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Period cramps or early pregnancy cramps: Know the difference

Cramps can trouble you during period and early pregnancy. But there are differences between period cramps and early pregnancy cramps.
Period cramps
Period cramps and early pregnancy cramps may feel similar. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 4 Nov 2023, 06:45 pm IST
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Most women experience throbbing pain in their lower abdomen every month. The pain can be really intense and may start just a few days before menstruation. Some even feel it on the first or second day of their period. There are also cramps that women may face in the early days of pregnancy. They may feel similar and confusing, but there are some ways to make out the difference between period cramps and early pregnancy cramps.

What are period cramps?

During periods, menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea are common gynaecological symptoms characterised by lower abdominal throbbing or cramping, says Dr Bharathi Ramesh, Senior Consultant – Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Banashankari, Bengaluru. While some experience mild discomfort, others endure severe cramps that can disrupt their daily life for a few days each month. Underlying conditions such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids can influence the severity of the cramps.

Period pain
Period cramps happen just a few days before or during menstruation. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What are early pregnancy cramps?

Cramps in the first trimester of pregnancy are typical as the body adjusts to changes. These discomforts, often felt in the lower abdomen or lower back due to implantation, can even precede pregnancy confirmation, says the expert. After pregnancy confirmation, cramps occur as the uterus expands to accommodate the growing baby.

Differences between period cramps and early pregnancy cramps

It is all about pain and discomfort, but there are some key distinctions between period cramps and early pregnancy cramps.

1. Timing

• Period cramps happen just a few days before or during menstruation.
• Early pregnancy cramps typically arise in the first few weeks of pregnancy, before the expected menstrual period, says Dr Ramesh.

2. Location

Period cramps are focused in the lower abdomen and may radiate to the lower back and thighs.
• Early pregnancy cramps are centered in the lower abdomen, and may include a twinge or mild uterine discomfort.

3. Sensation

• Period cramps are dull, aching pain often associated with uterine contractions.
• Early pregnancy cramps vary from mild twinges to occasional sharper discomfort that is usually brief, says the expert.

4. Menstrual bleeding

• If period cramps happen when you are down, they will be accompanied by menstrual bleeding.
• Early pregnancy cramps may be accompanied by light spotting or bleeding. You might think you are down, but during early pregnancy, the bleeding is typically more lightweight and less consistent than the one you experience during period.

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5. Duration

• Period cramps last for the menstrual period, so they can go on for three to five days.
• Early pregnancy cramps are brief and intermittent, and occur within the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Pregnant woman
Early pregnancy cramps are different from period cramps. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

6. Pattern

• For most women, period cramps are regular and expected, and occur with each menstruation.
Early pregnancy cramps are irregular and are not tied to a monthly cycle.

Similar symptoms of periods and early pregnancy

Though there are differences, it is hard to ignore some of the similar signs and symptoms of periods and early pregnancy. These may include:

• Breast tenderness
• Mood swings
• Fatigue
• Mild abdominal discomfort
• Changes in appetite
• Increased urination
• Headaches
• Bloating

If you have doubts and you haven’t had your periods around the time you should, consider getting a pregnancy test. After the first day of the missed period, go for at-home pregnancy tests that usually give reliable results.

If you still need advice on taking a pregnancy test or reason why your period is late? Speak with a gynaecologist regarding missed periods or other pregnancy symptoms. The doctor can help you with treatment options if needed.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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