PMS aka premenstrual syndrome

PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, can have a serious impact on your life, affecting your mood, your libido and more. The Mix takes a look at PMS.

Two young people are standing near some lockers in a school corridor. They are talking about coping with PMS.

What is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?

Most women experience some kind of premenstrual 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 culprit.

Clue up on the essential period facts here and learn about how to sleep better here.

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 of PMS?

PMS affects women in different ways – as many as 150 different symptoms have been recorded. A lucky few don’t get it at all. But for those of you who do, here are some symptoms you may recognise:

Psychological symptoms: irritability, tiredness, feeling depressed, 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 libido.

When do the symptoms happen?

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.

What can I do to ease the symptoms of PMS?

There’s no cure for PMS, but there are plenty of treatments and changes to your lifestyle that you can use to combat the symptoms, such as:

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.

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 supplements, such as magnesium, which may help to reduce fluid retention, bloating, and breast tenderness. Vitamin B6 may improve many symptoms, particularly depression. Starflower oil and evening primrose oil are also said to help restore hormonal balance, but always see your GP before taking any complementary medicine.

What to do if your PMS symptoms get worse

If your symptoms are more severe you should visit your doctor or a pharmacy. Taking mild painkillers may ease stomach cramps and sore breasts. They may also relieve headaches, muscular and joint pain, but they can make fluid retention worse. Diuretics are available at pharmacies. They can help you feel less bloated and relieve sore breasts by reducing the levels of fluid in your body.

Your GP may recommend the oral contraceptive pill, which can be prescribed to regulate PMS symptoms. It stops ovulation and stabilises hormone levels, which can help to combat mood swings. However, the pill can have side effects that may outweigh the benefits. Learn more about side effects of taking the pill here.

My PMS is ruining my life

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. Your GP will go through the best treatment options for you.

Take a look at the rest of our women’s health resources here. Share your experience dealing with PMS on our discussion boards to get support from our community.

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 24-Aug-2021