This Guide will examine the main causes of premenstrual syndrome, its most common symptoms and how they might be tackled to ensure that your daily life prior to your menstrual period is as stress and pain-free as possible. It will demonstrate how some small lifestyle changes can make your normal activities that more comfortable before your period starts.
What is Premenstrual Syndrome?
Premenstrual Syndrome is a condition which affects many women prior to their menstrual cycles. It can take many forms; premenstrual syndrome symptoms can impact on both emotional and physical health. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) refers to a range of symptoms that women can experience weeks before their period. Most women will experience one or more of these premenstrual syndrome symptoms during their lifetime. These symptoms can include more mild symptoms like appetite changes, water retention, sleep problems, and tender breasts. Women can also experience a severe form of premenstrual syndrome symptoms that include mood disorders, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
Despite its prevalence, the exact cause of Premenstrual Syndrome is warmly debated however the consensus is that it is related to changes in hormone levels at the beginning of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Estrogen and progesterone levels increase and decrease during the month, and it is this variability which is thought to have a casual effect on physical pain, behavior, and emotion. Personal or family history may play a part in deciding who will experience Premenstrual Syndrome but heredity is not the main determinant.
It is this lack of a specific ‘cause’ which is the most frustrating aspect of Premenstrual Syndrome – symptoms are readily definable as we will shortly see but identifying the root cause or causes remains problematic. We know that symptoms are worse with hormonal changes but why does it seem to be more prevalent with women of childbearing age; pregnant women and those who take oral birth control pills? A multitude of causes leads to a multitude of symptoms as we shall now consider.
What are the PMS symptoms?
Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms can start up to two weeks before every menstruation; it is a medical condition therefore which can be both debilitating and incessant. Monthly symptoms may repeat themselves prior to each menstrual cycle or vary in their intensity.
The most common PMS symptoms include,
- Mood disorders and/or severe mood swings
- Anxiety, tension and/or difficulty concentrating
- Abdominal pain, back pain, constipation, tender breasts, and skin problems
- Other symptoms can include sleep problems, lethargy, migraines, changes in palate and food cravings.
It is widely recognized that Premenstrual Syndrome is an umbrella term used to explain the presence of an estimated one hundred symptoms which a woman could experience during the luteal phase (the time after ovulation and before the period starts) of her menstrual cycle.
How can we treat Premenstrual Syndrome?
Whilst we are aware of the potential symptoms associated with Premenstrual Syndrome there is not a single test to identify or diagnose it; rather there are a number of things that have been suggested which relieve PMS, identify risk factors, and can be applied to reduce symptoms.
In severe forms of PMS it may be appropriate to speak to your personal doctor who might provide medical advice to attempt to treat PMS; it might be appropriate to seek other treatments but for others small lifestyle changes can make a tangible difference for treating PMS.
…there is no ‘magic bullet’ to eradicate Premenstrual Syndrome…
Whilst there is no ‘magic bullet’ to eradicate Premenstrual Syndrome, we can attempt to relieve PMS symptoms. From an instant sugar fix to a hysterectomy there are a lot of things in between which can be used to ease PMS symptoms.
Our lifestyle directly impacts on our health. Not enough sleep, lack of aerobic exercise, too much caffeine or alcohol, stress or tobacco smoke can take its toll on our bodies. By reducing or ideally stopping our intake of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco most will notice an improvement in our ability to relax, sleep, and so too on our ability to ease PMS symptoms. Why not take up yoga or exercise regularly to help ease the physical pain caused by Premenstrual Syndrome as an alternative to drug administration – exercise can do wonders to reduce cramps!
Is your diet rich in good nutrients? Does it involve regular consumption of fruits, cereals, fibre, or delicious whole grain breads – if not you could be increasing your chances of experiencing more pms symptoms.
Where possible try and increase your complex carbohydrates intake; these pack a mightier punch than simple carbs and can positively affect your health. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits and can also have a positive effect on your blood sugar and cholesterol.
If you do not wish to cultivate your mineral and vitamin reserves via food alone it might be an idea to consider the use of dietary supplements. Taking supplements such as Calcium, Magnesium, Primrose Oil, and certain vitamins B6, B12, D and E have been shown to help Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms experienced by many women. A caveat, however, as always be mindful that supplements are just that, they should supplement your diet not replace it.
Premenstrual Syndrome: A necessary evil?
The vast majority of women would have experienced or more of the Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms we have discussed in this guide. There is no cure all that will alleviate all the symptoms, there is no magic antibiotic which will make the pain go away.
We can however take steps to target the specific symptoms which affect our monthly lives and help reduce the physical and mental pain which is associated with Premenstrual Syndrome. Adapting our lifestyles where necessary (including diet and exercise) and if necessary, helping our bodies rebalance with the use of dietary supplements.
Consider trying complimentary therapies such as reflexology or acupuncture to help both physical pain and mental anguish, relieve symptoms and promote relaxation.
If your symptoms are seriously damaging your ability to cope with daily activities on a monthly basis consider a medical consultation with your doctor and might suggest a number of interventions which could include the use of hormonal medicine like the contraceptive pill, water pills for edema, antidepressants which are effective at reducing mood symptoms or cognitive behavioral therapy, designed to help you rationalize and compartmentalize feelings and emotions.
Your journey to address Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms might be complicated and lengthy; the absence of a medical magic bullet to cure all evil may be frustrating but there are a number of things that might help reduce or relieve the symptoms. Premenstrual Syndrome should not be a monthly curse and one that you should face alone.
There are a number of excellent resources available online, some of which are listed below, and remember if you feel that symptoms cannot be managed, do seek help.
Premenstrual Syndrome – FAQ
What are PMS symptoms?
Symptoms can be diverse and differ between women and over time. They range from very physical pain such as sore breasts, backache, abdominal pain to anxiety and depression and even severe mental health concerns such as suicidal thoughts. It is estimated that there are around 100 symptoms that could be associated with Premenstrual Syndrome.
Why are my PMS symptoms getting worse with age?
Some women do experience more severe pms symptoms as they get older. The reasons for this are not particularly clear although one reason could potentially be that as women approach menopause, they are particularly sensitive to hormonal changes which exacerbate the Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms. The symptoms will obviously stop once a woman stops having a period.
Can you get PMS symptoms when pregnant?
Increased levels of Progesterone during pregnancy can create symptoms that are very similar to Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms. These symptoms can vary between women but often include mood changes, cramps, tender breasts and backpain.
How to reduce PMS symptoms naturally?
Small changes can make a big difference. Firstly, take care of your food intake – choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits, avoid caffeine and alcohol, take regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise. If possible, try to manage stress levels and undertake activities that promote relation – try a little yoga!
How long do PMS symptoms last?
As a rule of thumb, symptoms can begin around day fourteen to up seven days after bleeding begins.
How long do PMS symptoms last in early pregnancy?
Each pregnancy is different but as pregnancy symptoms can mirror Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms these can last throughout the pregnancy. You can attempt to manage and relieve symptoms during your pregnancy by ensuring you moderate or abstain from things like alcohol or tobacco, follow a balanced diet and stress.
How soon before your period do you get PMS symptoms?
Symptoms usually become apparent 14 days before your period starts.
How to differentiate between PMS and pregnancy symptoms?
There are certain symptoms which can be common to both such as cramping, back pain and tender breasts. However, there are certain differences. For example, Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms do not include bleeding when pregnancy symptoms might. Additionally, it is quite common for pregnancy symptoms to include nausea and vomiting in relation to food and diet – during pms you are more likely to experience increased appetite.
Why do I have PMS symptoms after my period?
Many women experience what has been coined as postmenstrual syndrome, which is a range of symptoms similar Premenstrual Syndrome which can involve sleeping difficulties, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings. The exact cause of these symptoms are unknown but could be linked to hormonal imbalances.
Why don’t I have PMS symptoms this month?
Symptoms may vary in severity and composition month by month. There appears to be no rationale for the changing nature of symptoms.
Why do PMS symptoms vary from month to month?
Whilst it is difficult to say how hormonal changes directly affect specific Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms, changes in lifestyle from month to month do tend to affect the severity or repetition of certain symptoms. For instance, if you experience a particularly stressful time, make changes to your diet or are particularly sedentary these elements might affect the Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms.
PMS – useful resources
If you would like more information on Premenstrual Syndrome and the symptoms associated with it the following resources may prove useful: