Difference between Premenstrual Syndrome and Pregnancy Symptoms

Updated on December 5, 2017

The symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome and pregnancy bear a lot of similarities, making it difficult to differentiate between the two. However, there are still factors that can set these conditions apart.


Premenstrual Syndrome
Site of abdominal cramps during the premenstrual period

Premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS, is a specific group of physical and psychological symptoms strongly linked to the menstrual cycle. Typically occurring 1 to 2 weeks before a woman’s menstrual period, premenstrual syndrome includes fatigue, mood swings, irritability, food cravings, and tenderness of the breasts.

According to studies, 3 out of 4 women experience premenstrual syndrome. Even though it may occur in predictable patterns, the intensity of the symptoms may vary from one person to another.

pregnancy symptoms
Enlargement of the abdomen during pregnancy

Meanwhile, pregnancy symptoms, as the term implies, are signs and symptoms during pregnancy. A pregnant woman may experience a wide range of physiological changes, depending on the time of pregnancy.

During the 1st trimester, pregnancy symptoms include amenorrhea (missed menstrual period), nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abdominal enlargement, and tenderness of the breasts. Other symptoms continue to manifest during the 2nd and 3rd trimester.

Premenstrual Syndrome vs Pregnancy Symptoms

So what’s the difference between premenstrual syndrome and pregnancy symptoms?

Firstly, during pregnancy, light vaginal bleeding or spotting is common 10 to 14 days after conception. The bleeding is either dark brown or pink, and it lasts shorter than a regular menstrual period. Also, the flow is not heavy enough to fill tampons or menstrual pads. During the premenstrual stage, on the other hand, vaginal bleeding does not occur.

Secondly, as the uterus grows during pregnancy, it pushes against the urinary bladder, leading to frequent urinary urges–a symptom that does not manifest during the premenstrual phase.

Unlike women in their premenstrual stage, pregnant women may notice the darkening of their skin and areola on their breasts due to an elevated estrogen level as the pregnancy progresses. Other pregnancy symptoms that are unusual during the premenstrual cycle include nausea and vomiting. As hallmarks of pregnancy, these symptoms are experienced by around 90% pregnant women. Popularly known as morning sickness, nausea and vomiting are caused by hormonal changes in the body, and can occur any time of the day.

In terms of food cravings and aversion, pregnant women may develop an aversion against certain scent and food items, while those under their premenstrual cycle don’t. Plus, although premenstrual syndrome causes food cravings, pregnant women have highly specific food cravings.

Lastly, dysmenorrhea, which is mild lower abdominal cramps, is common 1 to 2 days before a woman’s menstrual period. The cramps typically subside as soon as the period begins. Meanwhile, cramps or discomfort during pregnancy may last from weeks to months, and it usually affects the lower abdomen or the lower back.

Comparison Chart

Premenstrual SyndromePregnancy Symptoms
No vaginal bleeding or spottingLight vaginal bleeding or spotting (pink or dark brown in color)
No changes in urinary activityFrequent urinary urges
No changes in areola and skin color on breastsDarkening of the skin and areola on breasts
No nausea and vomitingNausea and vomiting
No aversion to certain scents and food itemsAversion to certain scents and food items
Food cravingsHighly specific food cravings
Lower abdominal cramps may occur 1-2 days before menstrual periodLower abdominal cramps or discomfort of the lower back may last from weeks to months
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