About 80% of menstruating women get premenstrual syndrome (PMS) - unpleasant physical or psychological changes in the week before periods. For most women the symptoms are mild, but a small proportion have severe PMS which disrupts work and home life.
The common symptoms of PMS include:
· Depression, anxiety and irritability.
· Breast swelling and tenderness.
· Abdominal bloating and constipation.
· Fluid retention.
· Headaches, muscle aches, poor concentration, clumsiness and food cravings.
The symptoms of PMS settle once the period is over, leaving a symptom-free stage in the monthly cycle. Keeping a diary of your symptoms for 2 or 3 months can help to identify your complaints and link the timing of symptoms to your periods.
How is PMS treated?
The exact cause of PMS is not known, however effective treatments are available. A healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management are important. Try to reduce stress at home and at work before periods.
· A daily calcium supplement (1200mg calcium carbonate) significantly reduces PMS symptoms and also protects bones.
· Vitex agnus castus, a herbal extract from the chasteberry tree, is also of proven benefit and has a low rate of side effects.
· Some antidepressants (SSRIs) are effective in low doses for more severe cases.
· The contraceptive pill, anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. naproxen), fluid tablets and vitamin B6 are also sometimes used. Evening primrose oil is usually not effective.