If you dread the week (or weeks) leading up to your period, you are not alone. According to Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, up to 30% of women experience unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms just before menstruating. For some women the problem is worse than for others and can significantly affect their quality of life.
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is the name used to describe the range of physical and emotional symptoms that many women experience in the lead-up to their period. These symptoms usually start around four to ten days prior, and usually stop once bleeding begins.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more serious form of PMS which affects around three to eight percent of menstruating women. These women have severe PMS symptoms that interfere with daily life.
Symptoms vary from one woman to the next but may include:
Physical: fluid retention, bloating, swollen and tender breasts, skin breakouts, headaches and/or migraines, tiredness and fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, food cravings, constipation and/or diarrhoea, poor coordination or clumsiness and aches and pains.
Emotional: irritability, anxiety and nervous tension, difficulties concentrating, reduced libido, mood swings, depression, reduced coping ability, reduced interest in work and social life and wanting to be alone.
While the symptoms of PMS are similar to those of depression, they improve once menstruation begins, whereas the symptoms of depression don’t.
No-one knows the exact cause of PMS or why some women are affected more than others. It is likely the result of complex interactions between certain chemicals in the brain and hormone levels. What we do know is that symptoms are related to ovulation – you don’t get them when ovulation doesn’t occur or after menopause. Factors such as stress, physical health, genetics, weight and smoking may all affect the risk of experiencing PMS.
There are some things you can do yourself to help in managing and reducing your symptoms of PMS. These include:
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing stress levels and getting enough sleep and rest
- Eating a healthy diet incorporating plenty of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains and limiting salt intake.
- Not smoking
- Cutting down on caffeine, especially if you suffer from breast tenderness
- Trying relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation
However, if your symptoms persist and interfere with daily activities see your doctor to discuss other treatment options, or ask for a referral to a gynaecologist with expertise in PMS