PMS (Pre-menstrual Syndrome)

What is menstruation?

Menstruation, or having periods, is part of the female reproductive cycle.

While the average interval between periods is 28 days, many women will have cycles that are either longer or shorter than this.

During a period, the lining of the womb, which is no longer required if a pregnancy has not occurred, is shed and bleeding occurs through the vagina. This bleeding usually lasts between three and seven days.

What is PMS?

PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome, refers to the physical, mental and emotional symptoms which many women experience during the second half of the menstrual cycle.

Most women experience some symptoms of PMS at intervals throughout their life. However some women experience PMS every month.

In the past, PMS was also known as PMT (pre-menstrual tension).

What causes PMS?

Nobody knows for sure. It is thought to have something to do with hormones, as a woman is more likely to experience PMS after going through an event which causes a major upheaval to the hormones, such as giving birth or having a miscarriage.

Diet is also thought to be important. Research has linked PMS with deficiencies in several different vitamins and minerals. It is important to have a balanced diet as an imbalanced diet can cause hormonal problems.

It is also thought that neurotransmitter levels may play a role. The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells. It can take hundreds of them to carry out even the simplest of actions. In order for nerve cells to work together, they have to be able to communicate with each other properly. They do this by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. Therefore the neurotransmitters carry messages from one nerve cell to the next. It is thought that fluctuations in the levels of neurotransmitters may cause PMS in some women.

What are the symptoms of PMS?

There are many symptoms attributed to PMS. Some women may experience only a few symptoms, while others will unfortunately experience a whole range of symptoms.

Mental and emotional symptoms can include:

  • Mood swings.
  • Irritability.
  • Anger.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Bouts of crying.
  • Difficulty in concentrating.
  • Confusion.

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal cramps or aches in other parts of the body.
  • Swollen, tender breasts.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Abdominal bloating.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Dizzy spells and/or fainting.
  • Swollen hands, feet or ankles.
  • Flare-up of acne and cold sores.
  • Flare-up of genital herpes and yeast infections.

What can I do about PMS?

If PMS is interfering with the way you function, don't put up with it, visit your doctor for advice. There are a number of things that can be done to relieve some of the symptoms of PMS:

  • Eat a balanced diet and make sure you are getting enough calcium. Some research has shown that eating carbohydrates in the middle of your menstrual cycle can help relieve some symptoms of PMS such as depression and lack of energy.
  • Exercise: Many women find that regular exercise relieves some of the symptoms caused by PMS. Exercise is linked to the release of certain brain chemicals which are associated with a feeling of well-being. Exercise also helps to fight fluid retention, which can reduce breast tenderness and abdominal bloating.
  • Some women may need medication to ease symptoms such as aches and pains. For some, this may take the form of non-prescription painkillers. Others may require prescription medication. If your symptoms are bad, visit your doctor. Never use someone else's prescription. What works for one person may have adverse effects on someone else. In some cases, a doctor may recommend prescription painkillers or the contraceptive pill.
  • Try to avoid stressful situations and ensure you are getting enough sleep. Either of these can worsen PMS symptoms.
  • Relaxation techniques including massage and aromatherapy have been reported to relieve symptoms in many women.
  • Some women with severe PMS have achieved improvement when prescribed a particular category of anti-depressant medications. It is believed that this category of drugs increase the neurotransmitter levels within the brain.

While no single treatment has been found to be successful in the treatment of PMS, a combination approach including many of the measure listed above may bring about a significant improvement in symptoms.

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