Is it PMS or Pregnancy?
Whether you are trying to conceive, or you’re worried about an unplanned pregnancy, you should learn the difference between PMS and early pregnancy symptoms.
If you’ve never been pregnant before, it can be hard to tell the two apart, because many of the symptoms of early pregnancy are similar to what you experience during PMS.
Before your period starts, you may experience PMS symptoms, such as bloating, swollen or tender breasts, fatigue and tiredness, headaches, anxiety and depression, mood swings, food cravings, and cramps. All of these premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms are nearly identical to early pregnancy symptoms.
Unless you are charting your basal temperature, actively trying to conceive, or you are very familiar with your body and what normal PMS feels like, it can be hard to tell whether or not you’re pregnant.
YIKES! So how can you tell whether you are just having PMS or you’re experience true pregnancy symptoms? Wait to see if your period comes. If it doesn’t arrive, take a home pregnancy test.
Fatigue – Symptom of PMS and Pregnancy
Fatigue and exhaustion are an annoying PMS symptom that many women – myself included – have to grapple with month after month. Unfortunately, fatigue is one of the first pregnancy symptoms to show up. It is caused by the soaring levels of the hormone progesterone, which helps support the pregnancy.
Within a week after conception, you may experience fatigue. Because of this, it can be difficult to distinguish pregnancy-related fatigue from PMS-related fatigue.
Fatigue during pregnancy usually only plagues you in the first and third trimester. You get a break in the middle weeks of pregnancy – the second trimester (14 to 27 weeks pregnant).
Swollen and Tender Breasts – PMS and Pregnancy Symptom
Another symptom that is common to both PMS and pregnancy is swollen and tender breasts.
In the weeks leading up to your period, you may experience swollen and tender breasts that hurt when touched. For smaller-breasted women, a perk of this uncomfortable PMS symptom is that your breasts are slightly larger than normal. Your breasts usually start going back to normal during the week of your period.
When you’re expecting, swollen and tender breasts are usually one of the first symptoms that you notice. Your breasts may feel tingly sore, or just plain tender. Some women notice fuller and heavier breasts. This pregnancy symptom can start as early as two or three weeks after conception, and it is caused by hormonal changes in your body.
If you’re not sure if your breast changes are caused by PMS or pregnancy, take a home pregnancy test to find out.
Morning Sickness – Infamous Pregnancy Symptom
Morning sickness, or nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, is the most infamous pregnancy symptom. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of women will experience morning sickness to some degree. Some very lucky women never get nauseous or feel sick when pregnant.
This pregnancy symptom can start two to eight weeks after conception.
A handful of women do experience nausea during PMS, but it is not a universally felt symptom.
Missed Period – First Sign of Pregnancy
If you have regular menstrual cycles – which means you have a period every single month without fail – a missed period is usually the first, unmistakable sign of pregnancy.
Some women will experience spotting (light bleeding), which is a sign of implantation (when the fertilized egg burrows into the lining of your uterus). Women who don’t have regular periods may confuse this implantation spotting with a light period.
(Spotting throughout the entire pregnancy can occur, and occasional spotting is considered normal. This is why many of the women on Discovery Health’s “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” don’t realize they’re expecting until they deliver. Most of them have irregular periods.)
Implantation bleeding or implantation spotting will not look like a regular menstrual period. The bleeding is light, and it’s usually pink or brownish in color.
PMS versus Pregnancy – A Breakdown of Symptoms
Is it PMS or Pregnancy? Until you experience a missed period, it is very difficult to distinguish the symptoms.
I’ve broke down the common symptoms of both PMS and Pregnancy to help you understand. The similar symptoms are side by side, and this comparison chart will also show you which symptoms are unique to pregnancy alone.
You should keep in mind that some of the common PMS symptoms, such as backaches, also occur in pregnancy, but their onset is usually later in pregnancy. (If there is no specified trimester next to the symptom, it is common to all trimesters of pregnancy.)
|Symptoms of PMS||Pregnancy Symptoms|
|Bloating and Water Retention||Bloating and Water Retention (Edema)|
|Breast Swelling and Tenderness||Breast Swelling and Tenderness|
|Insomnia and Trouble Sleeping||Insomnia and Trouble Sleeping (2nd and 3rd Trimester)|
|Fatigue||Fatigue (First and Third Trimester)|
|Upset Stomach, Constipation||Upset Stomach, Constipation|
|Headache||Headache (common in First Trimester)|
|Backache||Backache and Back Discomfort (Second and Third Trimester)|
|Appetite Changes and Food Cravings||Appetite Changes and Food Cravings (usually in Second Trimester, after Morning Sickness has passed.)|
|Trouble Concentration||Trouble Concentration and Memory - called "Pregnancy Brain"|
|Mood Swings and Crying Spells||Mood Swings, Emotional Rollercoaster|
|Nipple discharge||Nipple discharge (Colostrum - Second and Third Trimester)|
|Changes in Libido||Changes in Libido (Decreased in First Trimester, Increases in Second Trimester)|
|Abdominal and Pelvic Cramps||Cramping (Second Trimester as uterus stretches for growing baby)|
|----------||Melasma (Darkening of Skin)|
|Nausea||Nausea and Vomiting (Morning Sickness) - First Trimester|
|Elevated Basal Body Temperature (Lowers when menstruation starts)||Elevated Basal Body Temperature (If high after 2 weeks post ovulation, you're pregnant)|
If you had your period two weeks ago, and you don’t expect it for another two or three weeks, you may be noticing PMS symptoms that are actually ovulation symptoms. For example, right around ovulation, it’s common for women to experience the following:
- Changes in their cervical mucus – More vaginal discharge that is very abundant, sticky or stretchy, and transparent in color. It may look like the color of egg whites. This is a very common sign of ovulation.
- Increase in basal body temperature - Another common symptom of ovulation. Your BBT will increase by 0.5 to 1.5 degrees around the time that you ovulate. Your temperature will stay slightly high until you have your period, when it will decrease again.
- One-sided abdominal cramping or pain – This is called Mittelschmerz (or “middle pain”). It’s a common ovulation symptom. You may notice one-sided pain or cramping around the time that you ovulate. The pain can be mild or severe, but it usually only is short-lasting. This is ovulation pain, and many believe it’s due to the physical bursting of the egg from the follicle – which occurs when you ovulate. One in Five women will experience this ovulation pain.
- Light spotting – Some women also experience light spotting around the time that they ovulate.
- Breast tenderness, nausea, fatigue, and other PMS symptoms – May begin to plague you around the time that you ovulate.
To learn more, read Ovulation Symptoms – Signs to Tell When You Ovulate
I hope that you found the above chart and this post helpful! Keep in mind that if you’re worried about pregnancy, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
Because PMS symptoms, early pregnancy symptoms, and even ovulation symptoms can be very similar, the only way to tell whether or not you have actually conceived is to take a home pregnancy test. Keep in mind that you will want to take the test AFTER you have missed your period. Sometimes, if you test too early, you will get a negative result even if you are indeed pregnant. In some cases, you can get a positive result and then later test negative. This may be the result of a chemical pregnancy, or a very early miscarriage.
If you’re a teenager with irregular periods, please read a related post: Teen Menstrual Cycles: Why Missed Periods, Irregular Periods are Normal.
If you are worried, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. Getting a blood pregnancy test is often more accurate than a urine test or an over-the-counter pregnancy test. And always test, test, and test over again. Good luck!
Please Note: Due to the overwhelming comments on this post, I do not have time to answer all of your questions, but I will try my best to answer your questions.
Keep in mind that these are just opinions; I am NOT a medical doctor. Any of the answers I offer you are just my thoughts as a writer and researcher. Not medical advice. When I’m super busy with paid writing projects, I may get a few days, or even weeks behind.
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Pregnancy Symptoms: 5 Signs That You May Be Pregnant