While it may be joked about or taken lightly, premenstrual syndrome (you might know it as PMS) is an official syndrome that comprises a list of symptoms linked to your monthly menstrual cycle. The symptoms can be physical, emotional and behavioural and occur as a result of the hormonal changes in your body that happen after ovulation and before menstruation (your period). PMS is extremely common – it affects three out of four women. The symptoms of PMS usually start to appear a week or two before your period and then go away within a couple of days of you starting your period.
There are a lot of different symptoms associated with PMS. You may experience emotional and behavioural symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, depression, sugar cravings or sleep problems. You may also experience physical signs and symptoms such as bloating, hypersensitivity, breast pain and spots or acne. Each woman experiences PMS differently, and certain symptoms may be more pronounced during different stages in your life. For example, you may experience more PMS symptoms when you first reach puberty, or when you reach your thirties and forties.
Treating and preventing PMS
It’s not always possible for you to avoid PMS completely, but there are plenty of things you can do to help to manage and reduce your symptoms.
Particular elements of your lifestyle may contribute to certain PMS symptoms. For example, your weight, levels of exercise, smoking, drinking habits and diet can all affect your risk of PMS as well as the severity of your symptoms. If PMS is affecting your day-to-day life, it might be best to visit your doctor who can help you by recommending different treatments or actions you can take to help you deal with your symptoms.
Stress and sleep
You can be more susceptible to stress and depression when you are approaching your period due to hormonal changes in your body. Try not to take on too much and ask others for help if you’re feeling less able to cope. It’s important to get enough sleep and regular exercise and eating well can help reduce your stress levels and maintain your mood.
It’s typical for the hormonal changes you experience at this time in your cycle to affect your sleep patterns. It’s best to restrict your alcohol intake as drinking interferes with normal sleep processes and can affect the quality of your sleep. Exercising regularly may also help you to sleep, reduce stress and also release endorphins that boost your mood.
Often changes to your diet can help ease your PMS symptoms. Try to cut down on saturated fat, salt, sugar and caffeine and replace them with iron rich foods such as dark leafy vegetables, beans, seeds and white and red meat. Doing so will help combat tiredness. If you’re suffering from abdominal boating try to reduce your salt intake and increase the amount of water you drink. If you’re craving sugary foods try to up your fibre and protein intake – fibre and protein rich foods make you feel full and help to prevent spikes in your blood sugar.
When should you see your doctor?
If you haven't been able to manage your premenstrual syndrome with lifestyle changes and the symptoms of PMS are affecting your health and daily activities, seek advice from your doctor.
Getting out and about
Try to go outdoors as much as possible when you’re suffering from PMS. Natural daylight boosts your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which helps to improve your mood.