About 90% of women experience premenstrual symptoms at some point in their lifetime. As hormones rise and fall, many get emotional and have cramps before and during their periods. This is sometimes called PMS. Cramps and PMS are normal and can be treated.
What Is PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of symptoms that many women get about a week or two before their period. Most women, over 90%, say they get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, and moodiness. For some women, these symptoms may be so severe that they miss work or school, but other women are not bothered by milder symptoms.
On average, women in their 30s are most likely to have PMS. Your doctor can help you find ways to relieve your symptoms.
Common Symptoms of PMS
A great variety of symptoms have been attributed to PMS. Women can have PMS of varying duration and severity from cycle to cycle.
PMS symptoms are different for every woman. You may get physical symptoms, such as bloating or gassiness, or emotional symptoms, such as sadness, or both. Your symptoms may also change throughout your life.
Physical symptoms of PMS can include:
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Bloating or a gassy feeling
- Headache or backache
- Lower tolerance for noise or light
Emotional or mental symptoms of PMS include:
- Irritability or hostile behavior
- Feeling tired
- Sleep problems (sleeping too much or too little)
- Appetite changes or food cravings
- Trouble with concentration or memory
- Tension or anxiety
- Depression, feelings of sadness, or crying spells
- Mood swings
- Less interest in sex
Talk to your doctor or if your symptoms bother you or affect your daily life.
Ways To Relieve PMS Symptoms
Exercise is a crucial part of a balanced life, so get the juices flowing for your overall health. It’s important not to just exercise when you have symptoms, but keep an ongoing exercise routine.
Sticking to a regular exercise routine may help to improve PMS symptoms. Regular aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin (chemical messengers that can boost mood) and has positive benefits on energy and sleep.
Breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga are some natural ways to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Many women feel more assertive and attuned to their needs in the weeks before menses. This can be used constructively by allowing for personal time to relax, expressing emotions, and giving priority to your needs and what nourishes you.
Healthy Foods and Diet
Choose healthy foods most of the time. Avoiding foods and drinks with caffeine, salt, and sugar in the two weeks before your period may lessen many PMS symptoms.
The most common diet recommendations are to limit sugar intake and increase the consumption of complex carbohydrates. Some people may benefit from reduced sodium intake, which may help to reduce bloating, water retention, and breast swelling and tenderness.
Caffeine restriction is another common diet change because of the association between caffeine and PMS symptoms such as irritability and insomnia.
Getting high quality sleep is key to lowering inflammation, controlling cortisol levels, and balancing hormones. So, by getting a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis you can help lessen PMS symptoms in many ways.
Try to get about eight hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep is linked to depression and anxiety and can make PMS symptoms such as moodiness worse.
Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control methods, like the pill or patch, can help with bloating, tender breasts, and other physical PMS symptoms. For some people, they can also help with emotional symptoms, including mood swings.
But for others, hormonal birth control can make mood swings worse. If you go this route, you might have to try out different types of birth control before you find a method that works for you.
If you’re interested in the pill, opt for a continuous one that doesn’t have a week of placebo pills. Continuous birth control pills can eliminate your period, which sometimes helps eliminate PMS, too.
Before taking any medications consult with your doctor.
When you are under stress you get elevated cortisol levels. This is usually good for the body because once the stress has ceased the body adapts and becomes stronger. When stress becomes chronic and you don’t have adaptation periods between then cortisol remains elevated.
This is a problem because cortisol takes priority over many other hormones in the body. Both cortisol and sex hormones are regulated by the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis in the body. During prolonged stress, energy is shunted towards producing cortisol and the HPA axis become dysregulated. This is where the hormone imbalance occurs.
Healthy Sun Exposure
It’s also important to get outside and get some sunlight on a regular basis. Sun exposure helps us make vitamin D which plays a crucial role in hormone balance and calcium utilization. These actions will help lower elevated estrogen levels and ease cramping.
Another huge benefit of vitamin D is that it helps lower the production of prostaglandins and cytokines which are to chemicals in the body that are associated with inflammation and pain.
Getting adequate sunlight along with a diet rich in minerals can have significant impact on PMS symptoms.
Acupuncture, massage therapy, and aromatherapy (using essential oils) are sometimes suggested to reduce symptoms of PMS.
PMS can be debilitating for some women. If this is you, we recommend combining suggestions outlined in this article.
While there are little things you can do to address specific symptoms, the greatest benefit will come from implementing these strategies together. I often find that harsh PMS symptoms are more likely to occur in someone with poor health habits that are contributing to inflammation and hormone imbalances.
By taking the steps to improve sleep, reduce stress, balance hormones, along with the rest of the ways listed above, you will be a healthier person who also experiences a much milder PMS!