Premenstrual Syndrome - PMS

What is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?

O, the joys of PMS! I know, I know, it’s like, who hasn’t heard of someone “pms-ing”? PMS though can be a very serious problem for some women. The majority of us may get the all too common cramping and tenderness, and a bit of a mood change, but some women have severe side effects to PMS. The major majority of women out there have tender breasts, bloating, and muscle aches a few days before they start their menstrual periods. These are all types of normal premenstrual symptoms, which affect every woman. But when they begin to affect your day-to-day life, they are called premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS can affect your body as well as your mood. Sometimes it can even make you change the way you act. Some women first get PMS in their early teens or 20’s. Others don't get it till around their 30’s. The symptoms may gradually get worse in your late 30’s and 40’s, as some women begin to approach premenopause.

What causes PMS?
PMS is linked to the natural hormonal changes that happen regularly during your menstrual cycle. Doctors still do not fully know why premenstrual symptoms are worse in some women than in others. They do know however that for many women, PMS severity runs in the family. I know so not fair! Not getting enough vitamin B6, calcium, or magnesium in the foods you eat can also increase your chances of getting PMS. High stress, a lack of exercise, and too much caffeine can make your symptoms worse too.

What are the symptoms of PMS?
PMS symptoms can affect your body, your mood, and how you act in just the days or up to a week leading up to your menstrual cycle.

Some physical signs include:

  • Acne.
  • Bloating and tender breasts.
  • Food cravings.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Cramps.
  • Headaches.
  • Lower back and abdominal pain.

When you have PMS, you might also:

  • Feel sad, angry, or anxious.
  • Be less alert or attentive.
  • Find it harder to focus on the tasks dealt to you.
  • Want to withdraw from family, friends or co-workers.
  • Act in a forceful or hostile way against others.

PMS symptoms can be mild or strong. (If your symptoms are severe, you may have premenstrual dysphoric disorder – PMDD. But PMDD is very rare.)

How is PMS diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask particular questions about your symptoms and do a physical examination. It’s important to make sure that your symptoms aren't caused by something else, like thyroid disease for instance.

Your doctor will want you to track your symptoms for 2 to 3 months by keeping a written record of how you feel.

How is PMS treated?
A few lifestyle changes will hopefully help you feel better. Eating healthier foods, exercising at least 3 times a week, and taking vitamin B6 and extra calcium or other doctor recommended supplements. Limiting the intake of caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, and salt will also help. If you smoke, quit! For pain, try aspirin, ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medicine a period specific medicine like Midol. You will likely feel some relief from your symptoms after a few menstrual cycles. If you don't, talk to your doctor directly. He or she can prescribe medicine for many PMS problems, such as bloating. There are other drugs you can take for more severe PMS symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can relieve both physical and emotional symptoms for PMS sufferers. Most women feel better after taking a low dose every day or only on premenstrual days. Another treatment choice for moderate to severe symptoms is a type of birth control pill. This would be an option that you would need to more specifically in detail consult with you doctor about. If you are taking medicine for PMS, talk with your doctor about birth control. Some medicines for PMS can cause birth defects if you take them while you are pregnant.

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