What Is PMS?

what is pms


PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. The PMS definition is a combination of physical, emotional, and psychological disturbances that take place between ovulation and the beginning of the next menstrual cycle. As such, PMS symptoms may start anywhere between one to two weeks before your period and will fade once your period starts. Most women experience mood-related PMS symptoms including irritability, oversensitivity, depression, mood swings, and crying.

A more severe type of PMSi Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) causes depression symptoms, irritability, and tension before menstruation.

Why does PMS occur?

The exact cause of PMS is not known. Due to the vast spectrum of symptoms, medical experts are unable to reach a solid explanation. It’s believed to be linked to exchanges between brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) and sex hormones. There is no firm scientific basis for specific PMS treatments. PMS is not associated with given personality types or specific personality factors.

Certain conditions don’t cause but may exacerbate PMS symptoms including high levels of stress, smoking, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, depression, and excessive consumption of salty foods, red meat, sugar, and alcohol. Specific medical conditions also tend to become worse during the days leading up to a period, including allergies, asthma, and migraine headaches.

How common is PMS?

Nearly all menstruating women experience some degree of premenstrual symptoms at least a few times in their lives. Experiencing emotional or physical symptoms before menstruation begins is not the same as a genuine case of PMS. The PMS definition for clinically significant PMS is moderate to severe symptoms, which affect general functioning. There's a wide range of estimates of how many women suffer from PMS.ii Typically, PMS is most common among women in their late 20s to early 40s who have had a child, have family members with depression, have depression or bipolar disorder, and have suffered from postpartum depression.

What are PMS symptoms?

The most common physical PMS symptoms are

  • breast tenderness or mastalgia
  • fatigue
  • bloating
  • acne
  • appetite changes, which are often accompanied by food cravings.

Less common PMS symptoms may include:

  • cramps
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • swollen hands and feet
  • joint pain
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • weight gain.

How can I distinguish between PMS and pregnancy symptoms?

Some women have PMS symptoms very similar to early pregnancy symptoms. PMS and early pregnancy symptoms are highly individual and may vary greatly from one woman to the next. Many women don’t experience any symptoms during early pregnancy while other women report bloating, fatigue, breast tenderness, and mood swings, even during the first few weeks of their pregnancies. All of these symptoms are common PMS symptoms. Unless you have a consistent period schedule, you may not know the cause of your symptoms until you get your period or receive a positive on a pregnancy test. Using a period calendar to track your period is the best way to know where you are in your cycle.

How can I treat PMS symptoms?

Common medical treatments for PMS include over-the-counter pain relievers, diuretics, oral contraceptives, antidepressants, and drugs that suppress ovarian function. Making lifestyle changes, such as eating better and developing solid sleeping and exercise routines, may also lessen PMS symptoms. Add whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and calcium-rich foods to your diet, and avoid smoking, caffeine, salt, and alcohol.

If you have significant, severe, or uncommon PMS symptoms or you have any questions about your PMS, consult with your gynecologist or another medical provider.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

i. Content produced and distributed by MedlinePlus. 2016, October 4.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder [Article]
Retrieved From: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007193.htm

ii. Information provided by Womenshealth.gov, 2017.


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