Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
PMS has been blamed for chocolate cravings, floods of tears and occasionally manslaughter. TheSite takes it seriously.
What is premenstrual syndrome?
Most women experience some kind of pre-menstrual symptoms in the week or so before their period begins. These can range from being mildly irritated to depression, and from backache to being unable to sleep.
No one is quite sure what causes PMS, but hormonal changes are thought to be the biggest factor.
Is it the same as premenstrual tension (PMT)?
Yes, although some people argue that the term premenstrual tension doesn't go far enough in describing the range of symptoms women can experience.
What are the symptoms?
PMS affects women in different ways - as many as 150 different symptoms have been recorded. A lucky few don't get it at all. Here are some symptoms you may recognise:
- Psychological symptoms: irritability, tiredness, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, mood swings
- Physical symptoms: sore or tender breasts, some weight gain, greasy skin and hair, constipation, stomach cramps, backache, muscle and joint pain, feeling bloated, fluid retention, swollen hands and feet, loss of libdo
The symptoms of PMS usually happen at the same time in your menstrual cycle each month, this can be up to two weeks before your period starts. They usually improve once your period has started.
How do I deal with PMS?
There is no cure for PMS, but there are plenty of treatments and changes to your lifestyle that you can use to combat the symptoms:
If your PMS is not too severe, there are things you can do that may help to ease your symptoms:
- Eat smaller meals more frequently and avoid salty food to help reduce bloating.
- Drink lots of water (the recommended daily amount is between six and eight glasses)
- Eat lots of complex carbohydrates (found in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains) and calcium-rich foods such as dairy products.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can affect your mood and energy levels.
- Exercise for half an hour, at least five times a week (the minimum recommended amount for most adults). This can help reduce depression and tiredness.
- You can also take magnesium which may help to reduce fluid retention, bloating, and breast tenderness. Vitamin B6 may improve many symptoms, particularly depression. Always see your GP before taking any complementary medicine.
If your symptoms are more severe you should visit your GP (doctor) or a pharmacy:
- Ibuprophen or paracetamol are available at pharmacies and may ease stomach cramps and sore breasts. They may also relieve headaches, muscular and joint pain, but they can make fluid retention worse.
- The oral contraceptive pill can be prescribed to regulate PMS symptoms. It stops ovulation and stabilises hormone levels, which can help to combat mood swings. However, they can have side effects which may outweigh the benefits.
- Diuretics (water tablets) are available at pharmacies. They can help you feel less bloated and relieve sore breasts, by reducing the levels of fluid in your body.
A small number of women find their symptoms are severe enough to interfere with living their normal lives. This is due to a more severe type of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS but more extreme, such as feelings of hopelessness, persistent sadness or depression or less interest in usual activities.
If you have severe PMS or PMDD, antidepressants can be taken to relieve tiredness, food cravings and sleep problems, as well as combating feelings of depression. However, like oral contraceptives, they may have negative side effects.
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