Treating PMS May Be Vital to Your Well-Being

If you’re one of the millions of women affected by premenstrual syndrome, you should know that there are many treatments to help alleviate physical and emotional ups and downs.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at least 85 percent of women experience at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which is the term used to describe the physical and emotional changes that occur in the days before a woman’s period. Experts don’t know for certain what causes these changes, but recent research from Sweden suggests that they may be explained by an increased sensitivity to the hormone allopregnanolone. Basically, women who report symptoms of PMS — especially psychological symptoms — have an altered neurotransmitter that makes them less able to adapt to variations in hormone levels.

The good news is that because PMS is such a well-known women’s health issue, there are many options available to you, from nutritional supplements to psychotherapy, that can help treat the symptoms (if not the cause).

“We see many women who talk about PMS,” says Elena Moser, LCSW, private practice therapist and clinical director of the Women’s Therapy Center in El Cerrito, Calif. “If a woman has PMS, often it creates a lot stress on a pretty regular basis, once a month.”

Some of the signs that PMS may be affecting your emotional health include the regular occurrence of a combination of these symptoms at the same point in your monthly menstrual cycle:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability — the most common emotional symptom
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep problems

But for about five percent of women, PMS symptoms are so severe that they are diagnosed as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more serious form of PMS. Women with PMDD find that the disorder not only interferes with their own health, but it also causes serious problems in their relationships at home and at work.

PMS Treatment: What Works

The first step to finding out if you need PMS treatment — whether for emotional or physical symptoms — is keeping a log of your symptoms, from the obvious physical ones to the sometimes less obvious emotional ones. Do this for at least two months so your doctor can get a clear picture of the pattern of symptoms you’re experiencing.

There are many treatment options available for PMS. Some require a prescription, others don’t. For best results, discuss all the options you’re considering with your doctor:

    • Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. For some women, especially those with PMDD, taking the right medication for a few days each month can counter the chemical changes that lead to severe PMS mood swings and depression. One recent study from the University of Pennsylvania found that two-thirds of women given an antidepressant saw a 50 percent improvement in both physical and psychological PMS symptoms.
    • Calcium. Taking 600 milligrams twice a day has been shown to reduce PMS symptoms.
    • Chasteberry. This herb has been shown to play a role in the successful treatment of PMS symptoms. It is taken as a dietary supplement.
    • Cognitive therapy. This style of therapy, focused on talking about and understanding the symptoms you’re facing, has been shown to be an effective PMS treatment.
    • Exercise. Any type of exercise you enjoy, from running to yoga to dance, can help ease moodiness and symptoms of depression.
    • Fatty acid. A study published in the journal Reproductive Health found that women who took capsules containing a blend of three essential fatty acids experienced fewer symptoms of PMS than other women. Fatty acids are found in eggs, nuts, vegetable oils, and fish.

Fish Oil

    Including fish oil supplements in your daily diet can be part of a good PMS treatment plan.

  • Folic acid. Getting enough B vitamins, especially folic acid, may ease some PMS symptoms.
  • Healthy diet. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is an important part of keeping PMS symptoms in control.
  • Hormone-based contraceptives. If you’re not trying to get pregnant, consider taking birth control pills that suppress ovulation as part of your PMS treatment plan. This helps alleviate premenstrual woes for many women.
  • Sleep. In one small study, two out of three women with abnormal sleep patterns, particularly those who stayed awake very late and slept through the morning, reported increased PMS symptoms, including mood swings. If you’re suffering from sleep disturbances that are not relieved by bedtime changes talk to your doctor about other treatment options.
  • Soy. Including soy products such as tofu or soybeans in your diet has been shown to help ease PMS symptoms for some women.
  • Support groups. There is some evidence to suggest that joining a group of women in making PMS-fighting diet and exercise changes can enhance the other PMS treatments you’re using.

PMS Treatment: What Doesn’t Work

To ease PMS symptoms, experts suggest cutting back on:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Salt
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners

With so many options available for PMS treatment, by working with your doctor, you should be able to find a combination that lessens or even eliminates troubling physical and emotional symptoms.

Article By: Madeline R. Vann, MPH