Every woman knows that feeling we get during that time of the month. Every woman has a different reaction, but most have experienced the typical cramps, cravings, mood swings, headaches, and emotional sensitivity. Incredibly, there are over 200 symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). That’s a lot of different negative side effects to potentially deal with every single month.
Thankfully, women don’t experience all 200 symptoms at the same time. Most will experience a few each month. Some lucky women will not experience any symptoms.
This article will discuss some of those different symptoms, what causes them, and how to treat the different symptoms. First, there are two different main categories of symptoms. The first are the ones that affect your emotions and behaviors. In other words, the symptoms that have more of a psychological effect. The other main category are the physical symptoms, which everyone probably knows about.
In case your keeping score at home, officially, an actual PMS diagnosis requires the presence of one physical and one emotional symptom, which must occur 5-14 days before the beginning of your menstruation cycle.
Understanding the Physical Symptoms of PMS
This list includes some of the physical symptoms associated with PMS. It also includes treatment options and prevention methods for the different symptoms. Remember, there are so many different symptoms that different treatment options are required to treat them. However, lots of overlap still exists between the different symptoms and one treatment option will often alleviate many different symptoms.
- 1 Abdominal Cramps
- 2 Acne Breakouts and Other Skin Conditions
- 3 Headaches and Migraines
- 4 Sodium and Sugar Cravings
- 5 Bloating
- 6 Fatigue
- 7 Weight Gain
- 8 Muscle and Joint Pain
- 9 Tender or Bloated Breasts
- 10 Understanding PMS Mood Swings
- 11 The Cause of PMS Mood Swings
- 12 Treating and Preventing Mood Swings
- 13 Final Thoughts on the Physical and Emotional Nature of PMS
Probably one of the more common symptoms associated with PMS. These cramps are also known as menstrual cramps. They typically occur after ovulation as the egg moves through the fallopian tube. You can expect to start feeling these cramps ripping through your lower abdomen about one or two days before you start menstruating. You can expect these cramps to last two to four days.
On the bright side, if you feel bad cramps in your lower abdomen, then you know that you will start menstruating and can prepare yourself. Unfortunately, menstrual cramps have their own set of symptoms, which just adds to the suffering. Some of those symptoms include nausea, sweating, and diarrhea.
Most women will use over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen and naproxen, which is fine. It works great and is easy to purchase. However, better options exist for those of us that have more severe pain or just do not want to have deal with the pain every month.
Anti-prostaglandins will reduce cramping and reduce blood flow. You can still use these in conjunction with the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) listed above to further reduce cramping.
Finally, hormonal birth control is another option to reduce menstrual cramping. This will prevent ovulation and greatly reduce menstrual cramping and blood flow. Other types of birth control may help reduce cramping as well. You should consult your physician about your options and the potential side-effects.
Eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, and not smoking have all been shown to reduce cramps for some women. Again, every woman is different so what works for your friend may not work for you. You should try out all the options and see what works best for you.
Acne Breakouts and Other Skin Conditions
Breaking out in acne might be one of the most traumatic and negative symptoms of PMS, especially for a younger woman. In fact, many young women do not know their acne breakouts might be caused by their menstrual cycle.
They could be happy that their face cleared up when all of a sudden it breaks out in acne anywhere from a week to 10 days before your first day of menstruation. This symptom will affect an estimated 50% to 80% of women and seems to appear more often in younger women.
PMS breakouts will look a little different than normal acne breakouts. You will normally find them on the lower part of your face and neck. They will usually just look like a red, inflamed bump and normally do not have a whitehead.
These breakouts are caused by an increase in testosterone in your body. Actually, your testosterone stays about the same, but your estrogen levels will decrease before the start of your period. Your relatively high level of testosterone causes the body to produce more oil, which in turn leads to more acne.
You do not have to deal with acne breakouts every month. Hormonal birth control pills help by reducing the fluctuation of hormones in your body. If you do not want to use hormonal birth controls, or cannot use them, then you still have other over-the-counter options to treat your acne.
Benzoyl peroxide works great for treating PMS acne, and you can easily purchase it on Amazon. Another easy to purchase over-the-counter option is differin adapalene, which has prescription medicine strength but is still available for purchase on Amazon or your local corner store.
Drinking more water and applying a face scrub can help prevent oil from building up on your face. Unfortunately, no PMS acne specific treatment option exists.
Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines are another unfortunate side effect of PMS. Again, this is one of the more common and debilitating symptoms of PMS. This is another fairly common symptom with about 50% of women suffering from headaches and about 10% suffering from migraines, so you are not alone if you face this symptom. Some women, however, will suffer from much worse headaches and migraines than other women. We can blame the different pain levels on the simple genetic variance between women.
PMS migraines, in particular, can seriously ruin your week as it is much worse than a regular migraine.
No one really knows the exact cause of these migraines. However, the two leading theories are that less estrogen levels might cause them or the release of prostaglandin that occurs during the first two days of menstruation. Both of these will cause your hormones to go off balance and result in headaches.
You should keep a journal of your PMS migraines. Most doctors will diagnose a PMS headache after experiencing migraines for two or three consecutive months. Simply note the day you had your migraine, the day your period started, and the location of your migraine. You would be surprised how many details you can forget within three months.
A few different options are available for treating PMS migraines and headaches. Do note, none of the options available are designed to specifically treat PMS migraines, but they will still work.
The treatment that works for you will depend on a variety of different factors including your blood flow, regularity of your period, and contraception needs. Your best general option is a normal anti-inflammatory painkiller, which could be aspirin or ibuprofen. These are used to treat normal headaches and will work well for treating PMS headaches and migraines as well. Take it one or two days before the start of your period for the best headache relief.
As mentioned earlier, every woman is different, and some of you may have migraines before your period even starts. This is usually caused by lower estrogen levels. You can speak to your doctor about taking an estrogen supplement if you consistently have headaches before your period begins.
Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do to effectively prevent PMS migraines and headaches. Some of the treatment options listed above can help stop the full effects of a PMSmigraine though. Other options include a multi-vitamin that will replenish the vitamins and minerals that you lose during menstruation.
Natural remedies that often help with headaches, in general, are drinking more water and eating bananas. Even if that does not help with your headache, it is still healthier to drink more water each day.
Sodium and Sugar Cravings
Cravings are another one of those symptoms of PMS that most women will experience. In fact, the vast majority of women face these cravings. The reason is that your body faces a huge drop in progesterone levels a week or two before your period begins. A drastic drop in progesterone levels like that will cause your blood sugar to drop. Of course, your natural reaction is to eat sugary or salty food, which just happens to be the unhealthiest food that you can eat.
Even worse, that sugary food leads to a spike in your blood sugar. However, your blood sugar level will quickly crash again. This leads to an unending cycle of eating sugary junk food and crashing blood sugar levels. You want to avoid that.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment and prevention are lumped into the same category for this symptom as the solution to each is the same. On the bright side, these cravings will work at roughly the same time each month even for the younger readers. This makes it easily predictable, and you can plan your strategy to beat the cravings.
This issue really involves around preventing your blood sugar from dropping and triggering the cravings. You can stabilize your blood sugar levels by eating six to eight mini-meals or snacks a day. Of course, you should space out these mini-meals and snacks about three hours apart. This gives your body constant calories to burn and will help regulate your blood sugar, and this greatly reduces the chances of you pigging out on chocolate cake.
Also, make sure these meals contain complex carbs, protein, and magnesium. Complex carbs include foods such as whole-grain wheat and fruit. Your body takes longer to break them down and turn them into sugar, which helps stabilize your blood sugar levels. Protein works similarly by slowing down the digestion of food.
Finally, PMS causes your magnesium levels to drop too, and that can lead to some cravings. Ironically, chocolate has a large amount of magnesium, which might explain the stereotypical chocolate cravings. However, you can still get magnesium from nuts and beans without all the fat and calories typically found in chocolate.
If you insist on chocolate, then avoid milk chocolate as that has a high amount of calories. Instead, choose dark chocolate with a high amount of cocoa, but be warned. It might taste bitter.
One last thing, PMS does cause an increase in metabolism. Your body might burn an extra 100 to 200 calories per day, which will give you some extra room to eat food without gaining weight. This is our body’s way of helping out with PMS cravings.
PMS bloating is another one of the uncomfortable symptoms often associated with your period. This one can negatively affect your confidence as it causes to women believe that everyone will notice their bloated stomach.
This is another symptom caused by a drop in progesterone levels and an increase in estrogen. This change may make your body retain more salt and water, which naturally leads to bloating. Further, the cravings listed above may contribute to some of the bloating as well. The bloating will typically occur during the week leading up to the first day of your period. This makes that week an extremely uncomfortable and difficult week for most women.
Just like cravings, the treatment and prevention of bloating overlap. Most of the ways to prevent bloating involve a lifestyle change to your diet, but some medication will help as well.
The first way to prevent bloating is to reduce your sodium intake. Sodium increases the amount of water that your body will retain, which just leads to more bloating. You should aim to keep your sodium intake under 1500 milligrams per day. Since most processed foods contain a lot of sodium, this means you will have to cook some meals to consume a healthy amount of sodium.
Potassium can also reduce bloating because it acts as a diuretic. A diuretic decreases bloating because it forces your body to expel any excess water. Some foods that contain high amounts of potassium include bananas, dark green vegetables, and avocados. Yes, this means you can eat as much spinach and guacamole as you want during PMS if you experience bloating.
Some more foods that act as diuretics include asparagus, cucumbers, peaches, and pineapples. You can also have a doctor prescribe a diuretic pill but only use this is other natural remedies do not work.
Finally, you can try taking hormonal birth control to reduce your bloating. However, many women actually experience more bloating while on the pill and some experience less bloating. As with most things relating to the menstrual cycle, it varies depending on the women.
The remedies listed above should help reduce your PMS bloating. If you think it is too severe, then you should consult a doctor. However, most women that suffer from bloating will find that these remedies work well for reducing their bloating.
Fatigue is one of the more annoying symptoms associated with PMS. In fact, many women just consider it part of their cycle. However, if you notice a consistent pattern of fatigue occurring a few days, or even weeks before your period begins, then you might have one of the symptoms of PMS.
This is the type of fatigue that makes you not want to do anything. Many women will lie in bed all day, too tired to move. It can negatively impact your social life also as you may be too tired to deal with your friends and family; this can make another devastating effect of PMS and can lead to some of the other emotional issues we will discuss later.
Again, the fatigue is caused by the changing hormone levels in your body during your monthly cycle. The drop in progesterone combined with an increase in estrogen and testosterone leads to fatigue. You might think it is difficult to treat the fatigue and prevent it. However, there are a few different methods that you can use to help reduce fatigue.
Treatment/Prevention of PMS Fatigue
Many of you will find this shocking, but a major cause of fatigue is the food that we eat. Most of these foods will fall into the wheat, sugar, and alcohol category. However, every woman is different,and foods that make some women fatigued will make other women less fatigued. It alljust depends on your body.
Unfortunately, there is not any way to know which foods will make you fatigued or not. You have to try for yourself and notice any patterns with food and fatigue. Eventually, you will discover your “fatigue food,” and the tiredness will stop once you eliminate it from your diet.
Another major cause of fatigue is simply not getting enough sleep. Yes, I know that sounds obvious. However, many women will not think about sleeping more or sometimes insomnia caused by PMS makes it difficult. Further, your body will need more sleep to help recover from the physically taxing nature of PMS.
A different habit that might reduce fatigue, and stop other PMS symptoms, is to get more exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym and bench press weights. Something as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or a yoga class can help reduce fatigue. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it really does work for reducing PMS fatigue. Something about the physical activity will keep your body in a physically active state.
The two tips above should help with fatigue. Again, you should keep a journal and note your fatigue. Many Americans suffer from fatigue all year long and not just during PMS. Make sure you do not suffer from chronic fatigue before diagnosis it as a PMS issue. If you do suffer from chronic fatigue, then the tips list above should help to reduce some of the negative effects.
Weight gain is one of those unfortunate symptoms of PMS. Usually, women will gain as a result of their cravings for sugar listed above, or the bloating will make it appear they have gained weight. You probably know already, but this weight gain isn’t the type of weight gain that you usually associate with weight gain. That is no weight on your hips or anything like that. Instead, when you get on the scale, you might notice you weigh 5 to 10 pounds more than you usually weigh.
You can eat as many chocolate bars as you want, but you should not see a 5-pound weight increase from those cravings. No, this weight gain is caused by the increased water retention in your body and constipation.
Constipation is another symptom of PMS,and that is generally what causes the weight gain. This is fairly normal and is caused by the increased progesterone found in your body. Progesterone will relax the muscles in your gastrointestinal tract, which leads to constipation. A buildup of waste in your
Unfortunately, the treating and preventing menstrual weight gain is difficult. Eating fewer calories will help with some of the longer-term weight gain. However, the weight gain you see when you step on the scale is not usually caused by too many calories.
Treating that weight gain means you must reduce water retention. Doing that will require you to use some of the water retention tips mentioned previously such as drinking more water and eating foods that cause you to urinate. If you have constipation, then you should increase your fiber intake to help with that. Stool softeners and laxatives also work for treating constipation as well.
The good news with PMS weight gain is that it mostly disappears once your period ends. The only weight you will have remaining is the weight that you gained from the food cravings. All in all, do not panic too much if you see your weight unexpectedly jump up 10 pounds during your period.
Muscle and Joint Pain
Another somewhat annoying symptom of PMS is the pain and aches that your muscles and joints must endure. These aches and pains will make it difficult for you to do just about anything physical. These symptoms, in particular, are not discussed that much and will sometimes get grouped with abdominal cramps. However, this pain will affect more than just your abdomen. It will affect your whole body and is especially noticeable after working out.
This muscle and joint pain is caused by more sensitive nerves due to hormonal fluctuation. It is most noticeable in the days leading up to your period and should disappear as soon as your period begins.
Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do to prevent or treat the muscle aches or pain. The only option is some form of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication or a prescription for hormonal birth control.
However, if you do know that you are prone to pain, then you should avoid any strenuous physical activities or activities that may cause physical pain. That might mean avoiding the gym for a day or two and putting off getting your legs waxed. Many women deal with the pain though.
Again, some women face more pain than others. Some women also have a higher pain threshold than other women. Either way, no one will judge you if you decide to take a break at the gym or just cry it out one day from the pain. Every woman knows the feeling.
Tender or Bloated Breasts
Tender, or bloated, breasts might cause the most stress of all the PMS symptoms. Many women will mistake bloated breasts for a cancerous tumor. However, the lumps are benign and will go away once your period begins.
Anyway, most women will notice swelling or lumps before their period begins. Usually about a week, or less, before the first day of their period. This is usually caused by an increase in estrogen or progesterone. An increase in estrogen leads to the ducts of the breast to enlarge, and progesterone causes the mammary glands to enlarge. Those two may both cause soreness or lumps.
The specific symptoms of tender breasts are a little bit more in-depth than just tenderness. These symptoms might include a heavy feeling in the breasts or even some pain. Thankfully, the majority of women will not endure severe pain. Just an annoying pain that makes it difficult to focus on anything.
On the bright side, this tenderness tends to become less severe as you age. So, don’t worry young ladies, it will disappear eventually.
An anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drug will work just fine for treating breast pain. Many women use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat their sore breasts. Sometimes the swelling can be reduced by the same methods used to reduce water retention. The most effective of those is consuming a diuretic.
Hormonal birth control will also reduce your breast swelling. It does this by reducing the hormonal swings that you will experience PMS.
Other natural methods to reduce swelling include wearing a bra while you sleep and drinking less caffeine and alcohol. Yes, we all know sleeping with a bra is not very comfortable and not drinking coffee in the morning is difficult. However, those both work for reducing breast pain and discomfort.
Vitamin E and magnesium can also help reduce swelling. You can choose a woman’s supplement high in magnesium and Vitamin E or you can eat food that contains a large amount of those nutrients. Some of those foods include spinach, peanuts, avocados, bananas, and brown rice.
You should consult your healthcare provider if you still experience symptoms after trying your own home remedies.
Understanding the Emotional Nature of PMS
The emotional nature of PMS is a little bit more difficult to understand. Most women and men are probably familiar with some of the emotional symptoms from popular culture and personal experience. However, many frustrating moments and emotional swings are simply attributed to PMS when a woman does not have PMS. Remember, PMS is an actual issue, and the hormonal balance can cause your brain to make you act differently.
Some of the emotional symptoms of PMS include anger, depression, sensitivity, sadness, and rage. However, the symptoms will not occur once. Instead, you will swing between sadness and rage, then depression and then back to a stable emotional state.
This is known as the “PMS emotional rollercoaster.” Most women will suffer from this at least once in their lifetime and usually in their younger years. The emotional rollercoaster will slow down as you age.
Understanding PMS Mood Swings
Mood swings might be the most commonly associated symptom of PMS. Some women can feel every single emotion in a few hours during the PMS. For some women, this will happen every single time their period approaches. Other women will only experience this once or twice in their lifetime.
A typical mood swing will involve crying, breaking out in anger, and then returning to a somewhat stable emotional state all within a few hours. Your emotions might not go in that order, but they will change very fast and to very different emotions.
Unfortunately, this cycle will repeat itself for the duration of PMS and will usually end once your period begins. It has the unfortunate effect of confusing and frustrating the people, especially men, around you. This confusion and frustration often only increases the emotional rollercoaster.
Dr. Carol Livoti, a gynecologist in New York City, says it best,“You’ll know these emotional ups and downs are due to PMS if they start consistently a week to two weeks before your period and stop a day or two after menstruation starts.”
So, if these mood swings occur one or two weeks before your period begins, then you might be experiencing the “PMS emotional rollercoaster.” We simply explained the symptoms of it though. This next section will go into more detail on what causes these emotional swings and makes PMS so miserable for so many women.
The Cause of PMS Mood Swings
It might surprise you that no one really knows what causes these mood swings and such a wide range of emotions. It is often thought that changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle causes these emotional mood swings.
However, estrogen, in particular, is thought to cause the majority of the emotional symptoms, but more research is still required to determine the full effect that estrogen has on the emotional state.
According to EveryDayHealth.com and Dr. Livoti, “These hormonal peaks and valleys are thought to cause mood swings and other menstrual symptoms.”
Estrogen also drops at one point in the menstrual cycle, which can lead to a decrease in serotonin levels. Decreased serotonin has been shown to cause depression and anger. However, not enough research has been conducted on this to determine a true link between estrogen and serotonin. The hypothesis makes sense though.
Severe PMS Mood Swings
Most women will experience mood swings during PMS. However, some women will experience extreme irritability and mood swings. This condition is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD),and it is believed that 3% to 8% of women suffer from it.
The symptoms associated with this are the more violent mood swings of course. The thing is that these mood swings must occur a week or two weeks before the first day of your period and then disappear during your period. If you have these mood swings every day of the month, then you suffer from some other mental disorder and should consult a medical professional.
Treating and Preventing Mood Swings
You might think you have to suffer from mood swings because no treatment option exists; this is not true though. You can do a few things to help reduce your mood swings and even improve your mood. Some of these things do not involve taking medication either.
A few examples of habits that can reduce mood swings include:
Exercise releases endorphins in your brain. These endorphins make people feel better. They are actually the cause of that good feeling you might experience after running known as “runner’s high.” Endorphins can also help stabilize your mood. Not to mention frequent exercise is just plain good for you.
You can do a jog in the morning or evening. Some women also lift weights, ride a bicycle, or do yoga. The specific intensity of the workout does not matter too much. You merely need to do something to stay active and release endorphins.
Eat six meals per day
Eating three meals a day might be what your mother recommends. However, the gaps in eating may lead to decreased blood sugar, which can negatively affect your mood. Hunger also makes women grumpy. Just don’t eat six full meals a day. Instead, eat some of the other foods mentioned that can reduce symptoms between meals.
For example, you can eat a banana or some peanuts between lunch and dinner. After dinner, you can then eat some dark chocolate. Just avoid milk chocolate because it has too much sugar and fat.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
These might be the two hardest food items to cut from your life. Especially coffee for anyone that needs it to start their day. Studies have shown that alcohol and caffeine can lead to an altered state, which can lead to more emotional variance. Your best option is to avoid it for the week leading up to your period. Yes, we all know that it is hard.
You are not alone
Every woman suffers from mood swings at one point in their life. Women, young women especially, will often think that they are the only person suffering from the problem. You are not the only woman suffering from the problem, and other women will understand.
Often you just need to cry your emotions out and stabilize your emotions. Other times discussing this with an older woman that you trust can help alleviate some of the emotion. Other friends, or even your own mother, are great women to discuss the issue with as they will all understand.
You might notice that all those habits listed above were also listed to treat the different physical symptoms of PMS. The overlap in techniques to treat the symptoms of PMS make it a little easier to treat. Keep in mind that PMS has over 200 different physical symptoms but can be treated with a handful of different methods.
Final Thoughts on the Physical and Emotional Nature of PMS
I hope that this article fully explained everything you need to know about the symptoms of PMS. One thing to keep in mind is that the symptoms you experience may differ than the symptoms that other women experience. In fact, no two women are alike in this sense. This makes diagnosing the symptoms and treating the symptoms difficult as well.
For example, some women will have no bloating while taking hormonal birth control. Other women will experience worse bloating while on hormonal birth control.
Natural remedies can be used to treat most of the symptoms of PMS to varying degrees of success. However, if none of the natural remedies work, then hormonal birth control can be used after a consultation with your doctor. Hormonal birth control is very effective at reducing the symptoms of PMS because it reduces the fluctuation of your hormones.
Finally, to fully diagnose yourself with PMS you must have one physical symptom and one emotional symptom. However, knowing whether a symptom is caused by PMS or just normal human emotion is difficult. This is why doctors will want to see a pattern of symptoms for a period of two or three months. The best way to keep track of any pattern is to record your feelings in a journal.
You should also include the first day of your period as well. This has the added benefit of making it easier to predict your next period, but it helps in determining a pattern in your behavior during the different menstrual cycles.