Any woman who has ever had premenstrual syndrome knows that it is real. It may range from barely noticeable to debilitating, and it changes from woman to woman and from month to month in the same woman. But for women who have come to expect it and live with it for a week or so every month, it is a significant challenge. And it doesn’t help when many people seem to believe it’s “all in your head.”
In my book, Inside Information for Women, I explained that PMS is the body’s response to excess hormones after ovulation if the egg is not fertilized. Different women’s bodies respond to these hormones differently, so the symptoms of PMS can vary greatly, but they may include bloating, acne, breast tenderness, fatigue, and volatile emotions, among other things. Less commonly, PMS symptoms may become so severe that they interfere with a woman’s daily life – for example, her job or relationships. Women with preexisting psychological disorders seem to be more susceptible to this severe form of PMS, known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Fortunately, there are things you can try to alleviate your symptoms. There is no one-size-fits-all PMS remedy, so there will probably be some trial and error involved. Different women respond to different approaches, so be patient and figure out what works for you. Some things that might help are:
- Getting enough sleep – at least 7 ½ hours a night will eliminate the added stress of being tired and help your body and mind function at their most efficient
- Meditation and/or relaxation – to promote feelings of relaxation and well-being and relieve stress
- Altering your diet – try eliminating refined sugar, caffeine, or alcohol to see if it has a positive effect on your symptoms
- Working regular exercise into your routine – it doesn’t take much to enhance your heart health and make you feel stronger and more energized
But what about when these measures aren’t enough? What if you are one of the unlucky women who responds to the monthly hormonal surge in a more severe way? Ask your doctor about trying an antidepressant. Studies show some success with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), for PMDD, with continuous use having the best effect.
Basically, get to know your own body. If you are having trouble with PMS, start with the above suggestions. You can even try keeping a journal of what you tried and how you felt during a given month. Maybe you will notice a trend and find an effective plan for handling your individual PMS. If not, there are effective medicines available.
– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.