The Curse. Aunt Flow. Mother Nature’s Monthly Gift.
Whatever you call it, you’re probably not thrilled with it. Legendary country singer Dolly Parton even wrote a song about it. She called it “PMS Blues,” singing, “I got those God almighty, slap somebody PMS blues….” (Check it out on YouTube if you like.)
Premenstrual syndrome is the official name for everything women go through before their monthly menstrual period stars, with some of those symptoms continuing on through the cycle. For many, though, “syndrome” doesn’t quite describe it.
Instead, it’s more like a condition, an illness, or something akin to the flu. Many women just plain don’t feel good, don’t feel like themselves, and wish the time would go by as quickly as possible.
It may help some to laugh about it. After all, it does happen once a month, generally, and women have to deal with it. But for many, it’s no laughing matter, and finding solutions is critical to being able to go about their normal lives.
What Is PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is considered a medical condition that affects women of childbearing age. Definitions usually describe it as a predictable set of disturbing physical and emotional symptoms that occur in relationship to the menstrual period, typically in the one-to-two weeks leading up to it.
Physical symptoms may include the following:
- Breast tenderness
- Headaches and migraines
- Acne flare-ups
- Sleeping disturbances
- Food cravings
PMS can also cause emotional symptoms, including the following:
- Stress and anxiety
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Crying spells
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes it. They understand it comes around as hormones change to prepare the female body for menstruation, but they’re not sure why some women seem to suffer more severe symptoms than others, or why the cycle can cause uncomfortable symptoms at all.
There are some theories that the hormonal changes may cause chemical changes in the brain that lead to symptoms of PMS, and that diet may also play a part in the severity of those symptoms.
What is PMDD?
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form of PMS, with symptoms that significantly disrupt a woman’s work, family, and social life. It affects only a small percentage of women—about three to eight percent, according to Hopkins Medicine.
In addition to the standard symptoms of PMS, women suffering from PMDD may also suffer from nausea and vomiting, fainting, heart palpitations, muscle spasms, painful menstruation, edema, breast pain, and more. Psychological symptoms may include depression, paranoia, emotional hypersensitivity, lack of personal control, anger, and confusion.
Treatments for PMDD often include antidepressants, birth control pills (which stabilize hormonal changes), nutritional supplements, and herbal remedies. Most doctors recommend women get help, as the symptoms tend to get worse with age, not better, until menopause.
Standard Treatments for PMS
If you go to see your doctor about PMS, likely he’ll suggest you start with lifestyle changes, such as making sure you get regular exercise, limit salty foods, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
If you still suffer from serious symptoms, however, your doctor is likely to suggest one or more of the following:
- Birth control pills: This is a popular solution for PMS, as it helps balance hormones, which can significantly reduce symptoms. Plus, it’s a low-risk option for most women, and something many need during their childbearing years anyway.
- Natural progesterone cream: Some women may not find relief with birth control pills, or may find that pills actually make their symptoms in worse. Natural progesterone may work better in these cases. Progesterone can help balance menstrual hormone levels, which can help reduce symptoms.
- Antidepressants: Women who are suffering from emotional/psychological symptoms may best benefit from antidepressants. These can help balance out the neurotransmitters in the brain, reducing mood swings and irritability.
- Pain-relieving drugs: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin can help relieve cramps, joint pain, headaches, and breast pain.
- Diuretics: Women who suffer from bloating, edema, and weight gain may benefit most from these water pills, which help the body to flush more water out during the PMS period.
7 Natural Treatments for PMS
Some women may not find enough relief with the above remedies, or may want to avoid potential side effects with more natural approaches. Fortunately, there are seven that have been shown in studies to provide significant relief.
Some women report relief with herbal supplements like black cohosh, ginkgo biloba, evening primrose, chasteberry, St. John’s wort, but so far, we don’t have enough quality study results to know for sure. If none of the above treatments help, herbal remedies may be worth a try!
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