If you ever asked a woman one thing she would change about being female, it would almost definitely be periods. Not only are periods bloody and painful (or bloody painful), they're also associated with the notorious premenstrual syndrome -- also referred to as "PMS".
So, is PMS a ploy created by a secret organisation of women designed to give females a free pass for being grumpy once a month? Or perhaps it was a term coined by sexist males who didn’t take females seriously and wanted to put everything down to "hormones"?
PMS was first described in 1931 by gynecologist Robert Frank. It's a condition that's made up of physical and behavioural symptoms like bloating, mood changes and breast tenderness which are associated with the menstrual cycle. These symptoms tend to occur regularly during the second half of the menstrual cycle, and resolves by the end of menstruation.
A Times article pointed out new research that seems to suggest that there wasn’t a clear link between mood and periods. But until more research has been done in this field, PMS still remains in our medical textbooks and is not quite a proven conspiracy yet.
What causes it exactly?
Well, we aren’t quite sure! Although some believe that abnormal levels of certain hormones in the body are the cause, research still has not been able to prove this. Some evidence suggests that it may instead be the change in the amount of hormones and not the absolute amount of the hormone. Or it could just be that some people are more sensitive to these changes in hormones.
Here are the top 5 myths about PMS:
1. PMS makes women angry or emotional
PMS can manifest with multiple symptoms – the most common ones are:
- Mood changes – irritability, crying more
- Sadness, hopelessness
- Breast tenderness
- Food cravings
Although these symptoms are commonly seen in PMS, there are other serious medical conditions that may present with similar symptoms. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you may have depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
2. Chocolate helps alleviate PMS
I have many friends who binge on chocolate particularly during PMS and swear by it. Studies have shown that chocolate has positive effects on mood in general. But does it actually help in PMS?
Some studies suggest that the reason behind feeling better after binging on a bar of chocolate is due to the large amount of sugar it contains. Carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) increase levels of serotonin in the brain which in turn relives the mood changes. However large quantities of simple carbohydrates are unhealthy and we should try eating more complex carbohydrates such as whole grains.
Dietary changes that are actually recommended are:
- More water (aim for >8 glasses/ day)
- Less sugar
- Less fatty food
- Less salt intake
- Less caffeine
- Less alcohol
3. Netflix all day keeps the PMS away
Locking yourself up at home during PMS is not the best idea even though you may feel more tired, irritable or socially withdrawn. Next time try dragging yourself out of bed and going for a walk or jog instead.
Regular exercise has been shown to be beneficial as it reduces stress and anxiety. Relaxation therapies such as progressive muscle relaxation and meditation may also help with reducing stress.
4. How doctors diagnose if you have PMS
There's no single blood test that can diagnose you with PMS - even though some blood tests may be done by your doctor to rule out other causes of your symptoms.
Usually your doctor will ask you to record your symptoms daily for 2 menstrual cycles, and your symptoms will then be matched to a criterion that will determine if you have PMS.
5. Girls exaggerate PMS
Although most people only suffer from a milder form of PMS, about 1-9% of the population suffer from a more severe version of PMS called PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
PMDD occurs when symptoms (sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in things they usually enjoy) are so severe that they affect the patient’s daily life and ability to function.
For further reading, you can read this comprehensive article about PMS which references other important studies, and covers the type of treatment options for patients with PMS and PMDD.