Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Overview

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name for a group of symptoms that you may experience up to 14 days before your period (menstruation). The symptoms usually stop soon after your period starts.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of PMS?

Most women feel some mild discomfort before their periods. But if you have PMS, you may feel so anxious, depressed or uncomfortable that you can’t cope at home or at work. Some of the symptoms of PMS are listed below. Your symptoms may be worse some months and better others.

Symptoms of PMS

  • Acne

  • Back pain

  • Bloated abdomen

  • Changes in appetite, including cravings for certain foods

  • Constipation

  • Crying spells

  • Depression

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Feeling irritable, tense or anxious

  • Feeling tired

  • Headache

  • Hot flashes

  • Joint pain

  • Mood swings

  • Not feeling as interested in sex

  • Tender and swollen breasts

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Swollen hands or feet

  • Wanting to be alone

  • Weight gain

Causes & Risk Factors

What causes PMS?

No one knows for sure what causes PMS. It seems to be linked in part to changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. PMS is not caused by stress or psychological problems, although these may make the symptoms of PMS worse.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is PMS diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you to keep track of your symptoms on a calendar. If your symptoms follow the same pattern each month, you may have PMS.

Your doctor may want to examine you and do some tests to rule out other possible problems. He or she may also want to talk about your eating habits, exercise habits, your work and your family.

Treatment

How is PMS treated?

There is no cure for PMS, but eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and taking medicine may help. Your doctor will talk to you about whether you need to change your diet and exercise habits. He or she may also prescribe medicine for you, depending on what your symptoms are and how severe they are.

You may need to try more than one medicine to find the treatment that works best for you. Many medicines are available over-the-counter, but others require a doctor’s prescription. Medicines that can be prescribed include diuretics, antidepressants and birth control pills. Other medicines for PMS are currently being studied.

What are diuretics?

Diuretics help your body get rid of extra sodium and fluid. They can ease bloating, weight gain, breast pain and abdominal pain. Diuretics usually are taken just before you would normally experience these symptoms in your menstrual cycle.

Do antidepressants help?

Antidepressants can help with the severe irritability, depression and anxiety that some women experience. These medicines are usually taken every day.

What about birth control pills?

Your doctor may talk to you about taking birth control pills (often just called "the pill") to help ease some of your PMS symptoms. Birth control pills help by evening out your hormone levels throughout your cycle. Some women’s PMS symptoms get a lot better when they take birth control pills. However, the pill can also cause side effects of its own, and it doesn’t help all women.

What about medicines I can buy without a prescription?

You can buy medicines without a prescription to help with the symptoms of PMS. These medicines usually combine aspirin or acetaminophen with caffeine, antihistamines or diuretics. Some brand names include Midol, Pamprin and Premsyn PMS.

Some over-the-counter pain relievers can also help. These include ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin), ketoprofen (brand name: Orudis KT) and naproxen (brand name: Aleve).

These medicines can work quite well for mild or moderate PMS. Talk to your doctor before you try one of these drugs.

Can I do anything to ease my symptoms?

Yes. See the box below for some tips. Know what your PMS symtoms are and when they happen. Then you can change your diet, exercise and schedule to get through each month as smoothly as possible.

Try not to get discouraged if it takes some time to find tips or medicine that help you. Treatment varies from one person to another. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment.

What about vitamins and other home remedies?

You may have read that some vitamins and other supplements, such as vitamin B6, vitamin E, magnesium, manganese and tryptophan, can help relieve PMS. There haven’t been many studies about these treatments, and it’s possible that they could do more harm than good. For example, vitamin B6 and vitamin E can cause side effects if you take too much. Talk to your doctor if you’re thinking of trying any of these vitamins or supplements.

On the other hand, taking calcium pills may reduce symptoms of water retention, cramps and back pain. Taking about 1,000 mg of calcium a day probably won’t be harmful, especially because calcium has so many other benefits, such as being good for your bones.

Other Organizations

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Could my symptoms be caused by something other than PMS?

  • What over-the-counter medicine might help relieve my symptoms?

  • Would birth control pills help?

  • What lifestyle changes should I make to help relieve my symptoms?

  • What should I do if my symptoms don’t get better or get worse?

Tips on controlling PMS

  • Eat complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains and whole-grain breads, pasta and cereals), fiber and protein. Cut back on sugar and fat.

  • Avoid salt for the last few days before your period to reduce bloating and fluid retention.

  • Cut back on caffeine to feel less tense and irritable and to ease breast soreness.

  • Cut out alcohol. Drinking it before your period can make you feel more depressed.

  • Try eating up to 6 small meals a day instead of 3 larger ones.

  • Get aerobic exercise. Work up to 30 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week.

  • Get plenty of sleep–about 8 hours a night.

  • Keep to a regular schedule of meals, bedtime and exercise.

  • Try to schedule stressful events for the week after your period.