Premenstrual syndrome is a condition which can occur at any time during a woman's childbearing years. The term 'premenstrual syndrome' is often shortened to 'PMS' and can also be known as 'premenstrual tension' or 'PMT'.PMS can cause many different symptoms. The symptoms usually appear a week or so before a period and they usually disappear once bleeding has started. In most cases symptoms are mild and can be controlled. However, in some cases they can be severe and can have a huge impact on normal life.

Some symptoms are emotional and others are physical and affect the body itself.

Emotional symptoms include feeling tearful, irritable or aggressive, mood swings, poor concentration, feeling misunderstood and food cravings, especially for sugary foods.

Physical symptoms include bloating of the stomach, tiredness, swollen or tender breasts, headaches, swollen ankles and hands, greasy skin and spots. These are only the most common symptoms but there are many more.

Causes

Premenstrual syndrome is caused by hormonal changes which occur each menstrual cycle between ovulation and the start of a period.

There is an increased incidence of PMS in women who have recently experienced some other hormonal upheaval such as puberty, childbirth or stopping or starting to take the contraceptive pill.

Avoiding Premenstrual Syndrome

  • Eat a well balanced diet which is low in fat, sugar and salt and high in fibre, carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables
  • Avoid high doses of caffeine
  • Caffeine can be found in tea, coffee, drinking chocolate, cola and chocolate
  • Do not drink too much alcohol
  • Take regular exercise
  • Try to avoid stress. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation may help

Treatment

Changes to diet and lifestyle can usually control PMS.Simple pain relief treatments are often adequate to ease any pain associated with PMS and many can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy. Magnetic devices are also available which can help to relieve period pain. They work by improving circulation in the pelvic region enabling the muscles to contract more effectively. They also help to prevent cramps by reducing the body's level of lactic acid (a substance produced in the muscle tissues when muscles contract). They can also be used to reduce breast tenderness before a period starts.Sometimes other medicines are used to ease the symptoms of PMS:

  • Hormone treatments can be used to control the body's hormone balance and reduce the symptoms of PMSDiuretic drugs can be used to prevent swellingEvening primrose oil can be used to control breast tenderness and painAntidepressants can also be used to control emotional symptoms
  • Recent medical research has suggested that taking magnesium and vitamin B6 supplements can help to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Magnesium is said to relieve symptoms caused by water retention such as bloating of the stomach, swollen ankles and hands and breast tenderness. Vitamin B6 is said to relieve anxiety-related symptoms such as nervous tension, irritability, anxiety, headaches and mood swings. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you would like to try dietary supplements

When To See A Doctor

Make an appointment to see your doctor if any symptoms are causing particular distress. Keeping a diary of symptoms which occur at different stages of the cycle may establish a pattern which could help your doctor.

Additional Information

Additional information about premenstrual syndrome can be obtained from the 'Well Woman Clinic' which are held at doctors' surgeries and health centres across the country.

Alternatively, contact the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS), 7 Swift's Court, High Street, Seal, Kent TN15 0EG. Tel: 01732 760011. Helpline: 01732 760012. E-mail address: contact@pms.org.uk. Website address: www.pms.org.uk.