16 Common PMS Symptoms and How to Reduce Them

Premenstrual syndrome or PMS affects almost everyone who has a period. But PMS's meaning varies between women and can even differ month to month. If you're like us, you want a more definitive answer to the age-old question, what is PMS? Lucky for you, we did some research so you don't have to.

At the most basic level, premenstrual syndrome is a combination of physical and behavioral changes that forecast that your period is on its way. Here are a few symptoms to look for – and some common ways women may find some relief.

Disclaimer: Not sure what to do with a major case of PMS? Please contact your gynecologist. We are not doctors, so the following should not be read as medical advice.

PMS Meaning, Explained

PMS, the abbreviation for Premenstrual Syndrome, can mean physical, behavioral or emotional changes that accompany your body’s hormonal fluctuations before a period. Typically, they occur a week before your period and can range in severity from painful enough to merit a sick day from school or work or so mild you barely even notice them.

According to a study published by the University of Southern California school of medicine, up to 90% of women experience these symptoms on a regular basis. Some women are more genetically predisposed to experience them than others.

Depending on the research you consider, between 2 and 10 percent of people report debilitating symptoms. Extreme versions of this condition may be diagnosed as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which may require medical treatment.

16 Common PMS Symptoms

All ladies know that just because premenstrual syndrome is common doesn’t mean that it’s easy. One study found that women who were diagnosed with it experienced over $4,000 in indirect costs annually from challenges that arise from it. In other words, PMS’s meaning for many women may mean a distraction from work, school and other activities that define her life.

This is because PMS symptoms can be wide-ranging, uncomfortable or painful and several distracting. These indicators can be divided into two categories: physical and emotional. Keep in mind that there are approximately 200 PMS symptoms, according to some research. Your experiences may be different than those listed. If you're considered, please see a doctor.

Physical PMS Symptoms:

These may include (but are not limited to):

  • Fatigue
  • Tender breasts
  • Bloating or weight gain
  • Acne
  • Food cravings
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Headaches
  • Aches and pains
  • Gassiness
  • Vaginal pH changes

PMS symptoms

Emotional Indicators

PMS’ impacts are not only physical. In fact, some research has linked PMS and depression: In one study, 26 percent of women with depression showed signs of premenstrual syndrome compared to 9% of non-depressed subjects. Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Depression and crying
  • Change in sex drive
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Insomnia or change in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering

If you are struggling with any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor for more information.

What Causes PMS?

No one knows exactly what causes these symptoms. We do know that they are connected to neurotransmitters and neurohormones and that their severity may be genetic.

Why would premenstrual syndrome affect your mood in the first place? Some say that it is connected to serotonin levels — the chemical i.e. a neurotransmitter that may affect your mood – levels in the brain. This could be the reason why PMS symptoms may include depression or anxiety.

Other facts about your menstrual cycle:

  • Hormones can affect sleep patterns, which can contribute to insomnia.
  • Shifting estrogen levels may contribute to headaches.
  • Prolactin, a hormone associated with breastfeeding, may cause swelling and tender breasts.

Keep in mind that we are not doctors. This information is based on research, but any serious medical questions should be addressed to your gynecologist.

Fun Fact: Certain symptoms are more associated with phases in the menstrual cycle, such as the follicular phase.

When Does PMS Start?

Premenstrual Syndrome typically begins between 11 and 5 days before your period. Usually, it goes away within a few days of menstruation. When does PMS start? Technically it begins in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This is the time between ovulation and the start of your period. The luteal phase either cumulates in pregnancy or a period. Then, your body starts the whole process over again.

During the luteal phase, a woman’s body produces large amounts of progesterone, then the production of this hormone drops off. The luteal phase lasts between 9 and 16 days, though the average length is 14 days, according to research.

How Long Does PMS Last?

OK great, now I understand why I'm bloated and in a terrible mood. But how long can I expect to feel this way?

Usually, PMS symptoms can begin as early as 14 days before your period, though they typically disappear within a few days of menstruation. They may, however, last up to day 7 of menstruation (yikes). In typical cases, symptoms may begin as early as 11 days to 5 days prior to a period and stop when the period starts. If you are concerned about the length or severity of symptoms, the best course of action is to see your doctor.

How to Relieve Premenstrual Syndrome

You might be wondering, “Great, I can answer, what is PMS, but all I want to do is relieve my symptoms?” Excellent question. Though there is no “cure” for these symptoms, there are many ways to mitigate their severity. Here are a few ways that some women manage their time of the month:

  • Eating healthfully
  • Limiting caffeine
  • Increasing exercise
  • Limiting stress
  • Stop smoking

Does Caffeine Affect PMS?

Research is unclear on whether there is a correlation between caffeine consumption and the physical and behavioral symptoms associated with menstruation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that women who experience premenstrual syndrome avoid caffeine. This may be because women with severe cases are more likely to consume larger amounts of caffeine.

This may be a chicken or the egg situation: Women who suffer from fatigue prior to their period may be more inclined to consume caffeine, for example. Similarly, people who consume caffeine are more likely to smoke, which may also contribute to PMS symptoms.

Smoking and Premenstrual Syndrome

Research on the connection between smoking and those dreaded period indicators is more clear. According to research, women between the ages of 27 and 44 are two times more likely to experience PMS symptoms if they smoke. This is because smoking may affect hormone levels, including progesterone and estrogen. It may also lower Vitamin D levels.

PMS symptoms linked to smoking may include acne, bloating, aches, and tender breasts.

Eating Well and Exercising May Reduce Premenstrual Syndrome

Eating a healthy diet and going light on the junk food may actually help you when Aunt Flo comes around, according to research. One study of adolescent girls uncovered a correlation between menstrual cramps and junk food consumption. More generally, it links PMS symptoms to a lack of exercise.

Other studies support this research: Considering 40 non-athletic girls between the ages of 18 and 25, other research found that eight weeks of aerobic exercise reduced the physical and psychological symptoms commonly connected to menstruation.

Cramps are also more common around menarche, which is a girl's first period.

pms symptoms relief

Medications for Reducing Physical Discomfort

For people who deal with breast discomfort, cramping, aches, and pains, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may offer relief. These may include over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, Advil, Midol, Motrin, or Aleve. Check with your doctor — especially if you’re considering long-term use or are using other medications.

Hormonal Birth Control May Help with PMS

In some cases, especially ones with extreme symptoms, hormonal birth control may help. In other words, a contraceptive device such as a hormonal IUD or the pill may stop ovulation, thereby reducing PMS symptoms. If you’re curious about either of these methods, please speak with a gynecologist to learn about your options.

Supplements that Some Women Find Helpful

Sometimes, diet and exercise (and avoiding cigarettes, of course) may not be enough. Some people choose to take supplements to mitigate PMS symptoms. Keep in mind that many supplements and supportive strategies for dealing with your period are experimental. This means that choosing to take a dietary supplement is a personal choice that you should make with a doctor.

Calcium for PMS

According to research, women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome may not consume enough calcium. One study gave women 500 mg of calcium every day for 2 months. It concluded that by the second menstrual cycle phase, the calcium reduced water retention, sleep pattern changes, and emotional changes such as anxiety and depression.

Another way to benefit from calcium is to eat calcium-rich food including:

  • Yogurt
  • Seeds (think: sesame, chia and poppy seeds)
  • Salmon and sardines
  • Legumes (beans and lentils especially)
  • Leafy greens (collard greens and spinach)
  • Cheese

As always, talk to your physician before you begin consuming supplements.

pms symptoms

Vitamin B-6

One of the potential benefits of Vitamin B may be a reduction in PMS symptoms – especially those that affect your psychological wellbeing, according to research. In addition to a water-soluble supplement, you may also get your daily Vitamin B-6 from:

  • Salmon and other fish
  • Potatoes
  • Organ meats (think: liver)
  • Chickpeas

If you’re taking a supplement, follow the instruction on the label and consult with your doctor.

Evening Primrose Oil

Though there is no research on the effects of evening primrose oil on your period, some people take it to ease their side-effects. These may include breast tenderness, bloating, and psychological side-effects like depression and anxiety.

The research and regulations surrounding herbal supplements compared to pharmaceuticals are limited. However, one study found that people who had taken evening primrose oil capsules experienced an improvement in neuropathy test scores over six months.

Chasteberry for PMS

The fruit of the Chaste tree and native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia, Chasteberry has long been a supplement for PMS symptoms. Specifically, a scientific review of various studies on the herbal remedy found that it helps with physical troubles such as bloating, headaches and breast tenderness. Research even found that it was better at mitigating these symptoms than antidepressant Prozac, though it was not superior at assuaging mood swings than the pharmaceutical.

Magnesium Supplements

Another common PMS supplement sometimes combined with vitamin B-6 is magnesium. Similar to calcium, some people who experience discomfort or emotional changes around their period may have low levels of magnesium.

One study uncovered that a Vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplement had the highest effect on decreasing PMS symptoms. This was in comparison to a pure magnesium supplement or placebo.

Managing PMS Symptoms in 2021

Let’s face it: Most of us still deal with premenstrual syndrome on a routine basis. And though there is no “cure” for these irksome, distracting and sometimes painful side-effects, there is a lot we can do about it.

For starters, some research finds that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which means exercising regularly and avoiding junk food and smoking, can make a huge difference. Similarly, there are all-natural supplements and pharmaceuticals that may help relieve certain aches and pains. Another way to potentially mitigate symptoms is to plan for them. That may mean using a period tracker app.

Of course, the best thing to do is to contact your doctor and keep them informed of what you’re experiencing.

When it comes to PMS it’s all about awareness: Understanding what it is, what can help alleviate it, and knowing that you’re not alone when it comes to struggling with your period.

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