What is PMS?
Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is also called pre-menstrual tension (PMT) and is a term used to describe the broad range of symptoms that many women develop during the second half of the cycle.
PMS includes a whole range of symptoms and it is estimated that up to 75% of women experience one or more of them every month. These can include
irritability and aggression
bloating of the abdomen
PMS symptoms are most often experienced by women in their 20s and 30s, although all women who have periods are susceptible to PMS. For most women, the symptoms cause only mild-to-moderate discomfort or difficulties, but in some cases PMS can be severe. This is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
What causes PMS?
PMS is probably your body’s response to changing hormone levels associated with your menstrual cycle although nobody really knows its actual cause. It is also thought that chemical changes in the brain might be involved in PMS, and that diet may have an impact (especially salty foods and caffeinated drinks).
How do I know if I have PMS?
There are various ways to diagnose PMS, but no definitive test for it. There are also other medical problems with similar symptoms to PMS, so you might want to make an appointment to see your doctor to ease any concerns you may have about it.
To help you or your doctor diagnose PMS, it’s worth keeping a diary for 3 or 4 months and jotting down any physical and mental symptoms that you have, together with your days of bleeding. It’s useful to make a note of how you are feeling every day. After 3 or 4 months, you’ll probably be able to recognise a pattern of symptoms. Although the pattern may vary from cycle to cycle, women with PMS tend to notice that their symptoms stop very quickly once their period actually starts. Another pattern that might help your doctor to diagnose PMS is if you have a week during your cycle when you have no symptoms at all.
What can I do to relieve my symptoms?
There are a number of options open to you for relieving your symptoms, but it can take some trial and error to find a method that works best for you.
Some of the most straightforward things that have been shown to help are to make sure you drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet. It’s a good idea to include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and reduce the amounts of salt, sugar and processed foods that you eat. Many women find that avoiding caffeine (commonly found in tea, coffee and cola) and alcohol when they have PMS can reduce some symptoms. Taking supplements of vitamin B6 and evening primrose oil has additionally been suggested as a possible way or reducing PMS symptoms.
Regular exercise can also help, mainly because exercise reduces stress and tension and can lift your mood. If you are suffering from PMS, you might find that walking, swimming or running reduces your symptoms – try for 30 minutes, 3 times a week.
If these simple lifestyle changes are not helping to manage your PMS, your doctor might consider prescribing the contraceptive pill, which has been shown to help. Your doctor might also consider other hormonal therapies and, in cases where the PMS is extreme, may prescribe antidepressants.
Whatever your experience with PMS, it is useful to understand more about when you are experiencing symptoms and what those symptoms are.