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Health

Am I Pregnant or Is It Something Else?

| 05/20/2022

alex fine on pregnancy Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

Have you found yourself nervously Googling your symptoms to figure out “Am I pregnant”? Well chances are, you may have some symptoms that are associated with pregnancy, but also with lots of other conditions. 

Common symptoms of pregnancy include a missed period, fatigue, breast changes, nausea, spotting and cramping, despite numerous other symptoms. While these symptoms are all common pregnancy symptoms, they can also be commonly misunderstood as pregnancy when in fact they’re something else, as these symptoms can also be attributed to menopause, PMS, ovulation symptoms, UTIs and other common ailments.

This is largely because of the fact that many of these symptoms are hormone related, explains Dr Martin Kinsella, a hormone specialist, who we spoke with to get to the bottom of the similarities between pregnancy and other causes, and how a person can determine what may be happening to them.

Imbalanced hormones can cause a whole host of symptoms, many of which are the same as pregnancy symptoms.

Hormones are essential chemicals in the body that regulate a whole host of different processes, explains Dr Kinsella. They’re well known for affecting our fertility, menstrual cycle and moods but also have a huge impact on our whole body, from our skin to our hair and even our gums. Hormone fluctuations take place during pregnancy and menopause, as well at other points during a person’s life.

A change in a person’s natural hormone levels can ultimately cause many pregnancy mimicking symptoms. And while pregnancy can be the cause, a person’s hormone balance can be tipped off balance by a large number of things such as stress, diet, exercise, lack of sleep, menopause and so on. 

Imbalanced hormones can cause a whole host of symptoms, many of which are the same as pregnancy symptoms – such as fatigue, breast changes, anxiety, missed periods, and more.

Here, we will discuss many of the other causes of symptoms similar to those experienced in pregnancy, so you can understand why your body may be experiencing them.

Pregnancy vs Menopause

Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The years leading up to that point, when women may have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition or perimenopause. Many will assume they are no longer fertile due to their age, and therefore may not be using adequate contraception. Sometimes, these people will find themselves pregnant, and think that the symptoms they are experiencing are due to menopause.

“There a large number of signs of menopause which are also common in pregnancy,” says Dr Kinsella. These include a missed period, bloating and cramping, decreased libido, fatigue, sleep problems, hot flashes, incontinence, mood changes, and weight gain.

The symptoms can vary from person to person, as is the same with other changes in a person’s body. But for those experiencing sensitive breasts, sensitivity to food and their odors, and nausea without the need to vomit, there is more of a link with pregnancy than with menopause.

Pregnancy vs PMS

“Pregnancy and PMS have a number of similar symptoms too,” says Dr Kinsella. This is because PMS symptoms are linked to the activity of the ovaries. The hormone changes that occur during pregnancy and PMS can cause both physical and psychological symptoms such as; breast tenderness, bloating, headaches, cramps, mood swings, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep problems, and fatigue.

Premenstrual syndrome tends to happen a week or two before your period is due. Although there are differences from case to case, a lot of the symptoms are similar to those of early pregnancy. For instance, during PMS, you are unlikely to be bleeding, which is what somebody who is pregnant would expect. You also may feel a bit more hungry and nauseous than usual, as well as feeling a bit more tearful or emotional.

For most people, the symptoms of PMS will subside when their period arrives, and so they will know soon enough if they are pregnant or not. However, it is important to understand what is happening to your body, and it’s worth taking a pregnancy test to be absolutely sure. You can also keep a track of your PMS symptoms so that you’re able to identify how long they last, and more easily spot any changes.

Pregnancy vs Ovulation Symptoms

Ovulation usually happens during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Ovulation occurs when an egg is released from the ovaries. To get pregnant, the egg needs to be fertilized by the sperm. Some claim to feel a twinge of pain when they ovulate, and will notice changes in their discharge. Usually, this will subside as they enter the next phase of their cycle.

The hormone changes that occur during pregnancy can result in a number of symptoms that are similar to those experienced during ovulation, explains Dr Kinsella. These can include breast tenderness and or soreness, pelvic pain, changes in libido, changes in cervical mucus, nausea, and headaches.

Pregnancy vs UTI

The hormone changes that occur during pregnancy can cause a number of symptoms that may be similar to a UTI, Dr Kinsella explains. Those symptoms can be hot flashes, pain in the lower abdomen, fatigue, and nausea.

The feeling that you need to urinate more often, have pelvic pressure and lower back pain are frequent symptoms for those with a UTI, and those who are pregnant. Although often asymptomatic, UTIs during pregnancy are very common. So, it’s very possible for somebody to be experiencing both pregnancy and a UTI at the same time.

Pregnancy vs Stomach Issues – Cramps, Viruses, and the Flu

Mild stomach pain in early pregnancy (during the first 12 weeks) is usually caused by your womb expanding, the ligaments stretching as your uterus grows, hormones, constipation, or trapped wind. It may sometimes feel like a ‘stitch’ or mild period pain.

Stomach issues such as bad cramps, viruses known as ‘tummy bugs’ and the flu, can all cause symptoms that can be similar to those somebody who is pregnant may be experiencing. Dr Kinsella explains that these can include cramps, hot flashes, dizziness, nausea, tiredness, and a dry mouth.

Pregnancy vs Anxiety

Anxiety can cause a whole host of symptoms, and if you are concerned that you are also pregnant and this causes you anxiety, you can unfortunately exacerbate your feelings of stress. ‘Pregnancy hormonal changes can cause some similar symptoms as anxiety, Dr Kinsella explains. These include; feeling light-headed or dizzy, headaches, sweating and hot flashes, sleep problems, nausea, changes in libido, low mood and depression.

One of the main reasons that other causes can mimic pregnancy is because the hormone changes that occur during pregnancy, and cause a number of these symptoms, can also crop up at other points in a person’s life. Dr. Kinsella explains how hormone changes occur during peri-menopause and menopause, and can also occur during periods of stress, and through other environmental and lifestyle factors. The key to discovering what is actually happening involves testing hormone levels, which can be done with a pregnancy test that checks your urine for a specific hormone to establish if you are pregnant. 

A more sophisticated way of discovering exactly what is causing the symptoms that you’re experiencing is by getting your hormone levels checked. A blood test to check hormone levels can pinpoint exactly which hormone you are deficient or have too much of, and enable a personalized and effective course of treatment to be prescribed.

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