Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman’s emotions, physical health, and behavior during certain days of the menstrual cycle, generally just before her menses.
PMS symptoms start five to 11 days before menstruation and typically go away once menstruation begins. The cause of PMS is unknown. However, many researchers believe that a change in hormone levels at the beginning of the menstrual cycle may be to blame. Levels of estrogen and progesterone increase during certain times of the month. An increase in these hormones can cause mood swings, anxiety, and irritability.
Did You Know?
PMS symptoms affect up to 85 percent of menstruating women.
Risk factors for premenstrual syndrome include:
a history of depression or mood disorders, such as postpartum depression or bipolar disorder
family history of PMS
a family history of depression
Part 2 of 6: Symptoms
Symptoms of PMS
The average woman’s menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. Ovulation (when an egg is released from the ovaries) occurs on day 14 of the cycle. Menstruation (bleeding) occurs on day 28 of the cycle. PMS symptoms can begin around day 14 and last until seven days after the start of menstruation.
Symptoms of PMS are usually mild or moderate. The severity of symptoms can vary by individual and by month. Symptoms of PMS include:
abdominal bloating and pain
food cravings (especially sweets)
sensitivity to light or sound
changes in sleep patterns
depression or sadness
Part 3 of 6: Visiting the Doctor
When Should You Visit the Doctor?
If physical pain, mood swings, and other symptoms start to affect your daily life, or if your symptoms don’t go away, you should make a doctor’s appointment to have yourself checked for other medical conditions.
Your doctor may ask about any history of depression or mood disorders in your family to determine whether your symptoms are the result of PMS or another condition. Some conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, and pregnancy, have symptoms similar to PMS. Your doctor may do a thyroid hormone test to ensure that your thyroid gland is working properly, a pregnancy test, and perhaps a pelvic exam to check for any gynecological problems.
Keeping a symptom diary is another way to determine if you have PMS. Use a calendar to keep track of your symptoms and menstruation every month. If your symptoms start around the same time each month, PMS is a likely cause.
Part 4 of 6: Treatment
Easing the Symptoms of PMS
You can’t cure PMS, but you can take steps to ease your symptoms. If you have a mild or moderate form of premenstrual syndrome, treatment options include:
drinking plenty of fluids to ease abdominal bloating
eating a balanced diet to improve your overall health and energy level (eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and reduce your intake of sugar, salt, caffeine, and alcohol)
taking supplements, such as folic acid, vitamin B-6, calcium, and magnesium to reduce cramps and mood swings
sleeping at least eight hours each night to improve fatigue
getting plenty of exercise to decrease bloating and improve your mental health
You can take pain medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, to alleviate muscle aches, headaches, and stomach cramping. You can also try a diuretic to stop bloating and water weight gain. Take medications and supplements only as directed and after speaking with your doctor.
Part 5 of 6: Severe PMS
Severe PMS: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Severe PMS symptoms are rare. Some of the small number of women who have severe symptoms have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD affects between 3 and 8 percent of women.