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What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?

PMS symptoms

PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, and it’s classified as a “medical condition” that affects women in their reproductive years (during the years that you have a menstrual period). When a woman is PMSing, she’ll experience a wide variety of emotional and physical symptoms – including crazy mood swings, irritability, bloating, and food cravings.

An estimated 3 out of 4 women (who are menstruating) will experience some level of premenstrual syndrome. PMS tends to be peak when a woman is in her late 20s and early 30s.

For the most part, PMS symptoms usually occur in a predictable pattern. However, your premenstrual symptoms will vary from month to month. For example, in February, you may have the worst mood swings and horrible bloating, but no fatigue or changes in your eating habits. In March, you may have the worst fatigue and very intense food cravings.

Premenstrual (PMS) symptoms can start up to 2 weeks (14 days) before your period starts. Your PMS symptoms disappear when your monthly period begins. (Or they disappear 2-3 days after you start to menstruate.)

What Causes PMS?

Experts are not 100 percent sure what causes PMS. It’s believed that changes in hormonal levels that occur after ovulation contributes to your premenstrual symptoms. These hormonal fluctuations – specifically estrogen and progesterone – affect some women more than others; that’s why some women have worse PMS symptoms than others.

Fluctuations of serotonin – the neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating emotions and moods – also play a role in causing premenstrual syndrome. A lack of enough serotonin during the PMS time period (after ovulation and before your period arrives) can contribute to fatigue, sleep problems, food cravings, and PMS depression.

There have been some studies that indicate nutritional deficiencies can play a role in causing PMS symptoms. Low levels of vitamins and minerals, including a lack of enough vitamin B6, can contribute to PMS symptoms.

Although it’s a misconception that stress causes PMS, it doesn’t cause PMS. However, stress can make your PMS symptoms worse.

PMS Symptoms

There are many symptoms of PMS. Premenstrual syndrome comes with emotional and physical symptoms. Some women only feel slightly bloated during PMS, while unlucky women have extreme exhaustion, swollen and sore breasts, trouble concentrating irritability, and even nausea.

The list of PMS symptoms is long, but fortunately, most women only experience a handful of premenstrual symptoms every month. The severity of your symptoms will vary from month to month; some months will have milder symptoms, other months have the worst symptoms.

The most common symptoms of PMS include the following:

  • Acne and breakouts
  • Anger or aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Backaches
  • Bloating (abdomen, hands, feet)
  • Breast tenderness
  • Food Cravings
  • Change in Appetite; overeating, or lack of appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Crying spells
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue, or unexplained tiredness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Headache
  • Hot flashes
  • Irritability
  • Joint Pain
  • Nausea
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Moodiness, or mood swings
  • Muscle aches
  • Social withdrawal; don’t feel like being around people
  • Tension
  • Upset tummy
  • Weight gain due to water retention

Because PMS symptoms can mimic the early signs of pregnancy – fatigue, bloating, headaches, nausea, unexplained weight gain, emotional changes, swollen and sensitive breasts – if you think you may be pregnant, it’s important that you take a home pregnancy test on the day of your missed period.

For more on this topic, read PMS or Pregnancy?

PMS symptoms are annoying, but they aren’t severe enough to become interfering with your common life. When your PMS symptoms interfere with your ability to function in society – like at school, or at work – you may have a condition called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).

PMDD is a severe form of PMS. Symptoms of PMDD include severe depression, low self-esteem, panic attacks, extreme fatigue, irritability and tension, frequent crying spells, anger, feeling out of control, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness.

If you’ve noticed that your PMS symptoms occur at other times during the month (not just the week or two before your period arrives), your symptoms may be unrelated to PMS altogether. Premenstrual symptoms share similarities to thyroid disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, perimenopause, depression and anxiety.

Treatment for PMS

There’s no cure for PMS. It’s something that most women have to deal with every month. However, there are different ways that you can manage your symptoms. There is no one cure-all PMS remedy that works for every single woman. You have to try different PMS remedies and treatments to find the one that works best for you.

  • Exercise can help boost your mood and alleviate many of the emotional symptoms associated with PMS. If your PMS symptoms stem from low levels of serotonin, exercise is a great way to boost serotonin production and help you feel better. Moderate exercise (30 minutes a few times a week) can go a long way in relieving PMS symptoms.
  • Eating a Healthy Diet is also beneficial in helping treat PMS. Since PMS symptoms can be linked to a poor diet, eating a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein may help make your premenstrual symptoms a little milder.
  • Take a Daily Multivitamin if your eating habits aren’t the healthiest. A daily multivitamin should contain vitamin B6, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, calcium, and other beneficial vitamins and minerals that can ease your PMS symptoms.
  • Eat a Diet Rich in B-Vitamins – There have been a number of studies that have indicated that food that is rich in B vitamins can help reduce PMS symptoms. In one study that looked at the diet of over 2,000 women over a 10-year period found that women who ate a diet rich in riboflavin (vitamin B2) and thiamine (vitamin B1) were less likely to get PMS. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) foods include eggs, mushrooms, milk, almonds, broccoli, and spinach). Foods rich in thiamine (vitamin B1) include pork, lean meats, legumes, organ meats, peas, whole grains, pine nuts, pistachios, and pecans.
  • Finding Ways to Alleviate Stress may also help make your PMS symptoms less annoying. Stress can aggravate and make your premenstrual symptoms worse, so if you can find ways to de-stress, you may have an easier time when you are PMSing. Get a professional massage. Try yoga and relaxation exercises.
  • Reduce Caffeine, Salt, and Alcohol from your diet when you are PMSing. Limiting how much caffeine you consume can help you feel less irritable and less tense. It may also help reduce breast tenderness. Drinking alcohol during the two weeks before your period starts can help prevent PMS-related depression. In the week before your period begins, you can reduce fluid retention, weight gain, and bloating by avoiding salty foods.
  • Try PMS Tea. You can find special teas labeled “PMS Tea” at your local grocery store. These are herbal supplements that may help relieve some of your symptoms. PMS Tea is often made with a variety of herbs – such as dandelion root, chicory root, nettle leaf, parsley leaf, and other herbs – that may help give you some PMS relief.

If you can’t alleviate your symptoms using the above natural PMS remedies, you may want to talk to your doctor about what medicines may help you. There are a number of over-the-counter medications that you may want to try to reduce the severity of your PMS symptoms.

  • Midol and Pamprin are the brand names of certain medications that are marketed specifically to treat PMS. These “PMS medicines” typically combine a painkiller (like acetaminophen or aspirin) with caffeine (to help fight fatigue), diuretics (to reduce bloating), and antihistamines (to reduce irritability tension).

If over-the-counter PMS medications don’t help you, or if you prefer not to use them, you may want to talk to your doctor about birth control pills, which can help reduce the severity of PMS since they regulate hormones and prevent ovulation.

Antidepressants can also be used to help treat PMS, especially if your PMS symptoms include depression, anxiety, and severe irritability.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your PMS symptoms.

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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