Nausea and Other Pregnancy Symptoms With a Negative Test
If you are reading this article, you are probably facing the well-known dilemma: "Am I pregnant or not?" You may be wondering why you're experiencing early pregnancy symptoms like nausea, tender breasts, minor cramps, or fatigue, but when you took a pregnancy test, the result was negative. We will discuss the various reasons for why a pregnancy test came out negative but you feel pregnant.
Causes of Pregnancy Symptoms With a Negative Test
- You are experiencing premenstrual symptoms, which are very similar to early pregnancy symptoms because they are both caused by the rise in estrogen and progesterone that occurs before a period as well as after implantation.
- You took the test too early, and there was not enough hCG (the pregnancy hormone) in your urine. Wait at least a week after your missed period when hCG levels are high enough to detect.
- You are pregnant, but various complications produced a negative test result, such as having twins, an irregular menstrual cycle, or an ectopic pregnancy.
- You are not pregnant, and the pregnancy-like symptoms you feel are a result of a false pregnancy (called pseudocyesis or phantom pregnancy).
- You are not pregnant, but you have a condition or illness that mimics pregnancy symptoms (see below).
Am I Having a False Pregnancy?
According to infertility specialist Dr. Mark Trolice, "Pseudocyesis (false pregnancy) is a rare disorder in which the woman who is non-psychotic believes she is pregnant and experiences signs/symptoms despite a negative pregnancy test." This occurs when an intense desire for pregnancy tricks the body into thinking it is carrying a baby when it is not. The body will respond to this psychological desire by producing all of the typical pregnancy symptoms, such as a missed period, weight gain, nausea, tender breasts, sore nipples, or even fetal movement. Some women may only experience one of these symptoms at first and may have such a strong assumption she is pregnant that her mind tricks her endocrine system into producing more pregnancy-like symptoms. Your urine test should be negative if it is a false pregnancy, however, an ultrasound is the only guaranteed confirmation.
Conditions That Mimic Pregnancy Symptoms
Nausea ("Morning Sickness")
Feeling nauseous in the morning is not unique to pregnancy, so if you wake up wanting to vomit and a pregnancy test shows negative, you could be afflicted with low-blood sugar levels, insomnia, acid reflux, post-nasal drip, or anxiety/nervousness. Keep in mind that "morning sickness" a.k.a. pregnancy nausea actually happens throughout the day and is triggered by a sensitivity to certain smells and tastes. Nausea caused by other illnesses are not food-related, but rather a sign that there is something wrong in the digestive tract or with one's equilibrium.
Swollen breasts are one of many symptoms that are common to both pregnancy and PMS. Because of this, having achey breasts or sore nipples is not a good indictor of pregnancy. Certain medications, such as birth-control pills or hypothyroidism medication can increase the production of estrogen, causing your breasts to respond in the same way it would if estrogen levels rise before your period or in early pregnancy. If you are taking medication that may have an effect on your hormones and your pregnancy test shows negative, then you are not pregnant.
Women with irregular cycles or PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) often miss their periods because of hormonal imbalance—some may even go months without a period if they have a severe imbalance. However, even women with regular menstrual cycles can miss a period or two due to stress, injury, weight gain, birth control, or any other anxiety-inducing reason that puts stress on the body and affects normal hormonal production.
Cramping and Spotting
Cramping and spotting a week before your period is usually a good indication of implantation, however, implantation bleeding and cramping may be confused for either early PMS cramping and spotting or ovulation. Ovulation, otherwise known as "mittelschmerz," occurs mid-cycle (about 10 days before your period) when the release of an egg might cause a sharp pinch or twinge on one side of the lower abdomen. Unlike implantation cramping (which lasts 1-3 days), ovulation cramping should only last a few hours at most.
Cramping and spotting could also occur if you have just started a new birth control, you have uterine fibroids, or you have hormonal imbalance (polycystic ovarian syndrome).
Feeling lethargic might be common in the first trimester of pregnancy, but it is also very common for a host of other illnesses and conditions, such as anemia, hyperthyroidism, kidney or liver diseases, obesity, etc. Feeling tired can also be a symptom of less serious causes, such as lack of sleep, having the cold or flu, or other lifestyle or diet changes that drain your energy supply. If you are suddenly feeling wiped out for no reason, but a pregnancy test shows negative, see a doctor right away to rule out any serious medical causes.
Feeling emotional and antsy is another symptom that is common to both PMS and pregnancy. It could also be triggered by depression, hormonal imbalance, stress, anxiety, or other psychological conditions. Again, if you experience a sudden change in your emotional stability when you are usually in a good mood, check with the doctor to rule out an serious causes.
Nearly half of pregnant women experience constipation during pregnancy because the rise in progesterone relaxes the digestive tract, which means food travels more slowly through the intestines. This symptom is not a good indictor of pregnancy alone, and if you're not pregnant, but you've been constipated, see a doctor right away. You could just need a boost of fiber, or it may be an early indication of serious gastrointestinal issues, such as colon cancer.
Urinary tract infection (UTI), overactive bladder, diabetes, incontinence, bladder stones, or ovarian cancer may be causes for why you feel like you constantly need to pee. However, this symptom is also common with PMS or menopause.
Hormonal havoc is likely the cause if you are not pregnant. Women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often gain a lot of weight as a result of a hormonal imbalance in the adrenal glands or the ovaries. A hormonal imbalance can also lead to diabetes and other conditions that also increase a woman's weight and body fat. If you notice accompanying symptoms, such as hair growth or missed periods, then you likely need to get a hormone test to see which hormones you have an excess of and how to alleviate the hormonal chaos.
Illnesses With Pregnancy-Like Symptoms
Stress and Anxiety
Nausea is a common symptom of stress or anxiety. Anxiety can cause stomach aches, cramping, and even vomiting. If you have these symptoms accompanied with anxiety, you might consider seeking professional help for relief of stress or anxiety.
Ovulation and Premenstrual Symptoms
Some women get distinctive symptoms a few days before and during ovulation or few days before a period. Pregnancy symptoms (nausea, cramps, bloating, tender breasts, etc.) are often similar to the symptoms for ovulation and menstruation.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
4 to 12% of women suffer from PCOS, which greatly affects their menstrual cycle and fertility. Hormones in women with PCOS can range from excess testosterone to excess estrogen and progesterone. If you suffer from the latter, your body will exhibit symptoms that are similar to pregnancy. The most common symptoms of PCOS are weight gain (especially around the waist), pelvic pain, anxiety or depression, spotting outside of period, missed or late periods, and sore breasts. If you suspect you have PCOS, please ask a doctor for a blood test to measure hormone levels. There is not immediate cure for this condition, but it can be remedied with a healthier diet and lifestyle.
According to Dr. Carolyn Alexander who is board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology as well as Reproductive Endocrinology, "An ovarian cyst can produce estrogen and progesterone and mimic early pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, bloating, frequent urination, mood swings, breast tenderness, cramping, pelvic discomfort." Ovarian cysts should be diagnosed by your OB/GYN with an ultrasound.
Feelings of nausea or exhaustion can be caused by the common cold, flu, or other illnesses. You should talk to your healthcare provider if these symptoms linger for weeks.
Hormonal Contraception/Birth Control
The pill and other hormonal birth control methods commonly cause nausea, dizziness, breast tenderness, and mood changes. Try changing brands or methods if these side effects are troubling you.
Other Unknown Factors
If your symptoms are not explained by pregnancy and endure for weeks, you should see your doctor. You might need a blood test to test for abnormal thyroid functions or low hemoglobin count.
If You Still Think You're Pregnant...
- Did you use the first urine in the morning? It has the highest hCG levels. If you didn't do the test first thing in the morning, your result may be inaccurate.
- Did the test go properly? Did you see the control line or another indicator showing that the test worked as it should have? Read the instructions again to make sure it worked properly.
- Did you try another type of test? Different brands of pregnancy tests all have different levels of sensitivity for hCG levels. You may want to try another brand to check your results.
- Did you wait until at least 14 days after conception/ovulation? Before that the hCG levels are too low to be detected with a home test.
Could It Be a False Negative?
Getting a negative pregnancy test doesn't necessarily mean you're not pregnant. Sometimes tests are faulty or your testing methods are inaccurate (you tested too early, drank too much water, etc). There is also the chance that you are too far along in your pregnancy for the at-home test to detect.
How Soon Can You Take a Pregnancy Test
The sensitivity of each pregnancy test is variable, but the soonest the most sensitive test can detect a pregnancy is at least 12 days after conception. Conception happens around the time a woman ovulates and, in a typical 28-day cycle, ovulation happens on or around day 14. This means that if you have a 28-day cycle, the earliest time you can take a test and get an accurate result is four weeks after the first day of your last period.
Long and Irregular Cycles
Many women have long or irregular cycles. If you have not been carefully tracking your ovulation cycles, or if you can't predict it, it is hard to say when the earliest possible time is for an accurate result is. For women with long or irregular cycles, or if you don't know exactly what your cycle is, it is best to wait for the day the next cycle is supposed to begin (the day you expect to get your next period) to take the home test.
Wait a Week
It's hard to play the waiting game, but try to wait for a week to see if your period starts. If not, take a new test.
Frequently Asked Questions
I Have Nausea and Sore Breasts, But I'm Not Pregnant. What Could It Be?
Hormonal fluctuations will cause these symptoms in women. There are 3 likely scenarios for experiencing nausea and sore breasts and getting a negative pregnancy test:
- You are pregnant, but the test is inaccurate. Wait at least a week after your missed period to retake the test and test your urine first thing in the morning.
- You are experiencing premenstrual symptoms. PMS symptoms can be confused with early pregnancy symptoms because they are almost identical.
- You have a condition that causes hormonal imbalance, such as PCOS, hyper- or hypothyrodism, stress, or ovarian cancer.
Can Stress Cause False Pregnancy Symptoms?
Yes. Both psychological and physical issues can result in pseudocyesis, a false pregnancy. Stress is one of the main psychological factors that disrupts the body's hormonal balance. When you're stressed, your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol, which puts pressure on your adrenal glands and leads to an overproduction of androgens. This disruption triggers symptoms such as acne, sore breasts, missed periods, fatigue, and nausea—all symptoms that are similar to pregnancy.
How Common Is a False Pregnancy?
It only occurs in 1 to 2 women out of 22,000. Thus, it is extremely rare. Of the cases that do occur, they are predominately located in third world countries where childbearing is a necessary duty expected of all women. The pressure to produce children coupled with the lack of opportunities in other avenues of life lead to emotional stress, anxiety, and fantasies of pregnancy, all of which may result in pregnancy-like symptoms.
How to Stop a Phantom Pregnancy
According to Dr. Mark Trolice, an endocrinologist and infertility specialist, "Recovery may occur naturally, but women may experience labor pains prior to resolution." The best way to treat a false pregnancy is to confirm that your are not pregnant with an ultrasound and blood test. If you frequently experience pregnancy symptoms but you are otherwise healthy, then you may require counseling to gain perspective on why the disorder may be present.
Did you experience pregnancy symptoms and a negative test in your pregnancy?
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Did this hub help you with your problem?
- Rachel Gurevich, "Why Do I Feel Pregnant When I'm Not?" VeryWell. February 27, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2018.
- Trina Pagano, MD, "False Pregnancy (Pseudocyesis)" WebMD. August 03, 2016. Accessed March 8, 2018.
- Patrice Burgess, MD, "Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - Topic Overview," WebMD. Accessed March 8, 2018.
- "Pregnancy Symptom Alternatives," Americanpregnancy.org. February 03, 2017.
- "Phantom Pregnancy," Huggies. March 8, 2018.