PMS or Pregnancy - How to Tell the Difference?

The "PM" in "PMS" is short for "Pre-Menstrual", i.e. physical phenomena and mood changes a woman may experience before the beginning of menstrual bleeding. The "S" in "PMS" stands for "Syndrome" indicating that the above-mentioned symptoms occur regularly, every month.  
Most women, at some point in life, experience symptoms of PMS before the onset of their period each month, these may include breast tenderness, fatigue, moodiness, gastrointestinal issues, nausea, acne, more frequent urination, and some pain in the form of cramping and backaches. Most of the times, these symptoms can be manageable by using a PMS pain relief device.   
Many confuse PMS cramps and period cramps, but the two are unrelated. Period cramps occur mostly during the days of menstruation while PMS symptoms begin a week or two before the period and end when menstrual bleeding starts.   
About 5% of women suffer from a more severe form of PMS called PMDD (Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder).  

Early signs of pregnancy may appear around the timewhen a woman may expect PMS symptoms or period cramps (of the type which precedes menstruation). Interestingly, signs of early pregnancy may resemble PMS symptoms. This is a source of confusion for many women who wonder if they are pregnant or if their period is about to start. In this article, we will elaborate on the nuances which can help distinguish early pregnancy from PMS.  

Common Symptoms of Early Pregnancy and PMS

When composing a list of symptoms for PMS and early pregnancy it seems that the two overlap in every aspect. However, when reviewing the fine points of each symptom, distinct differences become apparent. 
The general list of symptoms common to both early pregnancy and PMS includes headaches, fatigue, mood changes, gastrointestinal issues, bloating, weight change, changes of breast and nipples, cramping (common not only to PMS and early pregnancy but to period cramps as well), nausea, appetite changes, more frequent urination, and acne.  
At first glance, it may seem that the only way for a woman to tell if she is pregnant or experiencing symptoms of PMS is to wait and see if menstrual bleeding starts shortly after. Another way, of course, is to take a pregnancy test. But, digging deeper into the nuances of each symptom on the list offers many ways to discern between period cramps, PMS, and early signs of pregnancy. 
pms symptoms

 Symptoms Unique to PMS 

  • Early pregnancy fatigue is commonly described as "extreme" while PMS sleep issues vary from feeling a bit more tired, sleeping too little or too much, taking naps during the day, and insomnia.  
  • While early pregnancy is often accompanied by mood swings, with PMS the mood changes include sadness (even depression), anxiety, irritability, confusion, and clumsiness. 
  • Constipation is common in both early pregnancy and PMS, diarrhea is more frequently associated with PMS.  
  • Some similar breast and nipple changes may occur in early pregnancy and due to PMS but with pregnancy, nipple changes are more noticeable (nipples may stick out). 
  • General aches and pains are common to PMS, period cramps, and early pregnancy. Abdominal pain is common in early pregnancy, while pain in the pelvis, lower back, or thighs is more common to PMS or period cramps.
  • Nausea with vomiting is common in early pregnancy, while nausea without vomiting is common with PMS.
  • Appetite changes with PMS usually include cravings for sweet foods and salty foods while with pregnancy there are cravings for particular types of foods and a desire to avoid others.

When is it Time to Consult a Doctor?

If you're experiencing PMS-like symptoms, your period is late and you think you might be pregnant it's time to take a home pregnancy test. If the result is positive schedule an appointment with your obstetrician. If the result is negative but your period still does not come consult a health professional. It's important to know that there may be reasons other than pregnancy for a missed or late period, such as stress, low body weight, polycystic ovary syndrome, starting or stopping taking birth control pills, thyroid disease, diabetes, menopause, and more. It is always a clever idea to consult a doctor when experiencing inexplicable changes to the menstrual cycle or the symptoms usually accompanying it, severe period cramps for instance.