Here’s the low down on what it is, what causes it and how to manage it.
WHAT IS PMS?
PMS, otherwise known as Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, is a combination of physical, behavioural or emotional signs that are experienced by people who have a menstrual period, in the lead-up to when their flow starts.
WHAT CAUSES PMS?
Like many of life’s unknowns (exactly how where the pyramids built? Why don’t dogs live forever?), the cause of PMS isn’t really definitively known. What doctors and researchers can seem to agree on though, is that it’s caused by some very complex interactions between progesterone (the female hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle) and chemicals in the brain.
Our stress levels, physical and mental state, eating habits, sleep patterns and genetics can also play a part in whether or not we will suffer from the symptoms of PMS, and to what severity.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PMS?
PMS symptoms include:
- Tender or swollen breasts
- Abdominal cramps
- Food cravings (usually for sweet, sugary things)
- Bloating, fluid retention and in some cases even an increase in weight
- Anxiety or stress
- Skin breakouts
- Body/back aches
- Constipation and/or diarrhoea (yes believe it or not, you can kinda have both at the same time)
- Difficulty concentrating
You may experience none, some or all of these. Sounds DELIGHTFUL, doesn’t it?! *CRY*
WHEN DOES PMS START / STOP?
PMS symptoms are a sure sign that your period is on its way. Symptoms usually start anywhere between 4 – 10 days before your period is due (after ovulation - also known as the luteal phase of your cycle) and will stop once the bleeding starts – although, you may still experience some abdominal discomfort.
HOW DO I TREAT PMS?
If the symptoms aren’t too severe, PMS can generally be self-managed. Ask yourself: is my PMS stopping me or impacting on my daily life? Am I so bloated/moody/crampy that even a dance-off wouldn’t lift my spirits? If NO, here are some basic tips to self-care:
- Reduce stress: Get a massage, go for a walk, meditate
- Exercise (increases endorphins, which can act as natural pain killers!)
- Eat less salt/salty foods to help reduce bloating and fluid retention
- Increase your magnesium intake (either with a supplement or by eating lots of leafy vegies, legumes and salmon) – it’s great for period cramps!
- Drink lots of water
- A heat pack or hot water bottle placed on your tummy might help to alleviate cramps
- Check out our blog post HERE for how to manage PMS-induced skin breakouts
- Wear a soft-cup, wireless bra for a few days (or even better still: DON’T WEAR A BRA AT ALL! There is really no feeling like the feeling of going braless)
- Don’t smoke (srsly Moxettes, don’t smoke anyway, it’s bad for you)
- Try a natural remedy or a painkiller (ask a naturopath, pharmacist or Doc)
CAN YOU HAVE PMS SYMPTOMS AFTER YOUR PERIOD?
PRE-menstrual syndrome is just that; in that it happens before the onset of your period. There is such a thing as Post-Menstrual Syndrome, though it's less common. The symptoms of Post-Menstrual Syndrome are more emotional ones, like irritability, mood swings, trouble sleeping or concentrating and in more severe cases, depression. If you think you may be struggling with either condition, see a Doc or trusted health practitioner.
CAN YOU STILL GET PMS IF YOU'RE ON THE PILL?
Yes and no - whilst the contraceptive pill is often prescribed to people who are experiencing PMS symptoms in order to help ease their severity, some people report that their symptoms become worse when they're on the pill (particularly emotional ones, like feelings of depression). Or, in some cases, there may be no change to your PMS symptoms at all.
It's all to do with fluctuations of hormones and how your body reacts to them (every body is different!) - best to talk to your Doc about this one, as they'll be able to provide you with a more specialised diagnosis and treatment plan.
AM I PMS-ING, OR PREGNANT?
Hands up if you've been here?! The early signs of pregnancy can actually VERY similar to those associated with PMS; like breast tenderness, mood swings, headaches, back pain and food cravings.
Though if you're pregnant, you might experience the following symptoms, which are more specific to pregnancy:
- A missed or late period
- Mild spotting (also known as implantation bleeding - nowhere near as heavy as the onset of a period)
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- The colour and size of your nipples may change
If you suspect you might be pregnant, you can take an at-home pregnancy test (you can usually purchase them at the pharmacy/chemist or at the supermarket), or you may opt to see your Doctor.
If your symptoms seem more severe or if you can’t manage them yourself, then you may have PMDD (a.k.a Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), which is a more serious form of PMS – in this case we’d recommend seeing a Doctor.