While PMS might be just another acronym to learn and throw around, for some people, it is as real as the sky for others. It’s not a stereotypical term to describe a pool of bad symptoms or a cultural validation of certain behaviors to discredit women.

Normal body changes and symptoms occur before, during, and after women have their period. It varies for different women but may often include; headaches, breast tenderness, leg swelling, bloating, moodiness, etc.

Singularly and without interfering with the woman’s ability to carry out daily activities, these symptoms pose no harm. However, when they occur recurrently and interfere with normal daily functions, they become telltale signs of PMS.

In this article, we'll discuss the causes, signs, symptoms, and management of PMS but first, let's answer the very first question on your mind.

Does PMS Exist?

Yes, it does.

PMS is an acronym for premenstrual syndrome. It's a medical condition that is common among girls and women of reproductive ages and presents with a wide range of signs and symptoms that are recurrent and often constitute a pattern.

Approximately 48% of women worldwide are affected with PMS and 20% experience severe symptoms. It is a cyclical luteal-phase-associated condition that is defined by a combination of psychological, behavioral, and physical changes that can be severe enough to affect interactions and daily activities.

What Does PMS Feel Like?

Women experience PMS differently. Some experience mild to moderate behavioral and physical symptoms while others come down with severe symptoms.

The symptoms of PMS become apparent between the start of ovulation and the commencement of the period. Then, remains for a few days after your period. Generally, PMS symptoms worsen as age increases. They are more severe amongst women in their 30s and 40s.

Risk factors include high stress levels, a history of postpartum depression, and a family or personal history of depression. Other major risk factors include smoking and obesity. Women having a body mass index greater than 30 are three times more likely to be affected by PMS compared to non-obese women. Smoking on the other hand increases the likelihood by a factor of 2.

According to the Office of Women's Health, PMS symptoms fall into two categories which include:

Emotional Symptoms

They comprise;

  • Depression.
  • Mood swings.
  • Irritability.
  • Sleep apnoea.
  • Apprehensiveness.
  • Craving sweet and salty foods.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Inattentiveness.
  • Anger.
  • Aggressiveness.

Physical Symptoms

They comprise;

  • Breast tenderness.
  • Edema of lower extremities.
  • Increase in body weight.
  • Abdominal distension.
  • Ineptitude.
  • Headaches.
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea.

What Causes PMS?

There's no single identifiable cause for PMS. However, some theories explain this medical reality. They include:

  • Decrease in brain serotonin levels

Changes in the level of serotonin in the brain have been linked to mood swings which is a major trigger of PMS symptoms. Low levels of serotonin also cause postpartum depression, cravings, and sleep apnea.

  • Pre-existing mental health condition

Women living with anxiety and depression are more predisposed to developing PMS. Also, a family history of bipolar disorder and postpartum depression contribute to this risk.

Serotonin fluctuations in the brain have been highlighted as a reason for the relationship between mental health conditions and PMS.

  • Hormonal imbalance

The changing levels of estrogen and progesterone which characterize menstruation and menopause account for some of the symptoms of PMS.

The sharp decline in the levels of estrogen and progesterone following the luteal phase causes irritability, inattentiveness, and mood swings.

  • Nutritional deficiency

The two main nutrients implicated in the cause of PMS include calcium and magnesium. PMS symptoms have been shown to improve using magnesium and calcium supplements.

How Can I Manage PMS?

The primary aim of managing PMS is to reduce its symptoms. And it can be behavioral and pharmacological.

Behavioral management includes:

  • Regular sleep
  • Exercise
  • Healthy diets
  • Vitamins
  • Stress control

Pharmacological management includes:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These are antidepressants such as Prozac and Cipramil.
  • Diuretics: These maintain water balance in the body and include  Bumex and Lasix.
  • Analgesics: Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
  • On a final note

Typically, clinical diagnosis of PMS is made when:

  • The symptoms disrupt your daily life routine.
  • The symptoms are present a week before your period and 4 days after its commencement.
  • The symptoms are recurrent for 2 months.

You must keep track of the pattern and severity of your symptoms and share them when you speak to a healthcare professional. When in doubt, North is a great place to chat with a care specialist who will lead you on the right path.