Premenstrual Symptoms (PMS) – Symptoms, causes, remedies

For most women, it may not be a big deal. For others…

“I hate the shape of your nose… I love you… Who Irons your shirts?… Chocolate… Today you are on the couch baby!…”

Quite confusing, huh?

For many women, days before their period are very hard, it may not just be tender breasts and a taste for sweets. If the signs of your coming period mess up your daily life (and the relationships around you), chances are high for premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

For starters, and many are not, or maybe, your period is a natural part of your life and your life can go on normally, doing things that you would do any other time in the month, but when it gets to PMS and it is a problem, there are many ways to manage it.

So, What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of changes (herein referred to as symptoms) that border physical, emotional and behavioural patterns that affect the normal you on many levels right before your periods begin. Once the periods set in, they go away. This combination of symptoms come in one or two weeks before the menstrual period.

For some women, the symptoms may be so pronounced to include bloating, frequent headaches and moodiness. Others may miss work or school. Women in their 30s are most likely to have PMS but medical practitioners can help on finding relief for the symptoms.

For most women, the symptoms are mild. 75 per cent of the women population agrees that they have had PMS at some point in their lives. PMS may get severe in the childbearing age and take a form known as the Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD affects only less than 5 per cent (one in 20) women of childbearing age.

PMS is more likely to set in if a woman experiences high-stress levels, especially with those that come from families with a history of depression. A personal history of depression or postpartum depression is also a risk factor for PMS.

PMS stops when you no longer have periods, especially at menopause, but the symptoms get worse and more sensitive perimenopause (in the 30s and 40s).

Symptoms of PMS

PMS symptoms are not constant for a woman. They are also different for every woman. These symptoms change throughout life and manifest themselves both physically and emotionally. The first thing to do is to seek a physician’s advice if the PMS symptoms affect your normal living in any way.

Physical Symptoms

  • Swollen or tender breasts
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Bloating or a gassy feeling
  • Cramping
  • A headache or a backache
  • Clumsiness
  • Lower tolerance for noise or light

Emotional and Mental Symptoms

  • Irritability or hostile behaviour
  • Feeling tired
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Appetite changes or food cravings
  • The trouble with concentration or memory
  • Tension or anxiety
  • Depression, feelings of sadness, or crying spells
  • Mood swings
  • Less interest in sex

Behavioural signs

  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of mental focus
  • Tiredness

While there are several signs and symptoms associated with PMS, it is very rare for a woman to experience more than a few of them. This does not mean that it is impossible for a woman to go all through these symptoms every month.

The symptoms of PMDD are a lot more severe and intense. If you do notice any of the symptoms mentioned below then it is possible that you suffer from PMDD:

  • Getting irritated, anxious or all worked up over the smallest thing
  • Low self-esteem, often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness
  • Alternating between severe depression and anger

It is best for you to consult a doctor in case you have not been very successful in controlling the symptoms or if they are affecting your day to day life.

Causes of PMS

Even though PMS is common in women, researchers are yet to understand the exact cause of the changes. They suggest that several changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle may play a role thus affecting different women differently.

There is no single test for PMS as well. The doctor only interrogates the symptoms of how and when they happen in relation to how much they affect your life. It is important to track the changes and how severe they are before you see your doctor.

There is a high likelihood that the symptoms are a result of PMS if the changes;

  • Happen in the five days before your period for at least three menstrual cycles in a row
  • End within four days after your period starts
  • Keep you from enjoying or doing some of your normal activities

Additionally, there are a number of conditions that affect PMS (not necessarily causing it). Some of the situations that make PMS worse include;

  • Smoking
  • Stress and depression
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Lack of enough sleep
  • Too much alcohol
  • Too much salt and sugar
  • Too much red meat
  • Women living with certain health problems e.g migraines, asthma, allergies may also realise that these problems aggravate a few days to their period.
How do you manage PMS

Fortunately, there are many ways in which your health care provider can help you to cope with and manage the discomfort and unpleasantness caused by PMS. Some of the medications prescribed for this purpose can include antidepressants, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), diuretics, oral contraceptives and medroxyprogesterone acetate. However, there are a few side effects that may be associated with such medications, which is why many women choose to avoid them. Fortunately, you could follow a few self-care steps too, to achieve positive results in controlling the symptoms of PMS.

One of the first steps in reducing PMS is alleviating the levels of stress in the body. In order to do so, you could:

  • Ensure that you get adequate amounts of sleep and rest during the day.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, meditation.
  • Choose to go through massage therapy, especially a head massage, which has a highly relaxing effect on the body.
  • Engage in any hobby that can help you feel calmer and relaxed, even if it is something like reading, painting or listening to music.

Apart from sleep, rest and relaxation, it is important for you to get the required amount of exercise during the day too. You do not need to exercise for hours together; exercising for around 30 to 40 minutes a day can be just as beneficial. Some of the most beneficial exercises you can engage in are walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or any other similar aerobic exercises.

Herbal remedies are also known to relieve the symptoms of PMS to a great extent. Some of the most effective herbs that you can choose from include ginger, black cohosh, chaste berry dandelion, raspberry leaf and evening primrose oil. Drinking a few cups of herbal tea at regular intervals during the day is also said to be very helpful. However, the effectiveness of herbal remedies for PMS has still not been proved, due to the lack of scientific studies.

Diet for PMS

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Many women claim that they reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of PMS by making a few simple dietary adjustments. Given below are some of the changes that you can incorporate in your existing diet, to alleviate PMS:

  • Limit your intake of salt, as it aggravates water retention and leads to bloating
  • Make sure that you eat smaller meals during the day. Eating 5 to 6 small meals instead of 3 large ones will make it less likely for you to experience bloating and energy fluctuations
  • Avoid tea, coffee, aerated drinks or alcohol, as they aggravate the symptoms of PMS
  • Increase your intake of foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. At the same time, simple carbs found in sweets and refined foods should be reduced or strictly avoided.
  • Consume a higher amount of foods rich in calcium, in the form of milk and other dairy products like plain yoghurt and cottage cheese. For any reason, if your diet is low in calcium, you may need to add a supplement to your diet.
  • Eat foods that are high in nutrients like magnesium, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E.

However, there is no clinical evidence to prove that a diet can indeed improve the condition in any way.

Before trying any of the home remedies or dietary recommendations, it is important to consult a doctor and seek his/her approval. This is all the more important if you are elderly or are suffering from any preexisting medical condition. In case you do not get any relief from the uncomfortable symptoms of PMS after trying the remedies recommended or after incorporating the lifestyle and dietary adjustments it may be best to consult a doctor and seek professional help.

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