Diagnostic accuracy of varying discriminatory zones for the prediction of ectopic pregnancy in women with a pregnancy of unknown location

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Dec;26(7):770-5. doi: 10.1002/uog.2636.


Objectives: Various serum human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) discriminatory zones are currently used for evaluating the likelihood of an ectopic pregnancy in women classified as having a pregnancy of unknown location (PUL) following a transvaginal ultrasound examination. We evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of discriminatory zones for serum hCG levels of > 1000 IU/L, 1500 IU/L and 2000 IU/L for the detection of ectopic pregnancy in such women.

Methods: This was a prospective observational study of women who were assessed in a specialized transvaginal scanning unit. All women with a PUL had serum hCG measured at presentation. Expectant management of PULs was adopted. These women were followed up with transvaginal ultrasound, monitoring of serum hormone levels and laparoscopy until a final diagnosis was established: a failing PUL, an intrauterine pregnancy (IUP), an ectopic pregnancy or a persisting PUL. The persisting PULs probably represented ectopic pregnancies which had been missed on ultrasound and these were incorporated into the ectopic pregnancy group. Three different discriminatory zones (1000 IU/L, 1500 IU/L and 2000 IU/L) were evaluated for predicting ectopic pregnancy in this PUL population.

Results: A total of 5544 consecutive women presented to the early pregnancy unit between 25 June 2001 and 14 April 2003. Of these, 569 (10.3%) women were classified as having a PUL, 42 of which were lost to follow up. Of the 527 (9.5%) cases with PUL analyzed, there were 300 (56.9%) failing PULs, 181 (34.3%) IUPs and 46 (8.7%) ectopic pregnancies. Overall, 74.6% were symptomatic and 25.4% were asymptomatic (P = 8.825E-07). The sensitivity and specificity of an hCG level of > 1000 IU/L to detect ectopic pregnancy were 21.7% (10/46) and 87.3% (420/481), respectively; for an hCG level of > 1500 IU/L these values were 15.2% (7/46) and 93.4% (449/481), respectively, and for an hCG level of > 2000 IU/L they were 10.9% (5/46) and 95.2% (458/481), respectively.

Conclusions: Varying the discriminatory zone does not significantly improve the detection of ectopic pregnancy in a PUL population. A single measurement of serum hCG is not only potentially falsely reassuring but also unhelpful in excluding the presence of an ectopic pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Ectopic / diagnosis*
  • Pregnancy, Ectopic / diagnostic imaging
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal


  • Biomarkers
  • Chorionic Gonadotropin