by Carles Cavazos Brito
"One minute I'm fine; the next I'm crying."
"I'm so bloated."
"Stay away from me, I am super cranky..."
If you find yourself facing conditions like these month after month, you're not alone.
PMS symptoms generally occur five to 11 days before your period starts. They typically end when your period starts or shortly after.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one PMS symptom as part of their monthly cycle.
Most of these women have fairly mild symptoms that don't need medical treatment but approximately three to nine percent of women experience premenstrual changes so severe they can't keep up their daily routines.
These women suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder, PMDD. The condition is characterized by cyclic, intense emotional and physical symptoms that occur between ovulation and menstruation. Some experts say that PMDD is like supercharged PMS.
Symptoms tend to peak during your late 20s and early 30s. They recur in a predictable pattern; although, the intensity can vary from month to month. You might experience one or more of these problems:
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Feeling tired
- Trouble sleeping
- Upset stomach, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Headache or backache
- Appetite changes or food cravings
- Joint or muscle pain
- Trouble with concentration or memory
- Tension, irritability, mood swings, or crying spells
- Anxiety or depression
Are you saying to yourself, "Those symptoms certainly describe me. Why do I get them?" Although the causes of PMS aren't well understood, women with premenstrual syndrome share many risk factors.
Risk factors you can't change:
✗ A family history of PMS
✗ Age; PMS commonly increases during your 30s
✗ Having children
✗ Previous anxiety, depression or other mental health problem
Risk factors you can change:
✓ Lack of exercise
✓ Poor diet
✓ Vitamin B6, calcium or magnesium deficiency
✓ High stress
Real Solutions for PMS
Most of us reach for a quick cure. Grabbing a sugary snack might make you feel better for a few minutes, but the fix is only temporary. You can take steps that make a difference -- now and in the future.
David Edelberg, director of Whole Health Chicago, says that most women can resolve the miseries of PMS. He suggests steps for a natural, drug-free solution. First determine whether your symptoms seem more physical, like boating, headaches and tenderness or if they hit on a more emotional level with mood swings, anger and food cravings.
Shelly says, "I get horrible menstrual migraines. When I feel one coming on, I take two excedrin migraine, suck down a diet pepsi or other caffeinated beverage and eat a little chocolate. I just try to not bite everyone's head off by reminding myself that I'm in the clutches of hormones."
"Well, it's a week before my period and I feel awful. I have a migraine today, my bra's too tight and I can't snap my jeans. My body is tired. I know this is a normal monthly thing for me but it is so frustrating," Robin says.
Research supports: Increasing your calcium and vitamin B6 helps with PMS symptoms.
Unofficial studies and women report: Lifestyle changes such as exercise, diet and stress reductions often help relieve or eliminate PMS. Herbs that are said to help include evening primrose oil, chasteberry and Dong Quai.
- Diet: Focus on a foods rich in complex carbohydrates. Eat less sugar and refined carbohydrates. Eat more fruits, vegetables and other fiber-rich carbs. Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage can help with PMS.
- Exercise: Women who are active have less PMS than couch potatoes. One study showed that women who participate in sports experience less symptoms. Try walking for 20 minutes a day.
- Stress reduction: Self-care -- personal practices that feed your innermost being -- can lessen PMS. Studies find that regular massage helps as well.
Mixed results with pharmaceuticals: Although still widely used, research shows mixed results when PMS is treated with progesterone or bromocriptin.
Your Next Steps
If you've tried lifestyle changes, supplements or natural treatments and your PMS remains moderate to severe, consider talking with your doctor or healthcare provider about your options.
For some women, oral contraceptives and certain antidepressants can relieve the symptoms, as well.
What's worked for you?
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) fact sheet. Womenshealth.gov. May 12, 2010.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The Mayo Clinic. January 18, 2012.
- Your Guide to Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS. WebMd. March 7, 2010.