PMS or Pregnancy Symptoms?

How do You Know if your Symptoms are PMS or Pregnancy-Related?

This question is often asked, and there actually is no one simple answer. Early pregnancy symptoms can be very similar to those of PMS. It can be difficult to determine which you are experiencing.

The first logical step is taking a home pregnancy test. If it’s negative, wait a week and take another one. If it’s still negative but you have questions about your symptoms, visit your gynecologist for more accurate testing.

If you have never before been pregnant, it can be more difficult to distinguish PMS from pregnancy. If you’ve had a child before, you may find it somewhat easier to discern the meaning of your symptoms, but even women who have been pregnant before sometimes cannot tell PMS from pregnancy.

If you are worried about an unexpected pregnancy or trying to conceive, this article can help you in understanding the subtle differences between symptoms of PMS or pregnancy.

Common Symptoms of PMS

PMS or premenstrual syndrome has symptoms that you may begin experiencing between one and two weeks before your normal period starts. They will usually begin after ovulation, which occurs roughly on the 14th day of your cycle. PMS symptoms will disappear after your period has started.

Your experience with PMS, if you have it, may be different than others and more or less severe. For some women, PMS is a minor annoyance, but for others, it can be so severe that it disrupts their daily lives.

The most commonly experienced symptoms of PMS include:
• Worse than “normal” menstrual cramps
• Muscle and joint pain
• Difficulty in concentrating
• Cravings for certain foods (The actual foods craved differ from one woman to the next.)
• Mood swings
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Headaches
• Bloating
• Tiredness and fatigue
• Tender, swollen breasts

So, you see now that all of these PMS symptoms are virtually identical to symptoms & signs of early pregnancy. That’s why it’s so easy for the two situations to be confused, particularly if your period starts late.

The most accurate way to determine whether you are having PMS or pregnancy symptoms is a blood test for pregnancy, taken by your physician. Home pregnancy kits can give you early answers, too, but they are not as accurate as blood tests.

Early Pregnancy Signs

If you’re confused about whether your symptoms are PMS or pregnancy, you’re not alone. Early pregnancy signs can begin in the first several weeks after conception, even before you miss a period.

A common initial pregnancy sign is swollen, tender breasts (which, as we’ve seen, is also a PMS symptom). They may feel fuller than normal, tingly and sensitive to the touch. If you are indeed pregnant, your breasts are getting prepared for upcoming breastfeeding.

Fatigue and exhaustion (also PMS symptoms) may also mean that conception has occurred and you will be expecting a new little addition to your family. It’s usually among the first signs you’ll note. You’ll feel so tired that you are overwhelmed, like you just need to lie down and relax.
Nausea is often associated with early pregnancy, but in less common cases,
PMS can also cause nausea.

Cravings for or aversions to some foods is a pregnancy sign. As noted above, it is also a sign of PMS.

Cramping and spotting can be signs of implantation. This means that your embryo is implanted in the uterine wall. The flow is usually very light, and not all women will experience it. However, it’s a classic early pregnancy sign. You may feel only mild cramping.

Feeling weepy and experiencing crying spells and mood swings are early pregnancy signs, but they are PMS symptoms, too.
You may become pregnant without experiencing any of these symptoms and signs of pregnancy. If you do have them, they can easily be misinterpreted as PMS symptoms.

If you believe you may be pregnant, call your gynecologist (or take a home pregnancy test first). If you are truly pregnant, you’ll need prenatal care, starting as early as you can, so you’ll have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Symptoms Common to Both PMS and Pregnancy

Nausea and Morning Sickness – a Normal Sign of Pregnancy
Even if you have never studied or experienced pregnancy symptoms, morning sickness is an infamous, classic sign of pregnancy. Nearly 90% of expectant mothers experience nausea or morning sickness during their pregnancy. The lucky 10% that don’t have morning sickness don’t have this inkling of being pregnant.

Nausea is sometimes a symptom of PMS, but only for a small percentage of women. It is still common to pregnancy and PMS.

Tender and Swollen Breasts – These are Symptoms of Both PMS & Pregnancy

Changes in the breast are common in women with PMS and women who are pregnant.

After you ovulate, and if you have PMS, you may notice swollen, tender breasts. If you have small breasts, they will appear larger than normal with PMS.

These signs are also common symptoms of pregnancy – in fact, they are among the earliest signs. You may have tender breasts, or they may feel tingly and sore. Pregnancy-related breast changes may occur as soon as two weeks after conception.

Exhaustion & Fatigue– a PMS Symptom and Pregnancy Sign

Many women experience tiredness and fatigue when PMS-ing. You may not feel this every month, but you’ve probably experienced it before.

Fatigue is also a classic early pregnancy sign. It may start within a week after you conceive, which means you haven’t yet missed a period. In pregnancy, it is caused by higher levels of progesterone, which is a hormone that supports your pregnancy and your baby.

Acne and Breakouts – Yet another Shared Symptom

If you’re pregnant, high levels of the hormone androgen can cause your sebaceous skin glands to become larger. They will also produce more oil in the skin, which causes clogged pores and acne breakouts.

Women with PMS also have more acne than usual, and worse breakouts during PMS periods. As much as 78% of adult female acne is related to PMS. It is caused by fluctuations in hormones, which occur during your menstrual cycle. Hormonal contraceptives like birth control shots and pills reduce PMS acne breakouts.

Food Cravings – Premenstrual Symptom and Classic Pregnancy

Here is another symptom common to both PMS and pregnancy.
When you have PMS, you will notice a change in your normal eating habits. You may eat more, and have a voracious appetite. Or you may begin craving sweets like chocolate, or even salty snacks. Cravings for certain foods are quite common among women with PMS.

In addition, this is, of course, a classic symptom of pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, you may have an increased appetite, but you may also feel aversions to some foods. Some smells or tastes may repulse you and even a quick whiff of one of them may bring on morning sickness and nausea.
Aversion to certain foods is common in the early stages of pregnancy, and may indicate that you are carrying a baby.

Weight Gain & Bloating – in both PMS & Pregnancy

You probably dread that bloated feeling you get before the arrival of your period. It feels like your stomach is sticking our further, and your pants are feeling tighter. You may even gain several pounds with PMS. Water retention and bloating are among the most hated PMS symptoms.

When you are in the early stages of pregnancy, bloating is one of your first signs. It’s very difficult to determine whether bloating is caused by PMS or pregnancy. They feel quite similar. In pregnancy, progesterone is the cause of bloating.

Since bloating is a symptom that is not easily traced to JUST one choice between PMS and pregnancy, taking a home pregnancy test after a missed period is a good way to narrow down what has caused the bloating.

Mood Swings & Crying Spells – in PMS & Pregnancy

PMS may arrive with wild mood swings. You may be happy to the point of laughing one minute, and in tears or angry the next minute, especially if someone says something that you don’t take as intended and it upsets you. You are not yet sure of what is going on, or why the hormones seem so out of balance.

Emotional changes, irritability, crying spells and mood swings are all common symptoms in the early phases of pregnancy, too. The many hormones at play in your body when you’re pregnant can cause you to become emotional and moody.

Since the mood swings of PMS and those of pregnancy are almost identical, it may be quite difficult to discern whether you are simply PMS-ing, or whether you are actually pregnant, if you base your determination on just this symptom.

Missed Periods – Only Related to Pregnancy

Luckily for women, PMS will end when their period starts. However, missing a period means that you may be pregnant. Delayed or late periods may make it tricky to decide whether you are pregnant or just PMS-ing.

If you usually have normal periods, which is a period every month without missing any, a missed period is quite definitely an early and often unmistakable sign that you are pregnant.

Some women in early pregnancy will experience spotting or light bleeding. It’s very easy to mistake this for a light period, particularly for women who often have irregular periods. Spotting in early pregnancy is a sign that the fertilized egg is burrowing into your uterine lining and making a home for its next nine months.

A few women spot now and then throughout the time they are pregnant. Occasional spotting is usually considered to be relatively normal, but it could also be an early sign of a miscarriage. Contact your physician if you have any concerns in this area.

The bleeding that accompanies a fertilized egg becoming implanted in the wall of your uterus is not similar to regular period flow. The flow is lighter than that of a normal period, and its color is generally brownish (like coffee grounds) or pink in color.

Ovulation Symptoms

Since your PMS symptoms, if you have it, will occur days and even weeks after ovulation, you should be aware of the symptoms of ovulation, too. You may mistake some ovulation symptoms as PMS symptoms.

It’s important to stay aware of any changes in your body, especially during times when you are not sure whether you’re pregnant or not. If you want to conceive and are actively trying to become pregnant, knowing the symptoms of ovulation can improve your chances of becoming pregnant.

If you have a typical 28-day cycle, you will usually ovulate at or around the 14th day of the cycle, or the second week after your last period began. At this time, you may notice ovulation symptoms:

• Spotting
It is common in ovulation to see light spotting. You may not experience it yourself, but it can and does occur in many women.

• Cramps in the Abdomen
Typically felt on one side more than the other, about 20% of women experience abdominal cramps during the ovulation period. It can run from very mild to severe pain, even bordering on excruciating pain. It doesn’t continue for very long, which is a blessing. The egg bursting from a follicle during the act of ovulation causes this pain.

• Increase in Basal Body Temperature
Women with PMS and women who are expecting can experience a basal body temperature rise of between 1/2 of a degree and 1 & 1/2 degrees. This temperature will remain elevated until your period starts. It will decrease at that time. If you are pregnant, your BBT will remain on the high side, rather than decreasing.

To get an accurate reading of basal body temperature, you need to take your temp first thing in the morning, while you’re still in bed. You shouldn’t even get up before you take it. Keep a thermometer on your nightstand for checking your BBT.

• Changes in cervical mucus
When you ovulate, it causes a change in your cervical mucus. At this time, your vaginal mucus discharge may become roughly the color of egg whites, or almost transparent. You’ll have more discharge than you usually do, and your mucus will appear stretchy and sticky.

So now you know the symptoms that could be either PMS or pregnancy signs. If you’re in doubt, and a home pregnancy test has shown negative, you may wish to contact your physician to have a blood test for pregnancy taken. These are more accurate. Then you’ll know the true cause of your symptoms.


    • Your job at this time is to support her during this time. Emotional swings are common during early pregnancy. Stand by her and take care of her as best as you can. If you find that you are having difficulties being a positive influence for her, then take a day to look inward and determine how you can be more supportive to her. Best of luck, Travis!


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