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What Is Premenstrual Tension: Diagnosis And Treatments

If you’re feeling a little cranky or weary and your period date is almost due, then either you’re pregnant or your period is coming.

The only way to know if you’re PMSing or have good news waiting for you is to learn all about the signs of period vs pregnancy.

In this blog, we’ll explain the nuances of early pregnancy and PMS symptoms to help you understand what your body is trying to tell you.


A] Common Signs And Symptoms of Pregnancy vs PMS

Can PMS feel like early pregnancy? The answer is yes. PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) can indeed feel like early pregnancy, as many of the symptoms overlap. Hormonal changes in the body cause both PMS and early pregnancy, which creates many similar physical and emotional disbalances.

That’s why it’s important to note the subtle difference between period and pregnancy symptoms. Here’s a closer look at some of the most common symptoms:

1. Mood Swings


This is common in both PMS and early pregnancy. Hormonal fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone cause emotional highs and lows. You may experience irritability, anxiety, or even depression. In early pregnancy, mood swings can be more intense and persist longer due to sustained hormonal changes.

2. Fatigue

Fatigue is a prevalent symptom in both conditions. During PMS, fatigue typically occurs about a week before menstruation and subsides with the onset of the period. In early pregnancy, fatigue can start as soon as one week after conception and may last throughout the first trimester. This persistent tiredness in pregnancy is due to the body’s efforts to support the developing fetus.

3. Breast Tenderness

Breast tenderness and swelling occur in both PMS and early pregnancy due to hormonal changes. For PMS, this tenderness usually resolves once menstruation begins. In pregnancy, breast tenderness can be more pronounced and persist due to the rising levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

4. Bloating

Bloating is a common symptom experienced during both PMS and early pregnancy. During PMS, bloating is usually temporary and resolves with the onset of menstruation. Bloating during early pregnancy can be more persistent and pronounced as the digestive system slows down to allow more nutrient absorption for the developing fetus.

5. Food Cravings

Food cravings and aversions can occur in both PMS and early pregnancy. During PMS, women might crave certain foods, particularly sweets or salty snacks, due to hormonal fluctuations. Pregnancy cravings can be more specific, and dislikings towards certain foods may develop or grow. Also, some pregnant women might lose their appetite entirely.

6. Increased Urination

Increased urination is more specific to early pregnancy. It happens because of hormonal changes and increased blood flow to the kidneys. Even if this symptom is less common in PMS, it can still occur occasionally.

7. Cramping


Cramping can be a symptom of both PMS and early pregnancy. PMS cramps are typically more intense and occur just before or during menstruation due to the contraction of uterine muscles to shed the uterine lining. Early pregnancy cramps are generally lighter and appear as the uterus expands to take in the growing embryo.

8. Headaches And Back Pain

Hormonal changes can cause headaches and back pain in both PMS and early pregnancy. PMS-related headaches and back pain typically resolve with the onset of menstruation, while pregnancy-related headaches might be more frequent and persistent due to ongoing hormonal adjustments.

9. Constipation

Constipation is common in both PMS and early pregnancy, because of the effects of progesterone on the digestive system. During PMS, constipation usually resolves once menstruation begins. In early pregnancy, it can be more severe and persistent as the hormone levels continue to rise.

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B] Pregnancy-Specific Symptoms

When distinguishing symptoms of pregnancy from periods, here are signs to look out for:

1. A Missed Period

While PMS can cause a period to be delayed by a day or two, a missed period generally signals pregnancy, especially if you have regular menstrual cycles. If you’re wondering whether you are pregnant or if your period is late, this symptom is a strong indicator.  However, heavy periods during pregnancy can be concerning, as it indicates a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, placenta abruption, placenta previa, infections or cervical changes. It is important to reach out to a healthcare provider immediately.

But can you still be pregnant if your period comes? While it’s less common, some women experience light bleeding or spotting during early pregnancy that might be mistaken for a period. So, yes, you can still be pregnant even if you experience bleeding that resembles a period. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to take a pregnancy test or consult a healthcare provider for confirmation.

2. Nausea

Nausea, often called morning sickness, is a hallmark early pregnancy symptom. It can occur at any time of the day and typically begins around the sixth week of pregnancy. While some women may experience mild nausea, others might have severe nausea and even vomiting.

3. Nipples Change

Changes in the nipples are a unique pregnancy-specific symptom. During early pregnancy, hormonal changes cause the nipples to become more sensitive, and the areolas (the area around the nipples), may darken and enlarge. These changes, specific to pregnancy, help prepare the body for breastfeeding.

C] PMS-Specific Symptoms


PMS happens to only 3% to 8% of someone who menstruate; that’s why understanding the differences can be tricky.  Here are two key PMS-specific symptoms:

1. Menstrual Cramps

About 80% of people experience period pain at some point in their lifetime, but only 5% to 10% of them go through intense pain. It is one of the most common symptoms in the days leading up to their period as well as during the period. Also known as dysmenorrhea, it is caused by the contraction of the uterine muscles as they prepare to shed the uterine lining. The pain typically happens in the lower abdomen and can range from mild to severe. Early pregnancy cramps are usually less intense compared to menstrual cramps. The presence of menstrual cramps is a significant indicator when comparing PMS vs pregnancy symptoms.

2. No Bleeding

One distinctive feature of PMS is the absence of any bleeding until the period actually starts. While some experience spotting or light bleeding during early pregnancy, this is usually much lighter and shorter than a regular period. This lack of bleeding differentiates menstrual vs pregnancy symptoms, as bleeding can be a sign of implantation (the process of the embryo attaching to the uterus and invading the epithelium, causing the maternal circulation to form the placenta) in early pregnancy.

D] How to identify whether it’s PMS or Pregnancy?

Let’s help you figure out what your body might be telling you:

Criteria PMS Pregnancy
Symptoms Mood swings, fatigue, breast tenderness, bloating, food cravings, increased urination, cramping, headaches and back pain, constipation. Missed period, nausea, nipple changes, heightened sense of smell, fatigue, frequent urination, abdominal bloating, mood swings, light spotting or implantation bleeding.
Test to Identify No specific test; diagnosis based on symptom observation and tracking menstrual cycles. Home pregnancy test kits detect the HCG hormone in urine. Blood tests and pelvic examinations can confirm pregnancy.
Timing and Duration Symptoms appear a week earlier and go away a few days after a period begins. Lasts a few days to a week. Symptoms persist beyond the expected menstrual period and may intensify. Light bleeding or spotting may occur in early pregnancy.
Hormonal Changes Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels. Increased levels of HCG, estrogen, and progesterone.
Associated Signs Premenstrual acne, joint or muscle pain, irritability, and diarrhea. Darkening of the areolas, linea nigra, and morning sickness.
Response to Treatment Symptoms improve with menstruation or pain relievers/hormonal contraceptives. Symptoms may last, requiring lifestyle modifications or medical intervention.

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Even if both PMS and pregnancy share many common signs like mood swings and fatigue, knowing the distinctions helps in timely diagnosis and decisions. If experiencing uncertainty, consult a private gynaecologist in London for personalized guidance and support. Be aware of the distinct features to better manage your reproductive health and make informed choices for your well-being.

Neha Goel

Neha Goel, a Psychology alumna and MBA graduate from CASS Business School, London, brings together her expertise as a Reiki Practitioner and Practice Manager. She integrates psychology and business strategies to foster holistic well-being and personal development.