A lot of women experience uncomfortable symptoms in the days leading up to their periods. Since these symptoms are common (we’ve all heard of PMS), many women dismiss them as normal and think that there isn’t anything that can be done.
But that’s not true. PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome isn’t something you have to live with.
In a lot of cases, these symptoms are fairly easy to cope with. However, some women have symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with their daily lives and prevent them from doing the things they’d normally do.
Though PMS is common, it can take a toll on you. Physical and emotional symptoms coming on at once can be difficult to manage. Luckily, one of the best ways to steer clear of PMS is to lead a healthy, active lifestyle. Let’s take a closer look to see when you should see your doctor.
Understanding PMS – What Is it Anyway?
If you’re going to experience PMS it occurs in the days before your period starts. Symptoms commonly include tender breasts, changes in bowel habits and menstrual cramps, and moodiness.
Usually these symptoms are mild and can be eased with dietary changes, soothed with a warm pack, and in some cases the use of over the counter pain relievers. However, If your symptoms are severe, or are affecting your ability to perform your usual activities, you may have Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), which is something to mention to your doctor.
Symptoms of PMS
- Bloating, fluid retention
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Lower back pain
- Hot flashes
- Tender breasts
- Trouble sleeping
- Sleeping too much
- Low energy, fatigue
- Low sex drive
- Changes in appetite
- Food cravings – sweet, salty
Mental and Emotional:
- Difficulty focusing
- Crying spells
- Racing thoughts
- Difficulty calming down emotions
- Desire to isolate or be alone
What causes PMS?
There are a plethora of hormones secreted by your pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and ovaries that are responsible for the menstrual cycle which PMS might be a part of.
These hormones also interact with the hormones that regulate mood in the brain, and can have effects on many of your bodily functions, hence the range of uncomfortable PMS symptoms. It’s important to note that your brain chemistry changes in response to different hormone levels. For example, ups and downs in the mood-related neurotransmitter serotonin can cause changes in mood and sleep. However, there are several factors at play, and some women have very severe premenstrual symptoms while others don’t, which is why it’s important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
If your symptoms are severe and you plan to talk to your doctor, it’s a good idea to keep a symptom diary. Track your cycle and note down the symptoms you feel and on which day of your cycle they occur.
Hormone changes in the body can take up to 3 months to show up in your symptoms, so tracking for a few months will give you an idea of the pattern or trend your body is following.
There are several different apps to help you track your cycle and symptoms easily on your phone.
Pay attention to symptoms you have at any time of the month, as these could be clues to the broader hormonal picture your body is experiencing.
To manage symptoms, the best thing to do is start with the basics of a healthy lifestyle.
- Ensure you’re drinking enough water (aim for 2L per day)
- Cut down on caffeine, salt and sugar intake
- Move your body (30 minutes per day) in a way that works for you
- Focus on getting quality sleep – aim for 7-9 hours each night
- Add lots of vegetables and fruit to your diet to increase your nutrients and up your fibre
When to Talk to Your Doctor?
If you’re following the healthy lifestyle recommendations above and over-the-counter pain relief medications are not enough to ease or stop PMS from disrupting your daily life, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.
It will be helpful to your doctor if you bring your symptom diary, tracking your symptoms and bleeding for 2-3 cycles (see this ‘menstrual diary‘ ).
In rare cases, your doctor might suggest that you have Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) which is a severe form of PMS where women experience severe disruptions in mood (depression, irritability, anxiety) prior to their period. There are several options for treatment of PMDD, including medications like antidepressants or birth control pills, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
If you experience PMS there are plenty of things you can do on your own to manage your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe and interfering with your daily life, talk to your doctor about options. Tracking your cycle and symptoms before going to your doctor will help them make tailored suggestions for you.