PMS Symptoms vs. Pregnancy Symptoms: Telling the Difference

Both premenstrual syndrome and early pregnancy have several overlapping symptoms. Since the differences between PMS symptoms vs. pregnancy symptoms in the early stage aren’t marked, they can lead to confusion and concern among women. Confusion between PMS symptoms vs. pregnancy symptoms in the early stages, such as those of 7 DPO symptoms, can cause difficulty for women, as pregnancy requires specific attention and care. 

Despite the similarities between PMS vs. pregnancy cramps and other symptoms, paying close attention to the details can help you tell the difference. There also exist certain symptoms that are unique to early pregnancy and PMS that can help you further in assessing your status. While there may be small variations in every woman with regard to the symptoms during these events, these differences are subtle and will not hamper the overall understanding of these symptoms and events. Read on as we discuss the differences between PMS symptoms vs. pregnancy symptoms. 

pms symptoms vs pregnancy symptoms

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome or PMS is a group of symptoms that can occur any time in the two weeks before the start of the period or menstrual flow. While the exact cause of PMS is not completely understood, it’s reported that the levels of estrogen and progesterone fall the week before bleeding ensues. Several medical professionals believe this is tied to the cause of PMS and its associated symptoms. A minority of women experience a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD, a severe form of PMS. PMDD can result in serious physical and psychological symptoms that affect the overall quality of life and might require medical attention to address. 

PMS Symptoms vs. Pregnancy Symptoms: Commonalities & Differences

In this section, we discuss some of the major symptoms seen in both PMS and early pregnancy stages to help you tell the difference. 7 DPO symptoms and the poorly understood period flu also entail similar signs in the below list and can be distinguished from PMS:

  • Cramps

    • Cramps can occur during PMS and pregnancy. It is also a 7 DPO symptom and a sign associated with period flu.
    • In the case of PMS, cramps can set in anywhere between 24 to 48 hours before the onset of your period, making it one of the signs that your period is coming the next day. 
    • The pain and discomfort caused by the cramps often reduce with the course of menstrual flow and come to a stop by the end of your period. 
    • On the other hand, cramps in the case of pregnancy and 7 DPO have subtle differences when compared to those experienced during PMS. 
    • The core difference between PMS vs. pregnancy cramps is that the cramps during early pregnancy are not as severe as in PMS and also occur lower in the abdomen. Some women also report early pregnancy cramps in the lower back. 
    • If you’re thinking ‘I have cramps but no period’, or in case your period is late and you still have cramps, you can consider waiting for a couple of days before taking a home pregnancy test or seeing your gynecologist.
    • Get in touch with a doctor in case you suspect pregnancy, and are facing repeated bouts of cramps in the abdominal or back region. 

why do i have cramps but no period

  • Breast Tenderness & Pain

    • Breast tenderness and pain are common in both PMS and pregnancy. Your breasts might feel full, lumpy, and tender in the days leading up to menstruation. Breast fullness and pain increase right before your period begins, and the pain often brings with it a sensation of dull heaviness. 
    • The breast pain brought about by PMS often resolves once your period begins. 
    • In the case of pregnancy, however, breast pain often lasts much longer and is also characterized by dull, heavy pain. The pain is often focused around the nipple and areolar regions and is often tender to touch. 
    • It’s also important to notice any changes to your nipples and areolas as pregnancy causes the nipples to darken and the areolas to enlarge throughout your pregnancy - an important difference between PMS symptoms vs. pregnancy symptoms in this case. 
  • Mood Alterations

    • Another area of similarity in PMS symptoms vs. pregnancy symptoms, mood alterations are common in both predispositions. 
    • PMS entails periods of low mood, bouts of crying, and even anxiety in some women. However, these alterations in your mood are short-lived when you’re expecting your period. 
    • In case you experience extended periods of low moods, a lack of energy, and hopelessness, you should consider seeing your doctor so that you can get checked for depression. Low moods spanning over two to three weeks are cause for concern and often warrant attention from a mental health professional. 
    • Mood alterations in pregnancy are bound to last throughout the term and you’re highly likely to have emotional phases and outbursts. Bouts of excitement, sadness, and even crying spells are common in pregnant women. Irritability is also a common feature and can last throughout your pregnancy. 
  • Food-related symptoms

    • An alteration of food habits is seen during PMS and usually, your cravings might be specific to high-carb foods such as sweets, chocolates, and starchy dishes. 
    • Your appetite might also be heightened when you’re going through PMS. This often resolves with the onset of the period. 
    • On the other hand, in pregnancy, food cravings are extremely specific and are centered around certain foods. You might also experience aversions to certain foods, tastes, and odors. These appetite alterations can last throughout the length of your pregnancy.
    • Pregnancy can also lead to pica - a craving for non-food objects and material. Cravings can encompass dirt, paint flakes, chalk, and ice. Visit the doctor immediately in case you experience any of these cravings for non-food objects. 
  • Bleeding & Discharge

    • There’s no bleeding during PMS. Flow begins with the onset of the period. The flow during menstruation is heavy and lasts between four to five days, and can even last up to a week in some women. 
    • Women can sometimes experience clear or white discharge before a period. This is due to the heightened levels of progesterone, and the white discharge often contains vaginal fluid, certain bacterial cells common to the vaginal microbiome, and cervical mucus. Yellow discharge before periods is also normal due to the increase in mucus production before menstrual flow. 
    • Get in touch with a medical practitioner in case you notice a lumpy or foul-smelling discharge from the vagina. This could indicate an infection.
    • In the case of pregnancy, however, there might be spotting or minimal discharge that is pink or brownish in tint. This is normal, however, a lot of women do not even notice this. 
    • Some women might mistakenly term this as ‘watery period blood’, however, this bleeding is not concerned with the menstrual flow as that would involve the breakdown of the endometrial wall. Spotting and light discharge during early pregnancy is called implantation bleeding, and this occurs when the zygote attaches to the uterine wall. This usually occurs between days 7 and 14 after conception. 
    • Spotting is also considered a part of the common 7 DPO symptoms.

pms vs pregnancy cramps

  • Nausea & Vomiting

    • Nausea is not common during PMS, outlining an important difference between PMS symptoms vs. pregnancy symptoms. 
    • However, some women face bloating and digestive discomfort during PMS, something that can lead to them experiencing nausea. 
    • Conversely, morning sickness delineates a clear difference between the signs of periods vs. pregnancy. Persistent morning sickness is one of the clearest indications of a possible pregnancy, in case you were wondering how can you tell you’re pregnant without a test. 
    • Nausea can occur during any time of the day and does not specifically occur only during the mornings, unlike what the name suggests. 
    • Vomiting might sometimes follow, however, this is not always the case. 
    • Morning sickness usually sets in about one month following conception. Though it’s widespread, some women do not experience morning sickness at all. 
    • In case you have been experiencing morning sickness and have missed a period in the past, consider getting a home test or a pregnancy blood test
  • Tiredness & Fatigue

    • Fatigue and tiredness are common in both PMS and pregnancy. While PMS brings along fatigue with it due to the increase in the levels of progesterone, pregnancy causes fatigue due to various hormonal changes in the body. 
    • These symptoms often resolve with the onset of the period in the case of PMS. However, fatigue is persistent and often dominates the first trimester of the pregnancy. 
    • As you adjust nutritional requirements and get rest, the fatigue resolves over the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. However, several women experience long bouts of fatigue throughout their term. 
  • Constipation

    • Bowel movement disturbances and constipation is a part of both early pregnancy and PMS. 
    • PMS symptoms vs. pregnancy symptoms in this domain are distinct because constipation often resolves in women with the onset of their period. However, constipation can affect nearly half of all pregnant women and can last for up to two trimesters. 
    • Bowel movement disturbances can be frustrating and cause you to become more irritable. Speak to your doctor to explore options that can offer symptomatic relief.

watery period blood sign of pregnancy

Now that you understand the distinctions between early pregnancy vs. PMS, you can make a better judgment about the symptoms you experience. In case you’re suspecting a pregnancy, it would be wise to get in touch with the doctor for further assistance and care. Do not ignore excessively severe symptoms of PMS or the signs of cramps in case you suspect early pregnancy, and meet your primary care provider without delay.