Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) vs Pregnancy Symptoms

PMS vs Pregnancy Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

As you step into the week before you start your period, you might experience various physical and emotional symptoms. 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 premenstrual symptoms.

What Is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome, also 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 Versus Pregnancy Symptoms

Some symptoms of PMS are similar to those of pregnancy. The intensity of PMS varies from woman to woman, and similarly, the symptoms of pregnancy are also person-specific. As is the case with both PMS and pregnancy symptoms, some women may be affected badly, some may experience only mild discomfort, while some may be less impacted overall. Symptoms such as nausea, frequent urination, fatigue, mood swings and headaches are part and parcel of both PMS and pregnancy, which is where the confusion lies – the difference between the two can be quite challenging.

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

Common Symptoms of PMS

Some women experience emotional stress during PMS, while others experience aches and other physical discomforts. Let us look at some common symptoms of PMS:

1. Tender and Swollen Breasts

Some women feel that their breasts become tender or even swell up during PMS. Breast sensitivity or tenderness can vary from woman to woman and can range from mild to severe. The tenderness increases before the period starts and decreases as the period progresses. In most cases, the tenderness disappears after the bleeding stops. In some cases, the tissues of the breasts 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 often continue through the periods. Cramps (dysmenorrhea) are intense and last for more than a day. These cramps decrease during the days of the flow, and gradually disappear till the flow stops.

Some women also experience spotting alongside cramps before their period begins. Pain in the lower back is another common symptom that women experience before and during their period.

3. Aversion to Food or Food Cravings

Some women crave for specific food items like chocolates, sweets or savoury items, while other women feel nauseated looking at food and don’t feel hungry.

4. Mood Swings

Mood swings are a common PMS symptom. Many women experience a rollercoaster of emotions before they start their period. They tend to cry, feel low, overwhelmed, extremely happy, and generally 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 hormone fluctuations before periods can have an impact on the skin as well. A majority of women experience acne and pimples, and this is known as premenstrual acne. Premenstrual acne disappears easily, but in some cases, a doctor may prescribe hormonal contraceptives to reduce the occurrence of premenstrual breakouts.

7. Weight Gain and Bloating

The body tends to retain water just before the period begins. This is why some women experience bloating before their period, and they notice minor changes such as clothes feeling tight around the body and the feeling of the stomach bulging out as if they have just had a large meal. Many women also gain weight before their period begins. These symptoms vanish as soon as bleeding begins.

Let us now look at some symptoms of pregnancy.

Common Symptoms of Pregnancy

It is important to note that not all women experience the same symptoms. However, most women will experience at least some of these symptoms, and knowledge of these symptoms will help you figure out if you are pregnant. A better way to confirm pregnancy is by performing relevant pregnancy tests.

1. Breast Sensitivity

Breasts are sensitive, and you may experience tenderness, heaviness or soreness if you are pregnant. 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 may experience fatigue and exhaustion because of the metabolic changes occurring in your body to support a new life.

3. Nausea and Dizziness

Another common symptom of pregnancy is feeling nauseous, especially in the morning. This is called morning sickness, and it is caused due to the rising levels of progesterone. It is usually accompanied by dizziness.

4. Increase in Basal Body Temperature

If you are pregnant, your basal body temperature will increase. The temperature may rise between 0.5 and 1.5 degrees and will remain high.

5. Mood Fluctuations

Feelings of depression, crying spells and feeling extremely overwhelmed are some symptoms related to moods and pregnancy. 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. Your food cravings may be completely wild or totally normal – you may crave foods like pickles or other savoury items, or food that you have never liked or enjoyed before. These cravings may come and go, or stay during the entire duration of pregnancy. Some women may also have severe aversions to certain foods – even foods they once loved.

7. Darkening of Areola

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

8. Cramps

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

9. Skin Darkening

Some women experience a sudden change in their skin colour. This phenomenon is referred to as melasma, and it most commonly occurs on the chin, the upper lip, the forehead, and cheeks.

10. Frequent Urination

The need to relieve yourself frequently can indicate that you might be pregnant. During pregnancy, the uterus grows and pushes the bladder, leading to frequent urination.

11. Headaches

Sudden headaches might occur due to hormonal changes, which are common during pregnancy.

Symptoms Common to Both PMS and Pregnancy

Now that you have seen some of the symptoms of PMS and pregnancy separately, here are 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 are pregnancy-related. A comparison of the signs of periods 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

Is breast pain a sign of pregnancy or periods? Well, here’s the difference:

PMS Pregnancy
The breasts are usually swollen and tender and are accompanied by some pain. The tenderness, swelling and pain subside when the period starts. In addition to being sensitive, the breasts get sore; this occurs two weeks post-conception. The pain may last longer.

2. Food Cravings and Food Aversions

Some women crave specific food items during PMS or pregnancy.

PMS Pregnancy
You might crave sweet or savoury food items. However, you can resist your temptations most times. Your craving can range from pickles to any other item that is not a part of your usual diet. These cravings cannot be controlled; you will feel satisfied only after eating the food.

3. Feeling Bloated

PMS Pregnancy
Bloating is natural due to fluid retention, which can give a feeling of fullness. Your weight might increase and then decrease when your period starts. You may bloat more during pregnancy, especially after eating a meal because of the steadily fluctuating hormones.

4. Cramps

PMS Pregnancy
During PMS, cramps can be intense, accompanied by back pain. The cramps can be mild and occur in the lower stomach and the lower back region.

5. Acne or Pimples

PMS Pregnancy
Acne or pimples appear before the period, and some women take it as an indication that their period is around the corner. However, in many cases, they disappear after the period or when the period starts. Acne that appears during pregnancy persists for a longer time 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 they subside when you get your period. Mood swings last for a longer period and might recur in some women.

7. Fatigue

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

8. Headaches

PMS Pregnancy
Headaches occur due to hormonal changes and subside as the period begins. 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, which can make women gassy. However, they can often control it from letting out. As you do not have control over your muscles, it becomes difficult to control the gas and you may let it out.

10. Spotting

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

PMS Versus 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 the lower abdomen and lower back
Acne or pimples Disappear soon Remain for a longer period
Mood swings Subside soon Last for days
Fatigue Tired at times Extremely tired and sleepy through the day
Headaches Might be severe but do not last long Sudden headaches due to hormonal changes
Spotting Spotting might occur, 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 such as stress, hormonal imbalances, use of contraceptives, etc. So, the most appropriate way to figure out whether you are pregnant is to consult your doctor and perform the required medical tests.

Resources and References: Healthline

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