For many women, the symptoms are relatively mild. However, some women find that during this time of the month they experience stronger symptoms which can really interfere with their daily personal and work life, making normal life very difficult.

Sadly even today, some people still think that PMS is all in the mind or is an excuse and it’s no surprise that many women find it difficult to come forward for help or treatment. As a result, they may feel extremely lonely and even worse.

What is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?

PMS is a combination of one or more physical, psychological or behavioural symptoms that occur approximately two weeks before the start of the period. These get better once the period starts and disappear once the period stops.

Most women of childbearing age, especially between their late 20s and 40s experience some premenstrual symptoms but are able to carry on as normal. Rarely, symptoms may appear for the first time or remain beyond their 40s. Approximately one in 20 women will need help.

PMS or PMT is completely different to feeling tired and low moods and pelvic pain (pain in the lower part of the tummy) two or three days before the beginning of the period. These symptoms usually disappear by the end of the period and most women manage these symptoms with painkillers.

What are the symptoms of PMS?

Psychological symptoms of PMS may include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • loss of self-confidence
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • feeling upset or emotional
  • inability to concentrate
  • forgetfulness
  • clumsiness
  • loss of appetite or food cravings

Physical symptoms of PMS include:

  • bloating (discomfort in the abdomen-tummy)
  • breast tenderness/fullness
  • loss of interest in sex
  • headaches
  • backache
  • muscle or joint pain
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • weight gain

One or more of these symptoms may lead to an inability to carry on with day-to-day life.

Because many common symptoms of PMS are also caused by numerous other conditions such as depression, stress, thyroid problems etc., it can be difficult to determine whether or not they are caused by the menstrual cycle or not.

What causes PMS?

The exact cause of PMS is not known but it is likely to be associated with hormone changes that occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle (time between the first day of one period to the first day of the next period). These hormone changes occur in all women who are not on hormonal contraceptives (the pill, contraceptive implant or injection) and are normal.

PMS may be made worse by stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol.

Treatments for PMS

Treatments for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may help you manage your symptoms so you can get on with your daily life.

You should see a GP if symptoms persist for more than two cycles and are making it difficult to cope. Your GP may advise you to make some lifestyle changes for example:

  • gentle exercises on a regular weekly basis such as swimming, walking/jogging
  • exercising at home or in a gym
  • stopping smoking
  • limiting alcohol intake

They may also prescribe the pill or anti-depressants.

If your symptoms persist then you should be referred to see a gynaecologist. Your gynaecologist will carry out a lengthy consultation and may carry out investigations such as a scan and blood tests. Treatment at this stage will depend on how severe your PMS/PMT is and may include lifestyle changes such as those outlined above, taking the contraceptive pill, hormone patches or hormone injections.