What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)? Symptoms & Treatments

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Maybe you feel a little more down-in-the-dumps than usual. Maybe your boobs are hurting. Or maybe you’re dealing with a breakout of pimples on your chin. If this sounds all too familiar, you might be dealing with premenstrual syndrome symptoms, or PMS, unofficially known as The Worst. It can happen like clockwork in the week leading up to your period, and PMS symptoms may appear in different ways for people. But knowing what’s actually happening inside your body can go a long way in helping you feel better, ASAP. Here’s why it’s happening – and what you can do to deal with it.

Table of content:

What is PMS?

What does PMS mean? Premenstrual syndrome is the unfortunate combination of symptoms that women, or those who bleed, may experience in the week before their period starts. While the exact cause of PMS is still unknown (it’s one of the great mysteries of women’s health), there are a few factors that may be at play, such as changes in both your hormones and the chemicals in your brain¹. Now for some good news: PMSing is an entirely normal part of the menstrual cycle, and usually not a huge deal for your health. Plus, since it follows a pretty predictable pattern, you can at least identify when you’re dealing with PMS as opposed to something else. If you’re feeling breast tenderness, for instance, you can use it as a heads up that your period is on its way and maybe stash some tampons in your bag – just in case.

Still, even though PMS is very common, it doesn’t exactly make life easy for you. The combo of physical discomfort and emotional stress that accompanies PMS can interfere with your daily life, interrupting your usual activities and making school or work feel downright miserable. A small number of women may even experience debilitating symptoms, meaning the physical or emotional distress is so intense that you need to cancel plans or take a sick day. This is known as premenstrual tension dysphoric disorder, and it’s basically an even more intense version of PMS – think severe irritability, anxiety and depression². If this sounds familiar, talk to your doctor ASAP, because there are options out there that can help you.

On the bright side: no matter how it happens, premenstrual syndrome symptoms are always temporary. For most people, PMS symptoms go away within four days after their period starts. If your premenstrual symptoms don’t, talk to your doctor so you can get to the bottom of it.

When does PMS start?

PMS symptoms start in the last phase of the menstrual cycle - the luteal phase - and disappear with the onset of menstrual bleeding. This means that PMS occurs approximately 7 to 12 days before the onset of menstruation. Breast pain, irritability, anger and emotional upset - these are the most common and very annoying symptoms of PMS. They usually appear about 6 days before the planned menstruation, and are most severe mainly 2 days before bleeding.

Does PMS change with age?

PMS occurs in women of childbearing age, i.e. from the first to the last menstrual period. The most intense discomfort is observed in women between 25 and 35 years of age. As we age, PMS symptoms can become more intense. Their intensity intensifies during the last years before menopause. For many women, this will be the period after the age of 40.

What are common PMS symptoms?

What are PMS symptoms? If you’re PMSing, you may experience a combination of various premenstrual symptoms, which usually fall into two categories: emotional and physical. PMS usually includes at least five of these symptoms, and they can range from mild to severe, depending on you and your body. On top of that, every menstrual cycle is different, even for yourself. You might have food cravings and feel like crying for no reason one month, and experience a breakout and mood swings the next. Not ideal, but once you have a good idea of what to expect, you can be better prepared to handle it like a pro. Here are some symptoms of PMS to watch out for:

Physical symptoms of PMS

During premenstrual syndrome there are many premenstrual symptoms. Physical symptoms of PMS occur in varying degrees of severity and may be one of the reasons for withdrawal and reluctance to socialise due to impaired functioning. The most common physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome include:

  • Acne
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness or swelling
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Chest palpitations
  • Clumsiness
  • Constipation
  • Cramps
  • Food cravings
  • Headaches
  • Increased thirst
  • Joint or muscle aches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swollen ankles or swollen fingers (from fluid retention)
  • Upset stomach
  • Weight gain

Emotional and behavioral symptoms of PMS

Emotional symptoms of PMS are most characteristic of this condition. PMS also includes behavioural symptoms, which mainly concern a reduction in cognitive abilities and concentration skills. The ailments that can then occur and give behavioural and emotional symptoms PMS are:

  • Anger, irritability
  • Anxiety, tension
  • Changes in libido
  • Crying spells
  • Decreased interest in usual activities
  • Depression, depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low self-image
  • Over-sensitivity
  • Restlessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sudden and dramatic mood swings

Mood swings can also occur during your period. Find out how to deal with them!

What is PMS fatigue?

PMS fatigue usually occurs the day before menstruation and appears along with other premenstrual symptoms. These symptoms are part of a woman's natural biological cycle, which allows her to adapt to the hormonal changes that occur in her body. So, if you feel tired, exhausted even, maybe a little listless, about once a month around your period, then you’re not alone. PMS fatigue affects many girls and can be made worse by some common PMS habits, like reaching for a bunch of junk food. Or not doing a lot of physical activity. (Fight through those cramps and get moving! You’ll feel less tired and your cramps will get some relief.)

It is also important to take care of the quality of our sleep. PMS fatigue can also be overcome if you get a good night's sleep. It's best to go to bed earlier than usual and not fall asleep with your phone in your hand.

What causes PMS?

Wondering what is PMS and where comes from? What PMS meaning? The main cause is the occurrence of an ovulatory cycle and therefore a reduction in the amount of hormones produced by the ovaries in the second half of the cycle, the luteal phase. This is when the production of oestrogen and lutein decreases. At the same time, there is an increase in progesterone, which is responsible for implantation of the fertilised egg in the uterus. Susceptibility to PMS can be an individual predisposition, depending on susceptibility to hormonal fluctuations, a genetic predisposition or depend on the functioning of neurotransmitters. This is why some women experience premenstrual tension and others do not understand their problems.

Other PMS causes also include:

  • Prolactin - a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the development of the mammary gland and, at the end of pregnancy and during breastfeeding, for the production of milk. Prolactin levels hardly change in our body during the menstrual cycle. However, in some women - for some unknown reason - its concentration increases significantly. Ovulation is then blocked, which leads to a shortage of progesterone in the second phase of the cycle and PMS causes unpleasant symptoms.
  • Inadequate nutrition - eating unhealthy, processed food, drinking alcohol AND caffeine in large quantities.
  • Genetic factors - this is a theory that indicates that PMS is more common in women whose mothers had similar conditions.

How is PMS diagnosed?

PMS is diagnosed by observing our cycle AND the symptoms that appear. It is also advisable to carry out diagnostic blood tests, especially if PMS symptoms are very bothersome. A package of female hormone tests should be carried out. You can also start keeping a diary of your complaints for a minimum of two consecutive monthly cycles. This will enable you to make a proper diagnosis and rule out other PMS causes of your symptoms.

How to ease PMS symptoms with natural remedies

While there’s no way to prevent premenstrual syndrome, proactive steps can help at least minimise your discomfort and lower your stress levels a notch, making this monthly rite of passage just a little more bearable. From the very beginning, when you notice PMS symptoms it is worth implementing non-pharmacological methods to alleviate PMS. First of all, start by changing your lifestyle. A few small changes can make a whole lot of difference in tackling PMS symptoms and give you PMS relief:. Explore PMS natural remedies:

Take note

Jot down notes in a notebook or on your phone about the symptoms you’re experiencing. Whether you’re more tired than usual or have a stomach-ache for no apparent reason, taking a note of it will help you figure out patterns so you can better prepare yourself in the months ahead.

Get enough sleep

A lack of sleep can make everything worse – PMS included – and you’re basically starting at a disadvantage when you wake up already feeling exhausted. Get a full eight hours of sleep a night, every night. It seems so simple, but you can fight that drained feeling so much better on a full night’s sleep. When you wake up from a deep sleep, it gives you a fresh, confident look, even when you feel your worst.

Tweak your diet

Food cravings have nothing on an otherwise healthy diet. Load up on complex carbs like whole grains, fruits and vegetables to keep things moving in your gut, and hold off on salt, which can help keep bloating and water retention to a minimum. Calcium-rich foods are good too. Think salmon and spinach. Next, split your usual meals into smaller portions that you can eat throughout the day, which may help you feel less uncomfortably full (a not-so-fun side effect of bloating). Eating more frequently might help your blood sugar to stabilise better, helping you to feel better. And take a break from caffeine and alcohol, both of which can mess with your digestive system, disrupt sleep and make you more irritable – and trust us, that’s the last thing you need right now.

Work on your stress levels

Keep your mood swings to a minimum by getting your stress levels in check. If you have headaches, trouble falling asleep, or anxiety, try deep-breathing exercises. Reading and meditating are also calming activities, and you can’t go wrong with a little yoga session; some poses can even help with cramps and bloating. (Do you experience cramps every month? Learn more about menstrual cramp causes, symptoms, and treatments.)

In addition, stress can also affect your period.

Save your strength

Postpone important and difficult matters until the first half of the next cycle. And if you experience PMS symptoms, take a relaxing bath - for example, with herbs, which have a relaxing, loosening and calming effect on your body. You can prepare a decoction of rose, hops and chamomile and add it to warm water.

You can also massage your lower abdomen and back with oils. This will reduce pain and muscle tension. Use essential oils for this massage: geranium, calamus, evening primrose.


Exercise is the ultimate problem-solver: it can make you feel less stressed, ease bloating and cramping, and help you feel more energised. And although a 5K probably doesn’t seem appealing when you’re feeling like a beached whale in a bad mood, it’ll probably be worth it afterwards. If tender breasts make jogging a no-go, even a brisk walk or cycling would work. Exercise will lift your mood and may even help you to sleep better too.

Consider medication

Ask your doctor about supplements. They’ll have the best ideas since they know your medical history and current medications. Calcium and magnesium supplements or vitamin E are a few supplements they may suggest.

Certain medications can also help with physical PMS symptoms, especially if you take them at the onset of your period. In particular, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may help you deal with the discomfort of breast tenderness and cramping.

Premenstrual tension is no walk in the park but knowing what symptoms of PMS to expect – like physical and emotional changes – can make it way easier to handle when it comes around. Who says you need to be miserable every month?

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