Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) consists of a variety of symptoms that a woman experiences prior to the start of the menstrual cycle each month. Symptoms and severity vary from woman to woman, and some women experience almost nonexistent PMS, while others experience severe symptoms that can even interfere with their ability to function. Regardless of the level of severity of a woman’s PMS symptoms, most PMS symptoms usually dissipate once the actual period begins, and shortly after it has started, in some cases.
Symptoms of PMS
There are many symptoms of PMS, and some women are lucky enough to suffer from no PMS symptoms at all. Here is a list of just some of the possible symptoms that a woman can experience, although most women are only bothered by a few symptoms each month:
- Abdominal bloating
- Water weight gain – some women can gain as much as 5 pounds during this time each month.
- Cravings – some women crave various foods as a result of PMS. Some common food cravings are chocolate, salty snacks, crunchy treats, and savory foods.
- Depression – this can include crying spells and isolation from social activities.
- Muscle and joint pain and acne
- Anxiety and tension
- Insomnia, fatigue, headaches, and breast tenderness
- Constipation or diarrhea.
Severe PMS Symptoms
Some women experience severe PMS symptoms, where they suffer from many of the typical symptoms of PMS simultaneously, or they experience a few of the symptoms, but at a more intense level. Some women with severe PMS symptoms suffer from a high number of symptoms as well as a more intense level. The cause of severe PMS is unclear, as some women simply experience higher levels of hormonal changes, which can cause more severe symptoms. Other women may suffer from underlying conditions in which a hormonal imbalance may be present. Additionally, a susceptibility to more severe PMS symptoms could be hereditary, related to diet, activity level, and even lifestyle.
Some women with severe PMS symptoms might actually suffer from an undiagnosed psychiatric illness, and the hormonal changes that occur pre-menstrually can make these psychiatric symptoms more prominent. PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) is the clinical term to describe feelings of severe depression, extreme anger, hopelessness and helplessness, as well as stress and anxiety, which occurs on a monthly basis, just prior to the menstrual cycle.
History of PMS
Unlike what many people may believe, PMS is not a term that has been recognized since the beginning of time. In fact, PMS symptoms have only been acknowledged by medical professionals for about 70 years. Prior to that, women that reported premenstrual discomforts were told to “deal with it” and that it was all in their heads. Many women were even accused of “faking it” for attention.
Robert Frank, a scientist and gynecologist, was the first person to publish written proof of the existence of PMS. His studies lead him to discover that many women experience excessive estrogen levels just prior to their menstrual cycles each month, which he noted is what causes many common PMS discomforts in women.
The actual term “PMS” was introduced in 1953, when Katharine Dalton, an English doctor, co-authored an article that appeared in the British Medical Journal. The article was written after Dalton and her partner performed extensive research on the abundance of symptoms that occur within a few days to two weeks of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The duo wanted to make the public aware of the existence of PMS.
There is no single test available to diagnose PMS. Most women are able to determine on their own that their symptoms are related to their periods, therefore “diagnosing” it themselves. If a woman is experiencing new symptoms, or symptoms that have increased in severity, then she should definitely see her doctor. The symptoms could possibly be caused by another condition which has nothing to do with her period.
Causes of PMS
Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes PMS. The cause in one woman may be totally different in another woman. Like many researchers have discovered, PMS symptoms can, in fact, be caused by high levels of estrogen. However, not every woman’s PMS symptoms is as a result of elevated estrogen levels. Researchers have been more successful at determining effective methods for alleviating PMS symptoms, rather than discovering a specific cause.
Treating PMS Symptoms
There is no one treatment for PMS, as treatment depends on a woman’s specific symptoms. Over-the-counter Ibruprofren or a similar NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) is good for cramps and any muscle or joint pain. Exercise, healthy dietary changes and ensuring that adequate levels of vitamins and minerals are great ways to reduce the effects of PMS. Heating pads, yoga, meditation and even Tylenol are some other good ways to combat PMS. Some women are able to enjoy relief by taking Midol, Pamprin and other over-the-counter medication that specifically treats a variety of PMS symptoms.
For severe PMS or PMDD, a woman should see her Ob/Gyn, so that any necessary tests can be taken to determine if there is an underlying cause of her symptoms. If the Ob/Gyn suspects that PMDD is the cause, then a referral to a psychiatrist will likely be made, since PMDD can be a very serious and potentially dangerous condition.
For some women, simply taking birth control pills can decrease PMS symptoms dramatically. The hormones in birth control pills have the ability to regulate the hormone levels in some women, therefore, alleviating PMS symptoms in the process. Birth control pills can be especially helpful for women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can cause a woman’s blood sugar levels to become elevated, facial hair to appear, in addition to many other symptoms. For these women, birth control pills can regulate their periods, which are often irregular, and relieve PMS symptoms simultaneously.
Natural Treatments for PMS
For women that desire to take a more natural approach to relieving PMS, there are various choices. For some women, simply increasing their intake of calcium can dramatically reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. Studies show that calcium has the ability to reduce a number of PMS symptoms. Calcium supplements are available, or if a woman prefers to consume calcium-containing foods, then she should focus on tofu, low fat milk, yogurt and cheese, broccoli, rice milk, raw cabbage, salmon and sardines. As long as 1,200 mg of calcium a day is consumed, the form does not matter.
For women looking to try herbal solutions for their PMS symptoms, there are several that have been proven to be helpful. Here is a list of just some of the most effective herbs to help combat PMS:
- Wild Yam – for women that suffer from PMS symptoms as a result of elevated estrogen levels, this herb has been touted as being quite effective.
- Lemon balm – this herb is great for reducing feelings of anxiety and tension, as it is very relaxing. It’s also great for insomnia, due to its sleep inducing properties.
- Black cohosh – this powerful herb can effectively combat the irritability and insomnia that often occurs as a result of PMS.
- Chromium – this mineral can curb appetite, especially for sweets, and it also has the ability to balance blood sugar levels, which have a tendency to fluctuate during the days leading up to menstruation.
PMS or Pregnancy?
Some women will experience PMS symptoms but no period ever comes. Sometimes it can be very difficult to determine if symptoms are as a result of PMS or pregnancy, since the symptoms are practically the same. For women with relatively regular menstrual cycles who begin to experience extended periods of PMS yet their period doesn’t come on time, then pregnancy may be suspected if she is sexually active.
A home pregnancy test can be taken if the period is a week or more late. Taking a home pregnancy test too soon can yield inaccurate results. Even tests like EPT and other “early” detection tests that claim a woman can determine if she’s pregnant up to four days prior to her expected period can’t always be relied upon. Sometimes if a woman is pregnant and implantation of the inseminated egg occurred later than expected, the HCG hormone won’t be within detectable range until at least a week after a missed period. For women that need to know immediately whether she is pregnant or not, a blood test can detect pregnancy in extremely early stages.
Unfortunately, for as many as 90% of women in their child-bearing years, PMS is something that must be dealt with on a monthly basis. However, there is no need to suffer from debilitating symptoms, as severe PMS symptoms can significantly reduce a woman’s quality of life. Whenever period symptoms that seem out of the norm occur, or that interfere with the ability to function, the assistance of a doctor should be sought. Just because women have periods each month doesn’t mean that they can’t be happy and healthy, even when it’s time for their menstrual cycles.