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PMS Symptoms vs. Pregnancy Symptoms


It’s definitely that time of the month, but for some reason, your period has yet to make its appearance. Are you pregnant, or is it merely late?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms linked to your menstrual cycle. Typically, you’ll experience PMS symptoms one to two weeks before your period. Those symptoms usually stop after your period starts.

The symptoms of PMS can appear to be very similar to those of early pregnancy. Read on to learn how to tell the difference. But remember: These differences are subtle and vary from woman to woman.


Breast Pain

It’s PMS: During PMS, swelling and tenderness will occur during the second half of your menstrual cycle.

Women in their childbearing years tend to experience more severe symptoms. Tenderness ranges from mild to severe, is usually the most severe right before your period, and improves right after or during your period, as your progesterone levels decrease.

Breast tissue may feel bumpy and dense, especially in the outer areas. You may have an on-off feeling of breast fullness with tenderness and a heavy, dull pain.

It’s Pregnancy: During early pregnancy, your breasts may feel sore, sensitive, or tender to the touch. They may also feel fuller and heavier. This tenderness and swelling will usually happen one to two weeks after you conceive. And it can last for awhile as your progesterone levels rise due to your pregnancy.


It’s PMS: You won’t have bleeding if it’s PMS. And when you have your “real” period, the flow is noticeably heavier and lasts up to a week.

It’s Pregnancy: One of the first signs of pregnancy is light vaginal bleeding or spotting, usually pink or dark brown. This happens 10 to 14 days after conception and is typically not enough to fill pads or tampons. It lasts for just a few days, shorter than a normal period.


It’s PMS: You shouldn’t expect to experience any nausea or vomiting if your period is late.

It’s Pregnancy: Morning sickness is one of the most classic and clear signs you’re pregnant. Bouts of nausea can begin as early as three weeks after you get pregnant, according to Mayo Clinic. Vomiting may or may not accompany the nausea. However, not all women experience morning sickness, and morning sickness can occur at any time of the day, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Food Cravings and Aversions

It’s PMS: When you have PMS, you’ll likely notice that your eating habits change. You may crave chocolate, carbohydrates, sugars, sweets, or salty foods. Or you may have a ravenous appetite. These cravings aren’t experienced to the same extent when you’re pregnant.

It’s Pregnancy: Along with highly specific cravings, you may be totally uninterested in some foods or have an aversion to certain smells and tastes, even ones you once liked. This can last throughout pregnancy. Or you may have pica, which is where you compulsively eat items that have no nutritional value, like ice, dried paint flakes, or pieces of metal.


It’s PMS: If you have PMS, you may experience dysmenorrhea, which are cramps that you get 24 to 48 hours before your period. The pain decreases during your period and eventually goes away by the end of your flow. 

It’s Pregnancy: Early in pregnancy, you may experience mild or light cramping, according to Mayo Clinic. These cramps will feel like the light cramps you get during your period, but will usually be felt in the lower stomach or lower back. When you’re pregnant, you can have the cramps for a long time (weeks to months).

Read More: 11 Ways to Relieve Menstrual Cramps »

The Takeaway

The best way to tell the difference between PMS symptoms and early pregnancy is to take a pregnancy test. It can also be helpful to track your symptoms so you notice when there’s a change in the typical pattern. See your doctor if you have questions or concerns. The sooner you find out you’re pregnant, the sooner you can get the right care.

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