Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a topic that is often overlooked or not talked about. Evidence has shown that a lot of women in Nigeria go through PMS without seeking medical intervention.
Everyone is different; while some women can cope well with PMS, others struggle to manage the symptoms. PMS may affect some women drastically leading to depression. Some women may have made important decisions they live to regret whilst going through PMS, others may have left a relationship because their coping mechanism for stress was reduced at the time they had PMS.
What is Premenstrual Syndrome?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is widely recognized as a medical condition that affects many women. PMS describes a range of symptoms that occur before the menstrual period and usually improve when the period starts.
Most women of child-bearing age will have some premenstrual symptoms. In about 5-10% of these women, symptoms will be sufficiently severe to affect their daily activities and for the condition to be called PMS.
Symptoms of PMS generally increase after child birth, after a change in contraception and at other times of hormonal changes. Women aged 30-45 years tend to experience the severest of symptoms.
For some women with PMS, the symptoms are so severe that they are considered disabling. This form of PMS is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD.
Causes of PMS
PMS affects women only during the later stage of their menstrual cycle. This stage is known as the luteal phase and occurs between days 15 to 26 of their monthly cycle.
The main hormone controlling the luteal phase is progesterone, but it is a time when levels of all hormones involved in the menstrual cycle can fluctuate dramatically. It is the body’s response to the changing hormones and to the level of hormones that is thought responsible for the symptoms of PMS.
Decreased levels of the chemical messenger serotonin in the brain are also thought to make women particularly sensitive to progesterone, causing symptoms of aggression and for them to act impulsively.
Symptoms of PMS
PMS symptoms can vary from person to person and even from month to month. Over 150 symptoms of PMS have been identified. Common physical symptoms include bloating, breast tenderness, headache, weight gain, skin problems and fatigue. Women with PMS can also suffer from a variety of psychological problems such as poor concentration and mood swings. These can range from irritability and tearfulness to depression, aggression and feelings of being misunderstood.
The symptoms of PMS can appear up to two weeks before a period is due and generally disappear or improve either on the first day of the period or after the day when the flow is heaviest. Most women are then symptom-free for a significant time before the next period.
Any woman who experiences these types of symptoms throughout the menstrual cycle is unlikely to have PMS and so should see her doctor.
Living with PMS
Some women seem to cover up the symptoms of PMS with ‘brazillian hair’, a smile and some makeup, in as much as I do not recommend people should frown and look as though they were mourning whilst going through PMS, it is paramount we seek medical intervention to help potentiate our coping mechanisms and relieve the symptoms of PMS.
PMS if not managed properly could lower your productivity as a top female executive; it could lead to relationship problems between you and your partner, spouse, manager or team members in the office.
It can also reduce your performance as a student or sports person. It affects our social, cultural and political lives in various ways.
For women that do not have regular cycles, it may be difficult to predict the time frame in which symptoms of PMS could be evident in their monthly cycle; keeping a diary of symptoms and dates will surely help in predicting when PMS is most likely to occur in the subsequent menstrual cycles.
A friend of mine said she keeps a diary of when she is most likely to experience PMS and would share this with her husband so as to help reduce quarrels or misunderstandings going out of hand; as she had done a mini ‘research’ which showed that she normally has more rows and quarrels with her husband at the times she experiences PMS due to the stress and low mood she suffers. She further explained that this method has helped her greatly as her husband tries his best to be more understanding and empathic during those times.
Do not sweep your symptoms under the carpet, or wish them away, talk to a healthcare professional about it or seek counseling.
The surest way to determine whether you are suffering from PMS is to keep a menstrual diary. Kept for three cycles, a diary will help you see a pattern of when symptoms first start, when they are most severe and when they begin to decline. Many women find that just knowing for certain they have PMS brings relief and can help them better understand the problem.
A menstrual diary will also help if you need to go to see your doctor. It will clearly show that your symptoms are cycle related, and it will help your doctor decide on an appropriate treatment.
Lifestyle Changes to help manage PMS
The following tips can help you maintain a healthy, balanced diet, and may also help control the symptoms of PMS; whatever your symptoms are, you will benefit from some simple dietary and lifestyle changes:
• Eat at regular meal times, particularly in the 2 week period before your period starts.
• Reduce your intake of sugar, salt, caffeine and alcohol,
• Increase your intake of fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and water.
• Exercise regularly
• Learn to relax and try to avoid stressful situations.
I would like to encourage women to be body vigilant and seek adequate support on issues regarding their health; your healthcare professional is available to give useful advice or signpost you.
Women cope with PMS in different ways; in managing the symptoms of PMS like low mood, irritability etc, there is no hard and fast rule as to what will work, it is not a one size fits all shoe. What works for Ms A may not work for Ms B.
Some women have also benefited from counseling and behavioral modifications through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.
If we are aware of the symptoms, then we can cope better when the need arises, knowledge is power!
For more information on PMS please see your local pharmacist or doctor.