Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Specialty of Obstetrics & gynaecology

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome, more commonly known as PMS, is the name for the symptoms that women experience before getting their monthly period. Many women experience PMS, and symptoms vary from women to woman, though in some it can be more severe, affecting their daily life to the extent where they must seek medical help.

What causes PMS?

The causes of PMS are not fully understood. It is thought that it may be due to changes in the hormone levels which occur at some point over the menstrual cycle. However, it is not clear why this affects some women more than others.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and even in the individual from month to month. Symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling tired
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling upset or anxious
  • Tender breasts
  • Greasy hair
  • Spots
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes to sex drive
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches

When should I see a doctor?

PMS can be managed at home or through lifestyle changes. It’s important to get regular exercise and keep to a healthy, balanced diet. Symptoms of stress and anxiety can be managed through activities such as yoga or meditation. Pain caused by PMS can be reduced through over-the-counter painkillers, e.g ibuprofen.

You should see a doctor if your symptoms are affecting your daily life, and the measures you are taking to manage your PMS are not working. It helps to keep a symptom diary when you experience PMS, so you can show your doctor or specialist your frequent symptoms.

How is PMS treated?

If symptoms are severe, you may be referred to a specialist. Recommended treatments and coping measures may include:

  • Hormonal treatments, e.g the contraceptive pill
  • Antidepressants
  • Counselling or talking therapy
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