We’ve all heard the stereotypes about premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that make it seem like women who suffer from it are just irrational and unpredictably moody. But PMS can be more than pesky mood swings that are inconvenient to the person dealing with PMS and those around them. Severe PMS can be a condition that disrupts daily life for several days every month.
What is PMS?
As the name suggests, premenstrual syndrome is a condition that affects women before their menstrual period. According to the Office on Women’s Health, the symptoms can occur up to two weeks before the start of menstruation.
While there no one definitive cause of PMS, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is thought to be related to cyclical hormone changes, fluctuation in chemicals in the brain, and perhaps even undiagnosed depression. However, it is impossible to positively diagnose with a lab test or physical examination.
Symptoms of PMS
The most common symptoms can be emotional or related to behavior. These symptoms include depressed mood, mood swings, irritability, anger, crying spells, change in libido, and insomnia.
Physical symptoms of PMS can include abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, weight gain, fatigue, headache, joint or muscle pain, digestive issues, and acne flare-ups.
How to Ease PMS Symptoms
In some cases, PMS can be managed with lifestyle changes. In other cases, consultation with women’s health care professional is necessary. Severe PMS may be a sign of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a more serious condition.
If you are suffering from the symptoms of PMS and they are becoming difficult to manage on your own with lifestyle changes or over the counter medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease discomfort, you should talk to your doctor to get a definitive diagnosis and professional treatment.
For many women, here are some other tips that may help ease PMS symptoms:
Exercise is something that can help with a multitude of health issues. Along with diet, exercise will help keep your body in top working condition. It is one of the most basic steps you can take to improve your overall health.
Exercise helps with the depressed mood and fatigue associated with PMS. It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Aerobic exercises like swimming, biking, and walking briskly are good options
2. Change in Diet
Like exercise, changing dietary habits is one of the most frequently recommended things to improve your health and wellness. To ease PMS symptoms, take the following steps to manage your diet:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Limit salt to help with bloating
- Eat frequent smaller meals rather than a few big meals
- Look for foods high in calcium (a supplement may also help)
- Avoid processed simple carbohydrates and eat complex carbs instead. Complex carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
If you need more help with your diet, you can consult with your OB/GYN for suggestions or seek counseling from a qualified nutritionist or dietician.
3. Stress Reduction
Stress can make almost any health issue worse, and PMS is no exception. To combat stress you can try:
- Getting adequate sleep
- Deep breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
If lifestyle changes do not help enough, your doctor may prescribe medication or suggest over the counter meds.
- Antidepressants are often prescribed to help with PMS and PMDD mood symptoms. The types of antidepressant used in the treatment of these conditions are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Your doctor may prescribe one of these types of antidepressant such as Prozac, Sarafem, Zoloft, Paxil, Pexeva and their generic versions.
- Hormonal birth control may be prescribed to treat PMS symptoms. Hormonal birth control stops ovulation, which can make your menstrual cycle more regular and decrease the intensity of symptoms. There are also hormonal birth control options available that prevent you from having a period. For these reasons, hormonal birth control is also prescribed for women who experience heavy and painful periods.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are some of the most common over the counter pain relievers. They can be helpful in treating cramps and breast tenderness. You are probably familiar with many of these drugs, which include ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin IB) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).
- Diuretics can help reduce water retention and ease bloating when exercise and limiting your salt intake are not effective enough. Known as “water pills,” diuretics like Spironolactone push excess fluid through the kidneys. Although versions may be available over-the-counter, diuretics should never be taken without first consulting a licensed healthcare provider.
5. Alternative Remedies
While these treatments are not regulated by the FDA, and are not scientifically proven, many women report they have benefitted from alternative medicine. Anecdotal evidence is not a viable replacement for professional medical advice. Examples of alternative remedies that may help are:
- Vitamin supplements
- Herbal supplements
The main thing to remember with vitamin and herbal supplements is that they are not regulated by the FDA, so there is a small chance you won’t be getting exactly what is on the label. You should always speak to your provider before trying products, even those marketed as “safe” and/or “natural.”
If you make positive lifestyle changes for a while and do not experience enough of an improvement in your symptoms, it might be time to consult a professional. At Raleigh OB/GYN we offer comprehensive gynecological care and can help with issues related to your menstrual cycle, including PMS. To make an appointment, call 919-876-8225 or request one online.