What is Premenstrual Syndrome?
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) can be defined as a wide variety of co-occurring symptoms during the days (or weeks) leading up to a monthly period. There can be both emotional and physical symptoms, but the specific combination of symptoms is different for every woman. These symptoms vary in severity but can often be debilitating and interfere with daily functioning. According to the Office on Women’s Health, 90% of women report experiencing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome?
As previously noted, there are a variety of signs and symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome. These symptoms can be separated into two categories, physical and emotional symptoms:
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Headache or backache
- Weight gain
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Joint or muscle pain
- Acne flare-ups
- Swollen hands and feet
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Light or noise sensitivity
- Alcohol intolerance
- Sleep disturbances (insomnia, oversleeping)
- Changes in appetite (overeating, undereating)
- Food cravings
- Difficulty focusing
- Elevated feelings of anxiety or stress
- Feelings of sadness, depression, or crying
- Mood swings
- Changes in libido
If you experience any of these, speak to your medical provider about possible medical interventions to manage the discomfort.
Causes of Premenstrual Syndrome
The exact cause of premenstrual syndrome is unknown. But there are several explanations for what can contribute to the condition. According to Mayo Clinic, some factors include:
There are cyclical changes that impact your hormone levels, including during the experience of puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. This can impact how PMS symptoms manifest.
Brain chemical changes:
Changes in the level of serotonin have been related to the triggering of certain PMS symptoms. Serotonin plays a key role in managing mood states; therefore, depleting it can elevate PMS symptoms like depression, fatigue, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances.
Some women with severe Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) have preexisting or undiagnosed depression that is elevated during the time leading up to their period.
In addition, some conditions can affect premenstrual syndrome, but do not cause it.
According to WebMD, the experience of PMS can be brought on, and symptoms can worsen if you:
- Experience elevated levels of stress and anxiety
- Do not exercise regularly
- Experience sleep deprivation
- Consume a large amount of alcohol
- Consume a large amount of salt, sugar, or red meat
Does PMS Impact Other Health Problems?
Yes, premenstrual syndrome can impact other health problems. Women with preexisting health problems may find that premenstrual syndrome may worsen their symptoms prior to their period.
Some of these conditions include chronic migraine headaches, asthma and allergies. Moreover, some health problems share many symptoms with PMS:
Depression and anxiety disorders:
There are many overlapping emotional symptoms with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), which may worsen before or during your period.
Chronic fatigue syndrome/Myalgia encephalomyelitis (ME):
Women with these diagnoses are more likely to have extreme fatigue and weakness prior to their period and heavier menstrual bleeding during their period.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):
Women with IBS experience even more elevated symptoms of cramping, bloating, and gas leading up to their period.
Bladder pain syndrome:
Women with this condition will likely experience painful cramps during PMS.
How to Alleviate Symptoms of PMS?
Although symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome cannot be completely alleviated, there are many ways to manage PMS symptoms.
Exercising just 30 minutes a day can help relieve symptoms of bloating, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
Make healthy choices with food:
Eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and calcium-rich foods (salmon, leafy greens, dairy products) are good choices for better managing PMS. Drinking a sufficient amount of fluids is important as well. Avoiding overindulging in things like alcohol, caffeine, salt, and sugar may reduce PMS symptoms.
Get sufficient sleep:
Eight hours of sleep is a good rule of thumb, as lack of sleep can be associated with higher depression, anxiety, and moodiness before your period.
Manage stress and anxiety:
Find healthy ways to manage these emotions, which can include talking to a friend, writing in a journal, doing yoga or meditation, or engaging in talk therapy.
According to the Office of Women’s Health, studies have shown that women who smoke report more PMS symptoms than women who do not.
Incorporate vitamins and minerals:
Taking vitamins and minerals like vitamin B-6, Vitamin E, Calcium, folic acid, and magnesium have been found to reduce PMS symptoms, but it is important to check in with your doctor before incorporating any new supplements.
Frequently Ask Questions
Many medications can help alleviate PMS symptoms, both over the counter and prescription. These include:
Over the counter (pain relief):
- Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Aspirin
- Hormonal birth control: Helps to contain the physical symptoms of PMS, such as cramps, headaches, or body aches
- Anti-anxiety medication: May reduce elevated feelings of anxiety or stress during PMS
- Antidepressants: Helps to relieve the emotional symptoms of PMS (specifically, SSRIs like Zoloft or Prozac are common)
- Diuretics: Help to manage water retention and reduce symptoms of bloating, weight gain, and breast tenderness
According to Healthline, PMS typically begins right after ovulation if you have a typical length cycle. PMS symptoms are most common a week before your period and last until about a week after menstruation.
It is a good time to reach out to a doctor about PMS when PMS symptoms become severe enough to disrupt your regular routine on a monthly basis. If you have not been able to relieve PMS symptoms through the lifestyle changes above, it may also be time to see a doctor.
The information on this page, or elsewhere on this site, is not intended to take the place of diagnosis, treatment or informed advice from a qualified mental health professional. You should not take or avoid any action without consultation with the latter.
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Higuera, V. (2022, January 28). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): Causes, symptoms, and treatment. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/premenstrual-syndrome#treatment
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, February 25). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premenstrual-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20376780
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). (2018, March 16). Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
Premenstrual syndrome – what is PMS? physical and emotional symptoms. (2021, September 13). WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/women/pms/what-is-pms