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You feel like there is a fire-breathing dragon in your uterus.  Not only that, but your breasts are tender, you can’t get enough ice cream, and you can’t figure out whether you’re exhausted, cranky, or just plain old sad. You want to be nice, you really do… but it’s as though your hormones have taken control of your mind, body, and soul.  It’s “that time of the month,” and Mother Nature is reminding you that PMS is a “real thing”.

So, PMS… What is it, what causes it, and (most importantly) how can you treat the symptoms?  

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome, which affects as many as 3 out of 4 menstruating women, refers to physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the one to two weeks before your period.  Common symptoms include irritability, mood changes, crying spells, fatigue, tender breasts, bloating, acne, etc.  While signs and symptoms often vary between women, most women only experience a few of these problems, and they tend to disappear within four days of the start of the menstrual period.

What causes PMS?

The exact cause of PMS is unknown.  However, hormonal fluctuations and chemical changes in the brain are believed to contribute to the condition.

Symptoms: What to expect

There are over 150 (!) symptoms that researchers have connected to PMS.  Let’s go over some of the more common emotional and physical symptoms.

Common emotional symptoms of PMS:

  • Mood swings and/or irritability, anger
  • Anxiety or tension
  • Depressed mood and/or crying for no reason
  • Food cravings or changes in appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Problems with concentration
  • Social withdrawal

Common physical symptoms of PMS:

  • Joint, muscle, or back pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating and/or water retention (which can cause temporary weight gain)
  • Acne flare-ups
  • Tender breasts
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Diagnosing PMS

There is no laboratory test to diagnose someone with PMS.  Instead, your doctor will take a detailed history and perform a physical exam to make sure your symptoms are not due to something else (for example, other medical issues, such as a thyroid problem, chronic fatigue syndrome, or mood disorders like anxiety or depression can mimic PMS).  It is helpful if you track your symptoms and your cycle on a calendar for a few months before seeing your doctor.  There are lots of “period tracker” apps.  (Don’t delay your appointment if you haven’t been tracking your symptoms…just start documenting everything as soon as possible.)  Make sure you write down when your period starts, when your period ends, and when your symptoms start/ stop.

Note:   PMS symptoms may get worse as you reach your late 30s or 40s and approach menopause and are in the transition to menopause, called perimenopause.  This is especially true for women whose moods are sensitive to changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle.

In our next blog post, we will discuss PMS treatment options. #DrNita

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