Maybe you’ve been TTC for a few months, and you’re anxious to see those two pink lines. Or maybe your period is a little late, and you’re wondering if a surprise baby is on the way. In either case, you’ll need a pregnancy test to give you some answers.

But what if you get a faint line?! What does that mean? You’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers. In this post, we’ll cover:

  • What a faint line looks like
  • What a faint line on a pregnancy test means
  • Plus, the difference between a faint line and an evaporation line

What Does a Faint Line on a Pregnancy Test Look Like?

A faint line looks different depending on which test you use. Most pregnancy tests use two parallel lines or a plus sign to indicate pregnancy.

  • If you take a test with the plus sign, you’ll be looking for one dark vertical line (the control line) and one faint horizontal line crossing it.
  • If you take a test with parallel lines, you’ll be looking for one darker line next to one faint line.

If you are testing early (before you’ve even missed your period), the faint line may be so faint it’s barely visible—almost like a tiny, tiny smudge. The further along you are, the darker the line usually becomes. You can see what this progression looks like in the image below: 

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What Does a Faint Line Mean?

A true faint line—unlike an evaporation line—is usually a true positive.

A positive result (even a faint positive result) means that implantation likely occurred, and your body is beginning to produce HCG, a hormone that is vital for sustaining a pregnancy. This also means that you’re in the very early stages of pregnancy.

If you continue to test after you get a faint line, you should notice that the line grows darker as the days go on.

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Can a Faint Line Be Negative?

Pregnancy tests have one goal: to detect hCG. When your test shows a faint line, it means that your body is detecting some hCG, which typically indicates pregnancy. Urine tests should display a positive test when 25 mIU/ml hCG is detected, according to a German study on pregnancy tests.

Unfortunately though, it is possible to see a faint line that goes away. It’s also possible to get your period shortly after seeing a faint line. This could point to a very early loss, like chemical pregnancy.

There are also some cases—beyond early pregnancy loss—that could cause a faint line to develop, even if you aren’t really pregnant. These situations include:

  • Hormonal imbalances such as PCOS: Sometimes ovarian cysts may release hormones (including hCG) even if pregnancy isn’t achieved.
  • Fertility medication: Some fertility medications may trigger positive results before you’re actually pregnant. If you’re currently going through fertility treatments, it’s a good idea to take a pregnancy test only when advised by your provider.
  • Recent miscarriage: If your hCG levels have not returned to 0 mIU/ml hCG, it’s possible that a pregnancy test is still detecting residual hCG.
  • Menopause: Early menopause can also trigger higher than normal hCG levels, which could lead to a false positive.
  • Illnesses: Specifically, medications used for Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy can trigger a false positive.
  • hCG diet: The hCG diet is a weight loss diet that incorporates this hormone into the treatment plan. Not surprisingly, if you’re on the hCG diet, you’ll likely get positive pregnancy results since the test is picking up those hormone levels.

The Difference Between a Faint Line and an Evaporation Line

Or, the faint line might not really be a faint line at all. It could be an evaporation line…

An evaporation line is the line that develops as urine evaporates off of the pregnancy test stick. Here’s how to spot the difference between a faint line and an evaporation line:

Thickness

An evaporation line tends to be skinnier than the control line; faint lines tend to be the same thickness as the control line.

Color of line

Most evaporation lines will be gray in color, not pink or blue like the control line. (Although, there have been reports that the blue lined pregnancy tests can show a light blue evaporation line. Ugh!)

Timing of the test

You should also consider the timing of the test. Evaporation lines appear as urine evaporates, which means it takes a several minutes for this to happen.

  • If you take a test and immediately see a faint line, it’s likely a positive test albeit just faint.
  • If you take the test and check back on the results after the allotted testing time frame, it’s probably an evaporation line.

Many mamas have taken tests, received a negative result, threw the test out, and then later noticed the line. This can cause some confusion, but generally those are late-appearing lines are evaporation lines. Always check your test within the specified time frame to help reduce the chance that you see an evaporation line.

What About Digital Pregnancy Tests?

Digital tests are much easier to read. Digital tests visibly display the words “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant”—there are no lines to decode.

The downside? Digital tests can be very expensive, especially if you like to test before your missed period (and therefore might use more). Digital tests also need a higher concentration of hCG to yield a positive result, which could lead to a false negative if you test too early.

Think You’ve Got a Positive Pregnancy Test?

Congratulations! Check out this post to learn more about your positive pregnancy test.

Once you’ve received a positive test, it’s time to check in with your midwife or OBGYN. During your first appointment, your provider will take a blood test (which are more sensitive than the urine tests) to confirm your pregnancy, and from there, you can commence with your prenatal care.