Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.
Written on 9/23/21
Keep reading to learn more about PMS.
For many of us, the onset of our periods can be the most dreaded time of the month. We may feel bloated, moody, and maybe even a little more frustrated with our significant other than normal.
You may have heard friends or family members say they’re “PMSing.” PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, which can lead to these unwanted symptoms in the days leading up to our period. Keep reading to learn more about PMS.
What is PMS and what does it stand for?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name given to the many symptoms we may experience in the days preceding their period. Most of us experience PMS at least once in our lives, while others may have it throughout their reproductive years.
The symptoms can range from very mild, to severe or even debilitating. They also may change over time, even for the same person.
In fact, not having PMS when you were young is no guarantee that you won’t have to deal with it later in life. As we age, our hormone levels change over time and we may experience more severe premenstrual syndrome symptoms than when we were younger.
For some people, PMS is so bad that it interferes with their daily lives. If you feel you can’t function properly in the last days of your luteal phase — the second half of your cycle, leading up to your next period — and symptoms are impacting your quality of life, we recommend consulting your doctor.
If you feel like you can’t function properly in the last days of your luteal phase and symptoms are impacting your quality of life, we recommend consulting your doctor.
What are the symptoms of PMS?
PMS symptoms may be different for everyone and can even vary from one month to another in the same person. We can also split the symptoms into two main groups: behavioral and physical.
The most common behavioral symptoms are:
- Mood swings
- Food cravings
- Sleeping issues (insomnia)
- Lack of focus and poor concentration
- Diminished libido
Physical symptoms may include:
- Fluid retention
- Joint aches due to inflammation
- Breast soreness
- Skin problems (oily skin, prone to acne)
- Diarrhea or constipation
When symptoms are extremely severe and become out of control, then they may be classified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), rather than PMS. This is a more severe form of PMS, and is considered to be a medical condition that needs to be properly diagnosed and treated under medical supervision.
What causes PMS?
The exact cause of PMS is unknown, but the medical consensus is that hormonal changes at the end of the luteal phase are likely to blame. This theory is supported by the fact that PMS symptoms go away during pregnancy and menopause, both of which are times when we aren’t experiencing hormone changes that occur with our cycle.
However, there are some factors that might contribute to PMS, or even trigger it. One of them is fluctuations in serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical responsible for stabilizing our mood. Suboptimal serotonin levels may trigger PMS symptoms such as premenstrual depression, fatigue, cravings, or problems sleeping.
Another PMS culprit may be low progesterone. Studies show that insufficient progesterone production during the luteal phase may worsen premenstrual symptoms.
While most of us may experience certain symptoms of premenstrual syndrome at one point in our lives, there are people who may be more at risk. If you have a family history of PMS or depression, or a personal history of mood disorders (depression, postpartum depression, or bipolarity) you are more likely to experience PMS.
While most of us may experience certain symptoms of premenstrual syndrome at one point in our lives, there are people who may be more at risk.
How can I treat PMS?
There are several ways you can try to tackle premenstrual syndrome, but it can depend on your symptoms and their severity. Some women prefer to start with home remedies and natural ways of combating PMS.
Certain supplements are known to have a great effect on the length of the luteal phase. A vitamin B, magnesium, and calcium may boost your progesterone production and improve your mood and stamina.
Chasteberry (also known as vitex) may help promote progesterone production and reduce PMS symptoms, although you may want to be extra cautious taking it. While chasteberry works well for those with low progesterone, it’s always best to test your levels with something like a PdG test before supplement, as it’s possible to do more harm than good.
Yoga, meditation, and acupuncture are natural ways of improving your overall balance, as well as promoting a state of peace, relaxation and mood improvement. Studies show that yoga may even help relieve pain caused by PMS.
Diet and exercise may also help. Although exercise might seem like the last thing you want to do when you’d rather crawl under the blankets with a heating pad, studies show that mild exercise helps decrease PMS symptoms and can even be used as a treatment!
If you experience cravings right before your period, this could be caused by fluctuations in serotonin. While salty foods like chips and fast food are probably more tempting than normal, you may want to try and avoid them as salt causes water retention and bloating (we know — easier said than done!).
Cramps (also called menstrual pain) are definitely one of the most common PMS symptoms. Taking over-the-counter painkillers may help alleviate cramping. Massaging with essential oils and applying a heated pad could also provide some comfort. If you are experiencing severe pain every cycle, we recommend consulting your doctor as this can be a sign of endometriosis.
Sometimes, doctors recommend birth control as a way to manage PMS symptoms, especially if your symptoms are unbearable and are affecting your daily life. Birth control often suppresses your natural hormone production, which in turn can alleviate symptoms. If you’re interested in birth control options for managing PMS, we recommend consulting your doctor.
While PMS can be a pain (literally), luckily there are many ways to alleviate symptoms. We’re all in this together!