What is PMS?

Premenstrual Syndrome - PMS

PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome – it’s the combination of symptoms that some women suffer from a week or so before their period.

Symptoms appear before your period starts (as much as five days) and will disappear during your period.

Affecting both body and brain, their intensity can also vary wildly from woman to woman.

PMS symptoms normally include:

  • Cramps
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Backaches
  • Bloating
  • Angry outbursts or irritability
  • Mild depression
  • Skin problems

What causes PMS?

Scientists and physicians are still trying to determine the exact cause of PMS. What is clear is that it is related to the body’s hormone shifts.

How do you know it's PMS?

Some people may wonder if premenstrual syndrome isn’t just a term invented by the media, but it’s a real condition caused by hormonal changes – so it deserves a little more understanding.

To work out whether you’re really suffering from PMS, you’ll need to keep a journal or calendar record of your PMS symptoms for at least two to three months and rate their severity. If you feel rotten for only the five or so days before your period starts through the first four days or so of your period, it’s likely you’re suffering from PMS. Double-check with your doctor that nothing else is amiss.

Diagnosing PMS

If you’re wondering whether you have PMS, the best way is to keep a daily diary of your PMS symptoms for at least two to three months throughout your menstrual cycle. Make a note of when you feel the symptoms and their severity – both emotional and physical. Also note how long they last.

Your doctor may want to rule out other disorders first before confirming you have PMS, as many symptoms of PMS are similar to those of other underlying conditions. They may ask you to have a physical or a pelvic exam to rule out any gynecological problems.

Another possibility: PMDD

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a condition in which a woman has severe depression symptoms, irritability, and tension before menstruation. The symptoms of PMDD are more severe than those seen with PMS. If during the week or so before your period, you frequently find yourself feeling overwhelmed, tense, anxious, or on edge, frequently cry or are constantly irritable and angry so that you cause conflict with other people, you may be suffering from PMDD. Though many of the symptoms are similar, PMDD is distinguished from depression by the cyclical pattern and the typical physical symptoms of PMS.

Estimated to afflict 3% to 8% of women, PMDD is a severely distressing and disabling condition that interferes with your daily interactions at work, home, school and socially. It requires treatment, which may include changes to a healthier lifestyle, taking antidepressants, or cognitive behavioral therapy used with or instead of antidepressants. Sometimes treatments may also include birth control pills, diuretics, nutritional supplements, pain relievers, or even medicines that suppress the ovaries and ovulation. So consult your doctor if you think you could have PMDD.

For advice, help and support on all aspects of PMS, visit the www.womenshealth.gov