PMS or Pregnancy: Symptoms & Differences

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As you step into the week before your periods, you might experience various physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms are an indication that your periods are around the corner. However, some of these symptoms are similar to the symptoms of pregnancy. Let us look at some information that you can bank upon to clarify your concerns about pregnancy symptoms and pre-menstrual symptoms.

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome, also popularly known as PMS, refers to various physical and emotional symptoms that women experience one or two weeks before their menstrual period. These symptoms vary from person to person and disappear when the period begins.

PMS vs. Pregnancy Symptoms

Some symptoms of PMS are similar to pregnancy symptoms. The intensity of PMS varies from woman to woman. The impact of the symptoms on a person is also person-specific. Some women find it very frustrating, some experience mild discomfort while some are less impacted. Similarly, symptoms of pregnancy are also person-specific.

Women experience several symptoms during early pregnancy like nausea, frequent urination, fatigue, mood swings and headaches. What creates confusion is the fact that some women experience these symptoms before their periods as well. At times, differentiation between the two is quite challenging.

Let us look at symptoms related to PMS, pregnancy and the ones that are common to both. Let us also understand how to differentiate whether these symptoms indicate PMS or early signs of pregnancy.

Common Symptoms of PMS

Many women experience premenstrual symptoms before period. Some women experience emotional stress while others experience aches and physical discomforts. Let us look at some common symptoms of PMS:

1. Tender and Swollen Breasts

Some women feel that their breasts become tender and sometimes, breasts can swell too. Breast sensitiveness or tenderness can vary from person to person. It can be mild, moderate or severe. The tenderness increases before the period starts and decreases as the menstrual flow begin. In most scenarios, the tenderness disappears after the bleeding stops. In some cases, the tissues of the breast may feel different and women might experience heaviness, coupled with pain and tenderness.

2. Muscle Cramps, Back Pain and Spotting

Many women experience cramps before their periods, which continue during the periods as well. Cramps or dysmenorrhea are intense and last for more than a day. It decreases during the days when there is flow and finally, disappears when the flow stops.

Some women also experience spotting, in addition to cramps, before their periods. Lower back pain is another common symptom that women experience before and during their periods.

3. Aversion to Food or Food Cravings

Some women crave for specific food items, such as craving for chocolates or sweets. On the other hand, some people do not feel like going near food.

4. Mood Swings

Mood swings are common PMS symptoms. Many women experience a rollercoaster ride with respect to their moods. They tend to cry, feel low, suddenly overwhelmed, or extremely happy and sensitive.

5. Fatigue

Some women feel extremely exhausted before their periods, even when they have not indulged in any strenuous activity.

6. Pimples or Acne

The effect of hormones before periods has an impact on the skin. Studies indicate that 78% women experience acne and pimples. It is known as premenstrual acne and sometimes disappears easily. However, in some cases, to reduce these premenstrual breakouts, gynaecologists prescribe hormonal contraceptives

7. Weight Gain and Bloating

The body tends to retain high levels of water just before the menstruation period. Some women experience bloating before their periods and they notice minor changes, such as the bra and pants feel tight and the stomach protrudes. Many women also gain weight a few days before the periods. These symptoms vanish as the bleeding starts

As we are now aware of some common premenstrual symptoms, let us now look at some symptoms of pregnancy.

Common Symptoms of Pregnancy

It is important to note that all women do not experience the same symptoms. However, most women experience at least some of these symptoms. Knowledge of these symptoms might help you figure out if you are pregnant. However, you can confirm whether you are pregnant or not only after performing the relevant pregnancy tests.

1. Breast Sensitivity

The breasts are sensitive and you might experience tenderness, heaviness, or soreness in the breasts.. Breast sensitivity is one of the first and most common signs of pregnancy. Changes in your breasts can be experienced about two weeks after conception.

2. Sleepiness

You feel very exhausted because of the metabolic changes occurring in your body to support the new life.

3. Nausea and Dizziness

You feel nauseous in the morning.. Morning sickness,with dizziness, is a common symptom of pregnancy and is caused by the rising level of progesterone.

4. Increase in Basal Body Temperature

If you are pregnant, the basal body temperature increases. The temperature rises between 0.5 to 1.5 degrees and remains high.

5. Mood Fluctuations

Feelings of depression, crying spells and feeling extremely overwhelmed are some symptoms with respect to your moods. The hormonal changes in the body are responsible for these mood swings and sensitivity.

6. Food Cravings and Aversions

Food cravings are common if you are pregnant. You might crave for salty food like pickles. Sometimes, the craving might be totally different from the typical foods that you always prefer to eat. These cravings can stay for a few days or remain for longer periods. Some people also have food aversions and stay away from some food items.

7. Shortness of Breath

If you are pregnant, you might experience a shortness of breath and this happens when the developing embryo requires more oxygen

8. Darkening of Areola

The oestrogen levels in the body increase during pregnancy. This increase leads to the expansion of the size of the areola or the nipple. The aerola may also darken during this time.

9. Cramps

If you are pregnant, you might experience mild cramps in the lower abdomen area or lower back.

10. Skin Darkening

Some women experience a sudden change in their skin colour. The skin usually darkens and this is referred to as melasma.

11. Frequent Urination

Need to relieve yourself frequently can indicate that you might be pregnant. During pregnancy, the uterus grows and pushes the bladder and this leads to frequent urination.

12. Headache

Sudden headaches might occur due to hormonal changes

Symptoms Common to Both PMS and Pregnancy?

Now that we have seen some common symptoms of PMS and pregnancy separately, let us discuss the symptoms of PMS vs pregnancy to help you identify what are you experiencing. Some symptoms that are common to both include:

  • Food cravings
  • Breast sensitivity
  • Mood swings
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Cramps

Difference Between Periods and Pregnancy Symptoms

If you have a delayed period, you might wonder if your symptoms could be pregnancy-related. A comparison of the signs of period vs pregnancy would give you a fair idea. Following are the signs that can help you decide whether it is PMS or pregnancy:

1. Breast Pain

You might wonder is breast pain a sign of pregnancy or period?

PMS Pregnancy
The breasts are usually swollen and tender, accompanied by some pain. The tenderness, swelling and pain subside when the period starts. In addition to being sensitive, the breasts get sore and it happens two weeks post-conception. There might be pain and it lasts for a longer duration.

2. Food Cravings and Food Aversions

Some women crave for specific food items during PMS or pregnancy.

PMS Pregnancy
You might crave for sweet or salty food items. However, you can resist your temptations. Your craving can range from pickles to any other item, which is not a part of your usual diet. These cravings cannot be controlled. You feel the satisfaction only when you eat the item.

3. Feeling Bloated

PMS Pregnancy
Bloating is natural due to fluid retention, which gives a feeling of fullness. Your weight might increase and then, decrease when your period starts. Bloating is more during pregnancy and increases, especially after eating a meal because the uterus pushes the stomach region.

4. Cramps

PMS Pregnancy
During PMS, cramps can be intense, coupled with back pains. The cramps can be mild and occur in the lower stomach and lower back regions.

5. Acne or Pimples

PMS Pregnancy
Acne or pimples appear before periods and some women take it as an indication that their periods are around the corner. However, in many cases, they disappear after the periods or when the periods start. Pimples or acne that appear during pregnancy remain for a longer duration and can be one of the distinguishing signs between periods and pregnancy. In some cases, skin darkening can also be observed during pregnancy.

6. Mood Swings

PMS Pregnancy
Mood swings are very common during PMS and it subsides as you near your periods. Mood swings last for a longer period and might recur quite often in some pregnant women.

7. Fatigue

PMS Pregnancy
If you feel tired and your periods are around the corner, it can be PMS. If you feel extremely tired and want to sleep the entire day, it can be a sign of pregnancy.

8. Headaches

PMS Pregnancy
Headaches might occur due to the hormonal changes and gradually subside. Changes in the hormonal levels can cause sudden headaches that last for longer periods and can be extremely painful.

9. Feeling Gassy

PMS Pregnancy
Hormonal surges slow down the gastrointestinal tracts and you become gassy, but you can control the tendency to let it out. As you do not have control over your muscles, it becomes difficult to control the gas and you have a tendency to let it out.

10. Spotting

PMS Pregnancy
Spotting is rare during PMS and might occur in some cases with cramps. Women experience spotting with mild abdominal pain during the first few days after conception.

PMS vs. Pregnancy Symptoms Chart

The following table is a quick reference to help you identify whether you are pregnant or experiencing PMS based on the symptoms.

Symptoms PMS Pregnant
Breast pain Swollen and tender Sore
Food cravings or aversions Cravings can be controlled
  • Cravings are uncontrollable
  • Aversions towards some food items
Feeling bloated Bloating due to fluid retention Feeling more bloated after eating
Cramps Intense cramps Cramps stay for a longer period and occur in lower abdomen and lower back
Acne or pimples Disappear soon Remain for a longer period
Mood swings Subside soon Last for many days
Fatigue Tired at times Extremely tired all day and very sleepy
Headaches Might be severe but do not last longer Sudden headaches due to hormonal changes
Spotting Spotting might occur and it is followed by bleeding during periods Mild spotting

Delayed periods need not always be an indication that you are pregnant. It can be due to various reasons. So, the most appropriate way to decide whether you are pregnant is to consult your doctor and perform the required medical tests.