There are many symptoms that can indicate pregnancy before, and just after, a woman has missed her period. Early pregnancy signs typically include nausea (morning sickness), extreme fatigue, and a heightened sense of taste and smell. Cramping and lower abdominal pain are also frequent early pregnancy symptoms. How do you differentiate early pregnancy cramping and abdominal pain from your usual period cramps? And when is it time to worry about cramping and lower abdominal pain?

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For those women who are looking for a fool-proof way to distinguish early pregnancy cramping from period cramping, I am sorry to say that there is none. Period cramps and early pregnancy cramps feel the same. The only difference between the two is that period cramps tend to stop when you actually get your period — or if they don’t, they are at least accompanied by bleeding.

Early pregnancy cramps, on the other hand, don’t stop for a few weeks. They are also characterized by the lack of a menstrual period. Women who are also experiencing other unusual symptoms that could signal a pregnancy may be able make a more informed guess. But then, many such symptoms, like mood swings and tender breasts, are also common pre-menstrual complaints for some ladies.

Patience will bring you the answer to your question whether your cramping is caused by pregnancy, or the start of your period. Some women attempt to take early pregnancy tests, which can be quite accurate even several days before a period is missed. A pregnancy test is most reliable on the day of the missed menstrual period, or after — so it’s worth waiting.

Once you missed your menstruation and tested for pregnancy, you might start to get worried about the cramping and lower abdominal pains you are still experiencing. Are they normal? Could they be indicating a miscarriage? Is everything OK with your pregnancy? In the majority of cases, these cramps just mean that your body is changing, the uterus is expanding, and these changes cause some cramping and pain.

But cramps and pain can, sometimes, indicate serious medical problems. When should you be worried?

  1. Heavy bleeding (not just light spotting) is one of the main symptoms that should worry you. Bleeding can indicate not only a miscarriage, but also an ectopic pregnancy. If you are bleeding in early pregnancy, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Through ultrasound, your doctor can see whether you are dealing with a tubal pregnancy, or having a miscarriage. This kind of bleeding can also be the result of an infection.
  2. If the level of pain you are experiencing is worse than the cramps you normally have before a menstrual period, it is a good idea to pay your doctor a visit. Is the pain enough to prevent you from carrying out your daily activities? Do you still feel pain, even after taking an over-the-counter painkiller? Please see your doctor, particularly if the pain is constantly there, without pause.
  3. A sharp and stabbing pain, normally on one side (where your fallopian tubes are) can point to an ectopic pregnancy. If you have this type of pain, get help immediately, as ectopic pregnancies can quickly turn into life-threatening emergencies.
  4. If you have a fever, feel dizzy, or have any other symptoms that lead you to believe that something is not right, you certainly have to see a doctor and you could consider going to the ER.

Those women who are “bugged” by early pregnancy cramping and lower abdominal pain may be curious when this particular symptom of pregnancy generally subsides. Pregnancy is characterized by strange sensations in the abdominal area — throughout those nine months! First, it’s cramps, then fetal movement and Braxton Hicks contractions. This type of “menstrual cramp like” sensation, however, will usually go away by week eight or so into a pregnancy.