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A missed period may be the first noticeable sign of pregnancy, but there are many other early signs.

Early pregnancy and premenstrual symptoms are often similar, and it can be hard for a person to tell whether they might be pregnant or about to get their period. Also, some pregnant people do not experience the typical early signs.

The article explores 12 changes that can point to pregnancy in the early stages.

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Missing one or more periods is often the clearest early sign of pregnancy. We explore these and other signs below.

1. A missed period

This is often the first sign that a person notices, but missing a period does not always point to pregnancy.

A person might miss a period for many reasons, such as changes to birth control medication or sudden weight loss. A missed period can also indicate a health issue, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

For this reason, anyone who unexpectedly misses a period should contact a healthcare professional as soon as they can.

2. Nausea

Nausea during pregnancy, or morning sickness, is common. It can begin as early as 4 weeks into the pregnancy.

For some people, it eases early on, and others experience it throughout their pregnancy. Most pregnant people experiencing some degree of nausea.

3. Breast changes

These may occur within 2 weeks of conception.

The amount of breast tissue increases in preparation for milk production. The veins of the breasts become more noticeable, and the nipples may darken.

The breasts and nipples may feel tingly, sore, and extra sensitive.

4. Frequent urination

This often begins early in pregnancy, and it results from various changes, including:

  • the uterus expanding
  • hormonal changes
  • an increase in blood volume
  • an increase in blood circulation to the pelvis
  • an increase in kidney size

Later in the pregnancy, the pressure of the growing fetus and uterus on the bladder may result in even more frequent and urgent urination.

Learn more about pregnancy trimesters here.

Contact a healthcare professional if urination becomes painful, as this can stem from a urinary tract infection.

5. Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common early pregnancy symptoms. It may be most intense in the first 12 weeks.

During pregnancy, the body produces more of the hormone progesterone. This is essential for a healthy pregnancy, but it may also contribute to fatigue.

In addition, the body needs to pump more blood to the fetus as it grows. This, coupled with the increased physical demands in the later stages of pregnancy can lead to more fatigue.

6. Cramping

Mild cramping without bleeding is common in the first trimester, and it may feel like menstrual cramps. It results from the uterus expanding.

Abdominal bloating, constipation, and heartburn also tend to develop early in a pregnancy, and they may last throughout.

7. Nasal congestion

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause a stuffy nose. While this can occur early in pregnancy, it is more common in the third trimester.

8. Food cravings and aversions

These are common throughout pregnancy, and they may result from hormonal and physical changes, rather than shifting nutritional requirements.

The underlying cause of food cravings and aversions is still unclear. Different people seek out and avoid different foods.

Regardless, it is important to take in the right amounts of nutrients and calories.

Learn more about the diet during pregnancy here.

9. Mood changes

Sudden shifts in mood can stem from hormonal changes, fatigue, and stress in early pregnancy. It is normal to feel increased emotional sensitivity and abrupt fluctuations in mood during pregnancy.

Pregnancy can also cause relapses of existing mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

10. Lightheadedness

This can result from a range of factors, including:

  • changes in hormones
  • changes in blood pressure and volume
  • altered balance due to weight changes
  • iron deficiency anemia and other health issues

A person may be more lightheaded when they change positions, such as standing up, quickly.

While some lightheadedness may be expected, a person should contact a healthcare professional if it persists after they sit or lie back down.

11. Headaches

These are common in early pregnancy and can result from changes in hormones.

Typically, headaches cause no harm to the fetus. However, headaches can be a symptom of preeclampsia, which can lead to serious complications without treatment.

Anyone who experiences strong headaches, especially with changes in vision, should contact their doctor.

Learn more about preeclampsia here.

12. Bleeding

Bleeding may be common during early pregnancy. While it may be harmless, a doctor should investigate the cause.

Implantation bleeding occurs when the embryo attaches to the wall of the uterus. This can cause light bleeding or spotting. It may happen around the time when the person would have expected a period.

Early pregnancy symptoms are general — they can also stem from health problems. For this reason, it is important for a healthcare professional to confirm the cause as soon as possible.

Blood and urine tests

Pregnancy tests check for the presence of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). A person might take an over-the-counter test at home, or they might visit a clinic and provide a urine or blood sample for testing.

The body produces hCG after implantation. Some rare conditions and diseases can also raise levels of this hormone.

It is a good idea for anyone who has received a positive test result to have this confirmed by a healthcare professional.

Various pregnancy tests are available for purchase online.

Ultrasound

An ultrasound scan produces an image of the fetus using sound waves.

Doctors typically use these scans to check the progress of a known pregnancy, but they can also confirm whether a person is pregnant and help detect multiple pregnancies.

If a person has any pregnancy symptoms, they should contact a healthcare professional. Once the pregnancy is confirmed, having consistent prenatal care improves outcomes for the pregnant person and the fetus.

Among the many early signs of pregnancy are missed periods, breast changes, fatigue, sudden shifts in mood, and frequent urination.

If a person has any pregnancy symptoms, they might take an at-home pregnancy test or visit a healthcare professional. Anyone who receives a positive result at home should have it confirmed by a doctor, who will then draw up a plan for prenatal care.