Does A Late Period Mean I'm Pregnant? 5 Common Symptoms That Don't Always Indicate Pregnancy

Before we take one single step into the world of discussing the possible symptoms of pregnancy, let this be known: the only way to actually tell if you're pregnant is to take a pregnancy test. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms below and have had unprotected heterosexual sex in the recent past, don't sit here listening to me run my dang fool mouth; go to your local pharmacy and take an actual pregnancy test (FYI, most pregnancy tests are accurate one week after the date of your missed period). Even if you've had safe heterosexual sex in the recent past and you're experiencing these symptoms, you might want to take a test — if you are actually pregnant, the sooner you know, the sooner you'll be able to develop a game plan. So go and get a test. Now. You can read this article on your phone on the way, if you want, but do it.

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However, if you're someone who's prone to constant pregnancy panics — not because you're engaging in sexual activities that would put you at risk for an accidental pregnancy, but because you're just kind of a nervous person — stick around. If you're not looking to have a child any time soon, an unplanned pregnancy can be one of the scariest ideas out there, so it makes sense that many of us are preoccupied with fear of them, and might jump to conclusions every time we feel kinda nauseous or have a weird craving for mayo. (Sometimes, it's just because mayo is really good. There is no shame in your mayo game.)

But while classic pregnancy symptoms are certainly experienced by many women, pregnancy isn't the only reason that your breasts might hurt or your period might be late. So if you're a worrier who is prone to pregnancy panics, even during periods of time when you're not sexually active, read on to find out five classic symptoms of pregnancy that don't necessarily mean you're pregnant.

But if you've actually had unsafe sex, have been experiencing any of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, or otherwise have reason to believe you might actually be pregnant, please, take an actual pregnancy test. I may have a cool vintage lab coat that I bought the year I was Elle Driver from Kill Bill for Halloween, but I am not a doctor, and this article is definitely not to a substitute for real advice from a real medical professional.

1. A Late Period

What It Feels Like: You might feel your usual PMS symptoms, whatever they might be, but not get your period...or you might feel nothing, and get surprised when you look at your calendar and see that your crimson tide is overdue.

Why This Is A Sign Of Pregnancy: The entire process of your period as you know it is based around not being pregnant — when no fertilized eggs implant in your uterus over the course of a month, your uterus shrugs, sloughs off its lining, and decides to try again next month. When a fertilized egg does implant, your uterine lining is busy, and thus is not coming out of you in the form of a period.

What It Could Also Be: Though you should always take a late period seriously if you've been engaging in any activity that could possibly get you pregnant, there are several things that can cause late periods besides pregnancy. Thyroid conditions like hypothyroidism can lead to late and irregular periods, as can polycystic ovarian syndrome and other health issues like celiac disease. Stress can also throw your period off schedule — making you, of course, more stressed, which in turn can throw your cycle even more out of whack.

So if your periods are consistently irregular, it's worth talking with your doctor — they may be able to test you for one of the above health issues or a different one, and keep you from having to go through a monthly freak out every time your period is running a smidge late.

2. Sore Breasts

What It Feels Like: You breasts may ache, feel tender whenever you touch them, or have that stretched-out "water balloon that has been overfilled"-type feeling.

Why This Is A Sign Of Pregnancy: According to Melissa Goist, MD, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Ohio State University Medical Center, speaking to Parents, "When progesterone and hCG start flooding the body after the egg is fertilized, they increase your blood volume, which makes your breasts swell and feel heavier than usual."

What It Could Also Be: Breast tenderness, however, can mean many things besides that you're pregnant. PMS — the exact opposite of pregnancy! — can cause breast pain, as can menopause, excessive coffee consumption, breast infections like mastitis, and pulling a chest muscle while exercising. Your breast pain could even be caused by wearing an inadequately supportive bra.

So it pays to get familiar with your own body and the things that make your breasts tender — for example, I know that if I skip a placebo week on my birth control pills and go straight into the next pack of active pills, I get tender breasts for the entire month. Familiarizing yourself with your body's unique reactions can help save you a lot of worry in the end.

3. Food Cravings

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What It Feels Like: Suddenly, for no obvious reason, you feel like you absolutely must eat some food you've never really cared about. Alternatively, you might suddenly find a food you always liked to be completely repellant.

Why This Is A Sign Of Pregnancy: Though there isn't a scientific consensus on why so many pregnant people experience food cravings, there is an agreement that most pregnant folks do experience them — one survey found that 84 percent of pregnant women had experienced a food craving of some sort. Many attribute them to the hormones that flood a woman's system after she becomes pregnant, which may alter sense of smell and taste.

What It Could Also Be: Luckily for all of us, developing a sudden and random obsession with beets or sardines or pizza with hot sauce on it does not necessarily mean that you're pregnant.

In fact, according to the scientific journal Appetite, 97 percent of women and 68 percent of men have experienced food cravings in their lifetime. Contrary to popular beliefs, food cravings don't usually have to do with nutritional deficiencies (or you'd probably be craving, you know, kale) — research has actually tied cravings to having a monotonous diet, meaning that they're typically more mental than physical.

If you're having a lot of food cravings, again, talking to your doctor is a good place to start — you might be craving specific foods to help cope with stress or similar problems.

4. Exhaustion

What It Feels Like: No matter how much sleep you get, you constantly feel like you just pulled an all-nighter.

Why This Is A Sign Of Pregnancy: Hormonal changes are the culprit behind the flat-out exhaustion that many women feel in the first trimester of pregnancy — progesterone is especially key. But it isn't only hormones; according to the American Pregnancy Association, pregnant bodies produce more blood and experiences drops in blood sugar and blood pressure levels — all of which can make you feel tired all the time.

What It Could Also Be: More like "what couldn't it be," right? This is a catch-all symptom, I know. Almost half of Americans are chronically underslept — 40 percent of us get less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to a 2013 Gallup poll — which could leave anyone sleepy. People struggling with thyroid disorders, Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, and other health conditions might feel fatigued. And people who exercise a great deal, or are taking certain cold or allergy remedies that can cause drowsiness, might feel like they need an extra nap or 10. If you suddenly begin to experience fatigue, it shouldn't be ignored by any means — but know that it's not a definite sign of pregnancy.

5. Nausea

What It Feels Like: Your stomach may churn or feel unsettled; if it's quite bad, you may feels muscles in your throat involuntarily moving; you might retch; and yes, you may actually puke.

Why This Is A Sign Of Pregnancy: Doctors believe that pregnant women can become frequently nauseous — a condition known as "morning sickness" — due to hormone fluctuations. In fact, some medical professionals have theorized that morning sickness can be a sign of a healthy pregnancy.

What It Could Also Be: There are, unfortunately, many things out there that can make you feel literally sick to your stomach. Some people feel nausea due to vertigo (a disorder of the inner ear that can also make people feel dizzy), viral infections, various sicknesses that impact your internal organs, food poisoning, food allergies, and medications, including some birth control pills.

Again, this is another case where paying attention to your body, and how it acts in various scenarios, can be helpful — in college, I once had a pregnancy scare because I seemed to get nauseous every morning; it later turned out that I simply couldn't tolerate digesting a large multi-vitamin on an empty stomach (which I was attempting to do every morning).

The Bottom Line

Even though not every one of these symptoms means pregnancy every time, you should never ignore any symptom, and take the possibility of pregnancy very seriously. If you've been having any kind of unprotected heterosexual sex and are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not blow them off.

However, it is important to know that pregnancy isn't the only thing that can make our bodies start acting up in unusual ways — and that if you feel weird nausea or food cravings even though you haven't engaged in any kind of sexual activities that can result in pregnancy, it doesn't mean you've been attacked by some kind of magic sperm. Calm down, and go talk to your doctor if your symptoms persist or get worse. You might be glad you did.

But seriously, if you're having unsafe sex: stop it! Reading articles about pregnancy is definitely not an effective form of birth control, OK?

Go take it. Now.

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