Say the acronym "PMS," and you're bound to react. Some use it as an excuse: "Oh, I'm just PMS-ing." Others use it as an insult: "What is it, that time of the month again?"
For others, PMS can become a monthly nightmare that puts life on hold. A female friend, who prefers to remain nameless, calls her monthly brush with PMS "utter agony." She describes horrible, debilitating abdominal cramping that sends her to bed, sometimes for days. If she tries to ignore it and go about life as normal, she will likely "pass out cold from the pain." She often misses work, and her boss doesn't always understand.
Unfortunately, PMS has become so charged with knee-jerk reactions and negative connotations, it's hard to get to the bottom of it. But let's try, shall we?
Contrary to some beliefs, PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, is an actual, diagnosable condition. So please, skeptics, cynics and bosses begrudging a sick day, cut the women in your life some slack. The last thing you'll need if you suffer a heart attack is for some jerk to disregard or even belittle your symptoms. Treat PMS with that same respect.
The medical world treats it as an illness by defining it, giving a list of possible symptoms, attempting to pinpoint a cause and finally giving suggestions for treatment.
PMS is a group of symptoms that occur in the week or two preceding a woman's monthly menstrual cycle. The symptoms fall into one of three categories. The first consists of any feelings of pain, such as pelvic cramping, breast tenderness, nausea or headache.
The second group of symptoms embodies metabolic sensations, or those mysterious shifts in how your body desires and then expends energy. This is where your cravings for sweet things like chocolate, or for salty things like pickles come into play. You may feel bloated, or feel that you've gained weight.
Finally, everyone's favorite category: the psychological symptoms. This includes feelings of depression, anger for no reason, an inability to sleep and overall low self-esteem.
All kinds of premenstrual symptoms exist; the medical community has defined more than 150. But every woman experiences PMS in her own wayyou aren't abnormal if you crave rutabaga mash over dove chocolate bars. Some lucky women, in fact, may not experience PMS at all. Still, studies show that PMS symptoms affect about 75 percent of all women during their reproductive years at some point, and 30 percent of women experience PMS regularly. For an unlucky 10 percent, like my friend, PMS rears its ugly head in a more severe way.
As for the cause of PMS, many theories exist. It seems likely that the shifting levels of certain hormones in a woman's body right before her period play a role. Unfortunately, no one has quite pinpointed a source.
When does it become a problem, or something that requires treatment? It does when you decide that it does. If it's interfering with your everyday life and you can't take it any longer, you can make some changes in your lifestyle to see if that helps, and get professional help if they don't.
Altering your lifestyle can make a big difference for some women. Studies show that regular exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables may alleviate some PMS symptoms, particularly the bloating and food cravings. Exercise has the added bonus of providing stress relief. Yoga may also benefit some women. Sadly, the foods that most women crave, like salt, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine and simple carbohydrates, only make symptoms worse. Try to avoid them.
If you require further intervention, ask your doctor what she recommends. Birth-control pills help by modifying the hormones estrogen and progesterone in your body. For some women, this can provide a great deal of relief. Doctors can also prescribe antidepressants or pain medications if PMS symptoms become unbearable.
PMS may seem vague. But to my unnamed friend, there's nothing ambiguous about it. It's real and has a massive impact on her life.
Give the condition the recognition it deserves, and listen when a woman tells you she's suffering. It's no excuse; it's no insult. It's just PMS in all of its strange glory.
Talk to Your Doctor
Know that PMS is a real condition that deserves attention, especially when it starts to affect your daily life.
Keep track of the dates that your symptoms occur in a journal and bring it with you to your doctor. This will let you both know whether your symptoms coincide with your period. PMS can often be confused with other illnesses, such as depression, migraine headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome or irritable bowel syndrome. Your doctor can help you sort it out.
Help for Your Symptoms
• Get plenty of rest. Never skip out on a good night's sleep.
• Stress can aggravate PMS, so try to decompress. Read a book or try meditation to relax.
• Exercising can also relieve stress and help you feel good about yourself. Take a yoga class or go for an afternoon walk.
• Eat lots of fruits and vegetablesincreasing fiber in your diet can help.
• Calcium and vitamin E supplements may also be beneficial.
• Cut back on those foods you crave the most (sorry!), especially those with lots of sugar and salt.
• Avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking.