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How to Battle Premenstrual Syndrome

Find out the causes and treatments of PMS.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
3-minute read

What Causes PMS?

There are several theories as to why some women experience this disorder.  It has been associated with a drop in serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical produced in the brain that regulates your periods, sleep cycle, metabolism, and mental well-being.

How to Treat PMS?

[[AdMiddle]The good news is that PMS is treatable.  The first step is to recognize and understand that you have it, then seek a treatment plan along with your doctor.  It’s always helpful to start keeping a “menstrual diary,” where you jot down your daily symptoms on a calendar.  After several months, you will find the pattern and timing of your PMS symptoms and this will help your doctor select your individual treatment plan.

Non-Medication Treatment Options:

  • Nutrition:  Keep a well-balanced diet that is low in sugar, fat, and salt.  For your carbohydrate cravings, switch your food choices from processed foods and simple sugars to complex carbs instead, such as those in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  Avoid caffeine and alcohol, since they can interfere with the sleep cycle.

  • Sleep:  Sleep is very important for our mental well-being.  Maintain a routine sleep-wake cycle by sleeping and awakening at the same times every day.  Limit bedroom activity to sleep and intercourse only – no TV watching!

  • Relaxation Techniques:  Join a yoga class, or pick up a meditation CD or DVD.  Learn a few relaxation techniques on the internet and do them 3 times a day during those disturbing 1 or 2 weeks each month.  Or ask your doctor to refer you to a stress management program, therapist, or counselor who can help.

  • Exercise:  Exercise produces endorphins, which give us back our sense of well-being by increasing our serotonin levels. Do some cardiovascular exercises for 30 minutes a day for most days of the week, especially during your PMS days.

  • Vitamins: Certain supplements may help alleviate your symptoms.  These include calcium at 1000mg a day, magnesium 300mg a day, and Vitamin B6 at 100mg to 150mg a day.

Medication Treatment Options:

  • Hormonal Contraceptives: Hormonal contraceptives are the first-line treatment in battling PMS in women for whom the non-medication treatment options don’t work.  Hormonal contraceptives help alleviate bloating, weight gain, water retention, breast tenderness, and cramping associated with PMS. In addition to improving the physical symptoms, they also help maintain a steady level of hormones, keeping your mood swings and mental well-being at a steady level as well. 

  • Anti-depressants:  Studies show that certain anti-depressants help those who suffer from the severe emotional components of PMS.  This is likely because anti-depressants help to increase serotonin levels in the brain.  You may consider taking the medication only for the 1 to 2 week duration of your PMS symptoms, instead of every day of the month.

What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)?

A more severe form of PMS is called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. It occurs in only 8% of women.  Symptoms are similar but more severe, and the emotional symptoms, such as anger and irritability, tend to dominate PMDD.  Patients can experience some interpersonal conflicts during this time period every month, often causing disruption and distress that interferes with their quality of life.

Whatever version of PMS or PMDD you have, don’t isolate yourself and feel like you have to just live with the disorder.  If it’s causing you distress or impairing your daily functioning, please seek medical help.  You and your doctor can come up with a plan so that you don’t have to suffer any longer.

Don’t forget to like the House Call Doctor Facebook page, where you can read my health-related posts and links, and where you can ask me your medical questions!

Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.
 

PMS image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.