Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

What is Premenstrual Syndrome?

Premenstrual Syndrome is also called PMS. In countries like the UK, it is called premenstrual tension or PMT. An estimated 85 percent of women experience at least one symptom of it during their menstruating years. The good news is that it goes away with menopause. The bad news is that there is no cure, but symptoms are often treatable.

It is unknown what causes PMS and why it does not happen to all women. There are theories that point at the hormonal roller-coaster ride women go on every 20 days as culprit, combined with other problems like stress, eating a diet poor in vital nutrients, drinking too much alcohol or eating too much salty foods.

What are the Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome?

Symptoms of PMS begin usually 5 days before a period starts. Some women experience symptoms a week before their period. Women many suffer from one or more symptoms.

Common symptoms include bloating, irritability, cries more easily than usual, sudden outbreak of acne, painfully swollen breasts, backache, headaches (including a particular type of migraine called a menstrual migraine), strong food cravings, joint aches similar to arthritis, depression with or without anxiety.

Uncommon symptoms include a worsening of a woman’s chronic health condition like asthma, migraines, seizure disorders like epilepsy and allergy attacks.

Severe depression that occurs during PMS is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder and can lead to suicide if left untreated.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Causes

PMS appears to be caused by fluctuating hormone levels that occur just before menstruation. Estrogen and progesterone levels routinely rise and fall throughout the menstrual cycle, and they cause a whole host of physical changes throughout the body. They can also affect the balance of chemicals in the brain which affect our mood.

Serotonin is one such chemical which controls our mood; when serotonin levels are high, we feel happy, and when they’re low, we can feel sad. If serotonin fluctuates in response to changing hormone levels, then it’s understandable that our mood can swing up and down.

There can be other factors involved in PMS. Some research has found that women who are obese tend to have more severe PMS than others. It’s also common for PMS symptoms to worsen when we become stressed. Furthermore, our diet can influence PMS too; alcohol and caffeinated drinks can disrupt our normal energy levels and mood and may therefore exacerbate symptoms.

How is Premenstrual Syndrome Treated?

Although incurable, PMS can often be treated successfully with diet and lifestyle changes. Regular exercise, quitting smoking, a healthier diet and reducing or quitting drinking help eases symptoms. Learning other ways to reduce stress besides smoking, eating or taking illegal drugs can also help the psychological symptoms.

Severe symptoms are treated separately, such as painkillers to help with joint aches and triptans to help ease migraine pain. Diuretics or “water pills” can be taken to help reduce bloating. Antidepressants may be necessary for women who do not have premenstrual dysphoric disorder but still get very depressed or anxious before their periods.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Prevention

There are a few tactics which might help to prevent PMS or at least reduce the severity of symptoms. Firstly, antidepressants may be used to help increase serotonin levels and alleviate the low moods common during PMS. However, medications like this are usually only reserved for very extreme cases of PMS. In some cases, contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapies may be used to ease the fluctuations in hormones which could help to alleviate PMS.

It may be possible to control PMS symptoms through diet. Eating smaller meals more frequently and consuming less salt can help to alleviate fluid retention and bloating, which are common symptoms of PMS. Calcium is also known to help improve PMS, so eating foods rich in calcium, such as dairy products, may also alleviate symptoms.

Exercise is known to help alleviate PMS because it helps to boost serotonin levels and therefore improves mood. Plus, it can help to alleviate stress which could be exacerbating symptoms.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018