Why premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a valid excuse for feeling under the weather

Sinéad Mooney

Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a combination of symptoms that menstruating people can experience in the days leading up to their period.

While the exact symptoms experienced vary widely from person to person, the effects can be both physical (such as bloating, cramping, tenderness of breasts) and emotional (such as irritability, depression and anxiety) in nature.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 85 per cent of women of menstruating age experience at least one symptom of PMS each month.

59 per cent of Irish women reported that PMS affected their daily life, according to a survey of over 500 women conducted by Cleanmarine For Women. 68 per cent believed that their personalities changed for the worse when suffering from PMS, while a further 16 per cent said they occasionally struggled to recognise themselves while experiencing PMS.

Despite reporting these drastic effects, the study found that 46 per cent believed their male partners would not understand or be sympathetic to their symptoms. The study also indicated that 43 per cent of those surveyed do not take action to manage their PMS symptoms.

While there is no single cause of PMS, the Health Service Executive (HSE) website outlines a number of factors that most likely contribute to its symptoms:

A key factor is the fluctuation of hormone levels. Hormones like oestrogen and progesterone rise and fall over the course of the menstrual cycle, and are thought to be strongly linked with the emotional and psychological effects of PMS.

This is supported by the fact that symptoms improve during pregnancy and menopause, when hormone levels stabilise.

Another factor is the change in the brain’s chemical mix that occurs during the menstrual cycle. One of the most prominent chemicals is serotonin, which regulates mood and increases happiness. A fluctuation in serotonin can lead to the low moods and increased irritability many people who menstruate experience as part of their PMS.

Those with pre-existing conditions that cause low levels of serotonin, such as depression, may be particularly sensitive to the psychological effects of PMS, as well as symptoms such as exhaustion, insomnia, and food cravings.

Other factors thought to exacerbate PMS are high levels of stress, poor diet, and a lack of exercise, the HSE adds.

The site womenshealth.gov offers a number of possible ways to alleviate PMS. These recommendations include making sure to exercise regularly, for example engaging in aerobics or yoga.

A healthy diet can also lessen symptoms. By avoiding food and drink with high levels of caffeine, salt, and sugar, you can help limit bloating and mood swings.

Above all, it is important to avoid extra stressors while experiencing PMS and try to take advantage of practical physical and mental health advice when feeling under the weather.

Sinéad Mooney

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