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The surprising secret hidden in a pregnancy test

A teardown of a digital pregnancy test has created a buzz after revealing it contained a standard paper test, similar to those used by GPs.

The experiment has raised questions about whether the extra cost of digital pregnancy tests is justified. Some say the electronics give women a clearer answer but others point to the e-waste created by digital test kits.

Hardware researcher Foone decided to find out what was inside a pregnancy test in response to a tweet from a man questioning whether the digital pregnancy test his wife had bought was worth the extra money.

Digital pregnancy tests that display the words “pregnant” or “not pregnant” on a screen often cost about four times as much as ones that simply provide a single or double line on a paper strip to indicate pregnancy.

For the experiment, Foone used a Walmart Equate digital pregnancy test. The inner workings are similar to those in other brands including Procter and Gamble’s Clear Blue and the Boots own-brand digital pregnancy test.

Foone was surprised to find the testing element inside was basically a standard paper test.

Paper test strips detect a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin, which is produced during pregnancy. The test strip is treated with a chemical that changes colour when the hormone is present.

The electronics simply read the result from the paper test and then displayed the “pregnant” or “not pregnant” read-out.

The circuit board featured a “surprisingly complicated chip”, more powerful than the CPU used in the original IBM PC.

Foone concluded that digital tests were “probably not worth the money”, given that paper strip tests can cost as little as 20 cents (15p).

“It’s a scam, basically,” they wrote on Twitter. “Computers are cheap now. People are buying the digital one thinking it’s the more accurate fancy model, but it is the same.”

However, others pointed out that paper tests could be misread and judging the result of the test was subjective.

Assistant professor of bio-nanotechnology Vittorio Saggiomo agreed that interpreting the lines on a paper test could vary from person to person.

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