Bloating, mood swings and the uncontrollable urge to eat your weight in chocolate – not only are PMS symptoms unattractive, they usually grace us at the most inconvenient times.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects roughly 75 percent of women. Fortunately, Jessica Fischer DO, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Premier Obstetrics and Gynecology, reminds women that with the right lifestyle changes or medications, it’s possible to manage symptoms.
PMS: What is It?
Premenstrual syndrome refers to a wide range of symptoms that occur during the second half your menstrual cycle (14 days or more after the first day of your last period). Symptoms usually go away one or two days after menstruation begins.
While the exact cause of PMS has not been determined, “we think it’s usually just due to fluctuations in your hormones that can cause these changes,” Dr. Fischer points out.
Common PMS Symptoms
PMS symptoms can be physical or mental, and often get worse in a woman’s late 30s and 40s, as she approaches the transition to menopause.
Physical PMS symptoms may include:
- Bloating or gas
- Breast tenderness
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Food cravings
- Skin problems
Mental PMS symptoms may include:
- Changes in interest in sex
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems (too much or too little)
On the other hand, experiencing lower abdominal pain or cramps during your period is usually caused by another menstrual disorder known as dysmenorrhea.
When Should I See My Doctor About PMS Symptoms?
While almost everyone experiences PMS symptoms to some degree, Dr. Fischer says the real problem occurs when symptoms start impacting your daily life; for example, calling in sick for work or missing a social function.
Severe PMS, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), is a type of PMS that occurs when you experience symptoms like depression, irritability and tension on a more drastic level. “Sometimes it’s even so severe that people have suicidal thoughts or want to hurt themselves,” she explains.
Is PMS a Myth?
Recent studies have been claiming that attributing mood swings, like irritability or depression, to PMS may actually be a myth.
What’s Dr. Fischer’s take? “It depends on the timing.” She says if these types of symptoms are occurring during the days leading up to your period, you can probably blame PMS; however, if they are occurring throughout the rest of your cycle, it may be another health issue.
Ways to Deal with PMS Symptoms
Tip #1: Meditate
Dr. Fischer's first suggestion is to participate in relaxing activities like yoga, meditation or breathing exercises. She says “whatever you can do to try and relieve some of that tension or stress,” is usually very beneficial for easing PMS symptoms.
Tip #2: Get Moving
Similarly, regular exercise is another way to reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, especially mood swings and bloating. Physical activity may also boost energy levels.
Tip #3: Eat a Nutritious Diet
While Dr. Fischer has not seen a significant amount of research supporting the theory that certain foods alleviate symptoms, she says eating a balanced, healthy diet is always recommended. “Calcium, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and magnesium may have some efficacy, but there aren’t great studies,” she admits. These nutrients can be found in:
Tip #4: Ask Your Doctor About Medications
If implementing healthy lifestyle changes doesn’t work, Dr. Fischer may prescribe a medication. Because PMS is likely caused by a hormonal imbalance, a neurotransmitter imbalance (chemical messengers in your brain), in particular, taking an anti-depressant, like Zoloft, may help ease symptoms. “It’s the same kind of mechanism for people with depression or anxiety,” she says. “They have an imbalance in some chemicals in their brain, and that’s why those types of medications work.”
Anti-depressants may either be taken continuously, or just during the phase of your menstrual cycle when you are experiencing PMS symptoms.