PMS Vs Early Pregnancy: How To Spot The Difference

Our bodies can sometimes send us mixed signals. For example, we may experience symptoms that present like one condition but turn out to be something entirely different. This can also be the case with early pregnancy and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

While the experience of PMS will not be the same for everyone, it involves a series of symptoms that emerge within the week (or weeks) prior to menstruation, per experts at MedlinePlus. One may experience breast tenderness, headaches, bloating, acne, back pain, and more. Mood swings, anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating are also not uncommon, among other emotional symptoms. 

Most people equate early pregnancy with the first trimester. What may be less known, however, is that the first trimester actually starts prior to becoming pregnant. Rather, it covers the first day of your last period all the way to the 13th week of pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. During early pregnancy, one might experience symptoms that could easily be mistaken for PMS, and vice versa. Because they share many of the same symptoms, how can you be sure as to which condition you may be experiencing?

Look at how long symptoms last

Breast tenderness, mood swings, cramps, constipation, and fatigue are just a few of the various symptoms that both PMS and early pregnancy can have in common with one another, according to experts at Lenco Diagnostic Laboratory. Even so, these symptoms often present differently between the two conditions, which can give you a clue as to which one it may be. 

For instance, when it comes to constipation, people experiencing PMS will likely find that it subsides once one begins menstruating. Conversely, constipation can persist throughout the first and second trimester for those who are pregnant. Similarly, duration should also be kept in mind in regards to mood swings. Moodiness associated with PMS is usually brief, while pregnancy-related changes in mood will likely be ongoing and may come in sudden waves.

The nature of some symptoms may be different, too. For example, while breast tenderness may feel like a dull, heavy ache in both cases, pregnancy-related breast tenderness is usually more long-term, is typically concentrated in the nipples or areolas, and may be accompanied by changes in size or color. Such changes are not associated with PMS, however.

Differences in cramping and bleeding

Cramps will also look different between PMS and early pregnancy. Usually ramping up about a day or two before getting your period, cramping due to PMS often diminishes as one nears the end of menstruation. Compared to cramping during early pregnancy, PMS cramps are often more severe, according to Lenco Diagnostic Laboratory. Additionally, where the cramps strike will often be different. During early pregnancy, cramping is usually felt in the lower abdomen or lower back.

Finally, Robin Giles, a certified nurse practitioner with Banner University Medicine North, points out the biggest difference between PMS and early pregnancy, telling Banner Health, "The key difference between the two, however, is that with pregnancy, your period doesn't occur." In some cases, though, a pregnant person may notice some light, diluted spotting within a week or two after conception. While this doesn't qualify as one's period, it can make differentiating between early pregnancy and PMS tricky. Therefore, if you suspect you may be pregnant, it's always best to be safe and reach out to your doctor with any questions or concerns.