What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?
It is very common to experience some uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms in the lead up to menstruation, and when these symptoms occur consistently month after month, it is referred to as premenstrual syndrome, or PMS.
PMS symptoms can occur throughout your monthly cycle, but most commonly they start to intensify from around the middle of your cycle, usually easing or disappearing completely when you start menstruating.
These symptoms may also be referred to as premenstrual tension, or PMT.
What are the symptoms of PMS?
Physical and emotional symptoms vary greatly from person to person, but most commonly they can include:
- Abdominal bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort
- Changes in appetite, or food cravings
- Weight gain
- Swelling and water retention
- Sleep changes
- General aches and pains
- Hot flashes or sweats
- Skin breakouts
- Depression and feelings of hopelessness
- Irritability and angry outbursts
- Lower libido
- Difficulty concentrating
- Social withdrawal
- Those experiencing severe emotional distress during their cycle should consider the possibility of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD.
PMS symptoms can sometimes mimic symptoms of early pregnancy or perimenopause. If there is a possibility you could be pregnant or your PMS symptoms have changed or increased suddenly, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.
How to Treat or Reduce PMS Symptoms
Although there is no ‘cure’ for PMS, there are many ways that we can support our bodies with healthy habits to ease physical and emotional discomfort.
Mild to moderate PMS symptoms can often be managed with eating nourishing food, doing regular exercise (at least 30 minutes, five times per week), reducing stress levels and perhaps taking some dietary supplements under the guidance of your GP.
Try to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains and make sure you are drinking enough water. It is also a good idea to cut down on caffeine and salty or sugary foods - we know this seems easier said than done when your body is experiencing PMS cravings, but it will to wonders to reduce bloating and breast tenderness. As always, you should also avoid smoking altogether to support a healthy body.
Sleep, Move, De-Stress
Making sure you get enough sleep is also very important and practising relaxing activities like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises will help to reduce stress levels and support emotional balance. Yoga and Pilates are great options for exercise, as they allow you to stretch and reduce pain while helping you de-stress at the same time.
Supplements and Medication
Calcium, magnesium, evening primrose oil and vitex (chasteberry) have all been shown to have positive effects for reducing PMS symptoms - chat to your doctor about introducing these in the right doses for your body.
For more severe symptoms, or if you are not finding relief from any of the suggestions above, you may want to consider treatment with hormone therapy or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, used to treat depression). It may also be worth exploring other therapies such as acupuncture or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to ease moderate to severe PMS symptoms.
Also, remember that if your symptoms are persistent, there may be other issues in the body that should be investigated by your doctor.