Overview and Facts
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is a condition that causes a variety of symptoms such as mood swings, food cravings and irritability just before a menstrual period. Since it is related to menstruation, it happens in women of childbearing age, but it peaks for women in their late 20s and early 30s. About three out of every four menstruating women experience some symptoms of PMS. For some, these symptoms are psychical, and for others, they are psychological. They vary from woman to woman, and for each woman, some months their symptoms may be particularly intense, and in other months, symptoms may be barely noticeable.
Signs and Symptoms
There are many different symptoms of PMS, and they range from being physical to emotional. These PMS symptoms will vary from woman to woman. Up to 85% of women will experience some of these PMS symptoms during menstruation, and for up to 10%, these symptoms can be very severe. Severe PMS symptoms can sometimes interfere with daily life
Common PMS symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Tenderness in breasts
- Feeling bloated
- Craving certain foods or eating more than usual
- Being irritable or depressed
- Experiencing mood swings
- Gaining weight
- Acting overly aggressive
- Being extra emotional or tearful
Causes and Diagnosis
There are several factors that play a role in causing PMS. There is no single cause, but rather a group of things that happen related to fluctuating levels of hormones that are thought to cause PMS.
- Hormonal changes: PMS symptoms seem to correlate with fluctuating levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone that occur during the menstruation process.
- Stress. Being stressed or having anxiety can trigger PMS symptoms.
- Chemical changes in the brain. It is thought that PMS can be triggered when levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, change. Serotonin plays a role in mood, so having low levels of serotonin can cause PMS symptoms such as depression, fatigue and sleep disturbances.
- Poor nutrition. Certain PMS symptoms can be linked to a bad diet, one that is low in vitamins. An overly salty diet can cause bloating, and drinking alcohol and caffeine can disturb energy levels and mood.
There is not a test to diagnose PMS. And for most women, they know their usual symptoms and body changes that occur before their period. If your symptoms prompt you to see a doctor, you may be asked to keep a diary of symptoms for a few months. In this diary, you will record what physical and psychological symptoms you experience and how long they last. When the diary period is over, it will be easier to identify trends in PMS symptoms. A doctor may also perform some other tests on you to rule out other conditions that yield symptoms similar to PMS, such as thyroid disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines and depression.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology determines someone to have PMS if:
- Symptoms occur in the two weeks before menstruation begin (which is the last two weeks of the cycle)
- Symptoms are beginning to affect quality of daily life
- A doctor has concluded that no other conditions are responsible for causing symptoms
Tests and Treatment Options
Since PMS is a syndrome that occurs when hormones fluctuate during the menstruation cycle, PMS treatment focuses on providing relief from PMS symptoms. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin may help relieve PMS symptoms like headaches, cramps and breast tenderness. If PMS symptoms are more along the lines of depression, an antidepressant may be used as PMS treatment. Diuretics can help the body shed excess water, which aids in the relief of PMS symptoms such as bloating.
Helpful Tips and Home Remedies
Though PMS can’t be prevented, women can find relief when these monthly symptoms come around. In general, following a healthy lifestyle makes PMS much more manageable.
- Get plenty of exercise, at least 30 minutes daily on most days of the week
- Take a multivitamin
- Follow a healthy diet – limit salty foods and choose foods rich in calcium and complex carbohydrates
- Reduce stress by getting plenty of sleep and practicing relaxation techniques
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine