Few women make it through a menstrual cycle without experiencing at least a few symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. Most women have come to expect moderate cramping or bloating, irritability, fatigue, backaches, and other symptoms associated with their monthly cycles.
Severity of premenstrual symptoms varies from woman to woman. Some women barely notice the change, while others may find themselves reaching for the ibuprofen yet otherwise going about their lives. Women with severe PMS symptoms may prefer to rest in bed with a heating pad to provide relief during their heaviest days.
Then, there are approximately 3-8% of women whose symptoms are so debilitating that they interfere with not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them as well. Symptoms this severe may cause them to miss work, or they find themselves damaging relationships with their loved ones. They may feel severely depressed, anxious or even suicidal.
These women suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD. If you feel that you experience something beyond PMS, you may want to call your doctor to discuss your cycle and related symptoms.
Currently, there is no definitive test that can diagnose PMDD, but your care provider may order physical tests (medical exams and/or blood tests) to rule out medical problems that may be behaving like PMDD.
Your doctor will assess the situation first by discussing your experience with you. You may be asked to keep a journal of your symptoms or fill out a chart throughout your cycle, which you will review with your doctor as part of the assessment. If five or more of the following symptoms are present, with at least one mental/mood symptom, you may be suffering from PMDD:
- Intense sadness or hopelessness
- Listlessness or disinterest in common activities
- Changes in sleep habits or sleep disturbances
- Extreme anxiety
- Severe mood changes
- Irrational anger, irritability, or more frequent conflicts
- Difficulty concentrating, or “brain fog”
- Feeling of being out of control
- Intensified PMS symptoms, such as bloating, cramping, headaches
Treatment has shown to either eliminate symptoms or reduce them to be bearable and have less of an impact on daily life. Depending on the type and severity of symptoms, your doctor may advise some combination of
- Altering diet to include more healthful foods
- Incorporating a daily exercise routine
- Addressing excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption, if applicable
- Changing sleep schedule to help address sleep disturbances
- Adding nutritional supplements to the diet
- Prescription medication, such as hormonal birth control pills or antidepressants
Even though the worst symptoms appear only a few days out of the month, there is no need to suffer. If you feel that your menstrual cycle comes with problems out of the ordinary, a phone call to your doctor could set you on the path to treatment and relief.