Premenstrual Syndrome: Woes Of A Woman
by Khor Sulin, Pharmacist
While most men head off to the army when they turn 18 or 19 to equip themselves with skills to fight a war, many women have been fighting a monthly war since their teens.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a medical condition which is related to the menstrual cycle, causing a variety of physical and psychological symptoms that affect many women of childbearing age.
Often, symptoms appear to be consistent and predictable, and may be severe enough to have an impact on a person’s quality of life. Those with more disabling symptoms monthly are better classified as suffering from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Causes of PMS
Although the exact cause of PMS is unknown, the hormonal changes during menstruation have been thought to be a contributing factor.
Fluctuations in brain chemicals which are responsible for mood control (e.g. serotonin) may also trigger some psychological symptoms.
In addition, research has shown that the likelihood of PMS is increased in women who are obese (i.e. women with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30) and women who do little exercise. Also, some women find that their PMS is worse when they are feeling stressed.
Symptoms of PMS
PMS consists of a set of symptoms that tend to start during the second half of the menstrual cycle (i.e. 14 days or more after the first day of the menstrual period).
Usually, the symptoms will go away within one to two days after a menstrual period starts, with common symptoms such as bloatedness, breast tenderness, acne, constipation/diarrhoea, headaches/backaches, food cravings/overeating, fatigue and mood swings.
To accurately assess if you have PMS, your doctor may request for the following:
- Complete medical history
- Physical examination
- Lab tests
- PMS symptoms diary
- A menstrual diary that helps you understand your PMS symptoms, and ultimately facilitates the diagnosis and management of PMS
Easy ways to manage PMS
There are various ways that can help you combat the symptoms of PMS, many of which can be done easily with slight tweaks of your lifestyle. So make these lifestyle changes today and see the difference!
- Reduce the consumption of alcohol, caffeine and refined sugar or sodium during the premenstrual phase of your cycle
- Eat frequent but small meals and avoid overeating
- Eat a balanced diet with whole grains, vegetables and fruits
- Do aerobic exercise regularly throughout the month
- Get plenty of rest and practise relaxation techniques (e.g. yoga) to relieve stress
- You can consider taking supplements like vitamin B6, calcium and magnesium
Medicines for PMS symptoms
For some, medications may be a faster and better way to relieve any premenstrual pain. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or naproxen may be recommended for this purpose.
These medications work best when taken before and continued at regular dosage intervals throughout the premenstrual pain period.
Prescribed medicines that treat depression may also be helpful in managing moderate to severe psychological symptoms like aggression and depression. Antidepressants known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often the medicine of choice.
Other prescription medicines like water pills may also be used to help with severe fluid retention, while oral contraceptives may aid in alleviating the symptoms.