Pregnancy scares are, well, scary!
Premenstrual syndrome and early pregnancy have some very similar symptoms, making it difficult to know for sure what’s going on. Of course, when your period finally comes, you feel silly and vow to be more careful next time. But how sure can you be that this is menstruation and not implantation?
These are the questions we ask ourselves once a month, which can take a toll on our mental health for a while. It helps to be able to differentiate between PMS symptoms and pregnancy symptoms.
Besides the obvious pregnancy test, how can you tell if you’re pregnant or just experiencing PMS?
One of the best tell-tale signs of pregnancy is the persistence of symptoms. PMS symptoms usually begin the week before a period is supposed to start. This can also be around the time pregnancy symptoms begin. After your period starts, PMS subsides, leaving you with that “oh, that’s why!” realization. Pregnancy symptoms, however, evidently last throughout pregnancy.
The first trimester brings on the worst of these symptoms, which can be freaky when you’re expecting a period, not a baby.
When your period arrives, the tension has subsided, and you're more certain about the cause of your PMS symptoms. Sometimes, bleeding can also come with early pregnancy. Early pregnancy bleeding is caused by implantation, which occurs when the egg snuggles against the uterine lining. This can cause some very light spotting around 2 weeks after conception—conveniently when you should expect your period.
The consistency of the bleeding can show whether the bleeding is due to implantation or to PMS. A typical period lasts 3–5 days and goes through a transition from light to heavy and back to light again.
Most of the time, bleeding after implantation only lasts a few hours to a few days and is always light. If you’re one of the lucky ones with short, light periods, a pregnancy test can still be taken to get rid of any doubt.
A change in appetite is a common feature of PMS and pregnancy symptoms. The differences might be obvious, though.
Pregnancy brings on morning sickness due to the new HCG levels found in the body. This can make you feel averse to certain foods with strong aromas. Strange cravings don’t usually occur until the second and third trimesters.
The difference here is that PMS typically makes you positively ravenous. This is where the stereotypical “crying with a whole carton of ice cream” thing comes from. Your cravings for overly sweet and salty foods will intensify.
Cramps are a staple PMS symptom. They are brought on by the impending period and likely won’t stop until your period is nearly over.
The severity of PMS cramps varies from person to person. The pain can increase after the first child or after the onset of menopause.
Early pregnancy cramps are common, but they’re supposed to be less severe. During the first trimester, you might feel light cramps as your organs start to grow and get ready to make a baby.
When you're early in your pregnancy, a lot of cramping and heavier bleeding could be signs of more serious problems. Some women mistake this for a period, but it could sometimes imply pregnancy loss. Those with a history of miscarriages shouldn’t ignore these symptoms.
Breast Tenderness & Changes
Both PMS and pregnancy can cause the breasts to swell and become tender. Tender breasts are side effects of fluctuating estrogen and progesterone hormones. Pregnancy causes the breasts to feel slightly heavier and fuller than PMS. Also, pregnant women often have sore breasts and nipples that hurt when you touch them. Evidence of pregnancy often comes with other changes. For example, pregnancy typically causes discoloration of the nipples.
The areola, specifically, will become darker and larger up to 2 weeks after conception. This happens because of hormonal changes that influence skin pigmentation.
The Missing Period
Finally, we come to the most important clue in the investigation: the missing period. PMS symptoms happen before your period, while pregnancy symptoms happen because you don't have your period. Therefore, one of the best ways to tell if you’re pregnant is to miss your period.
Of course, other circumstances can cause you to miss your period, like stress, menopause, excessive exercise, polycystic ovary syndrome, and other medical conditions. Keeping track of your periods every month could help you figure out why you haven't had one in a while, especially if you have regular periods and don't have a health problem that could be causing them.
Other Noticeable Differences
There are a few other ways to spot the difference between PMS symptoms and pregnancy symptoms. Nasal congestion coupled with obvious pregnancy symptoms could mean you have a cold. Contrarily, it could be because pregnancy hormones are influencing your mucous membranes.
There are also changes in the mucus in your cervix, a higher temperature, and a strange metallic taste in your mouth.
If you’re ever still unsure or just want to put your assumptions to rest, take a pregnancy test! After you do, you’ll know a little more about your body and what PMS feels like compared to pregnancy symptoms.
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