Dr. Shetty. "Pregnant women who suffer from high blood pressure have an increased risk of stroke and heart attack."
Read more: About High Blood Pressure & Low Pulse
HCG in Supplements
HCG is also present in some weight-loss supplements and other products, but the Mayo Clinic advises steering clear of weight-loss medications containing HCG. "The FDA has never approved HCG for weight loss, and it has no proven benefit in weight loss," says Dr. Shetty.
In addition, the Mayo Clinic notes that some evidence indicates that HCG weight-loss products can potentially increase cancer risk, and that there also appears to be no evidence that HCG weight-loss products have an impact on weight loss.
Is This an Emergency?
- Hormone Health Network: “Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG)”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, HCG Injection”
- Sanjay Shetty, MD, division chair of cardiology, AtlantiCare, New Jersey
- Mayo Clinic: “Has the HCG Diet Been Shown to Be Safe and Effective?”
- American Journal of Biochemistry: “Serum Human Chorionic Gonadotropin as a Biochemical Marker of Adverse Pregnancy Outcome in Severe Preeclampsia”
- StatPearls/National Library of Medicine: "Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG)"