Once a month, like clockwork, you can expect the telltale signs that your period is about to start. You may not have the exact same symptoms as the lady next door, your friend at work, or even your mom, but they tend to fall into the same category and include some degree of lower back ache, cramps, irritability, headaches, and bloating.
If you feel your premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms are worse than average, you might be right. The best way to know for sure is to talk to a professional.
Dr. Donna J. Hagberg is an expert OB/GYN who understands the full range of PMS symptoms, from mild fatigue to severe pain. The reason you’re feeling these symptoms is that your hormone levels — specifically, estrogen and progesterone — drop off dramatically during this phase in your menstrual cycle, and your body is trying to deal with it.
If your PMS is worrying you, Dr. Hagberg can evaluate your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that will help you get through the month more comfortably.
Normal PMS symptoms
Before getting into what’s abnormal, it’s a good idea to understand what is normal. First, you should know that having symptoms is normal. In fact, more than 90% of women feel them to some degree every month. Here’s what most women experience:
- Abdominal cramps
- Changes in bowel and digestion activity
- Bloating and gas
This list is not exhaustive, and not all women experience all of them, but it’s a good place to start when you’re trying to figure out if your symptoms fall in line with normal expectations.
Keep in mind that all of these symptoms are normal if they’re mild or moderate and subside within a day or two after you start your period. Over-the-counter pain relievers and snuggling up with a heating pad are usually just the right thing to calm these symptoms.
Abnormal PMS symptoms
If any or all of your PMS symptoms cross over to the moderate-to-severe category, it’s time to make an appointment with Dr. Hagberg. About 20-40% of women would classify their monthly aches and pains at this level. While moderate symptoms are generally no cause for serious concern, you might benefit from a prescription-strength medication.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
A small percentage of women (about 3-8%) experience extreme PMS symptoms, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). A good measure of PMDD is whether or not your PMS symptoms begin to interfere with your daily activities, such as attending work or school.
Here are some examples of PMDD symptoms:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Uncontrolled crying
- Lack of coordination
- Vision problems
Again, this is not a complete list, but it gives you a good picture of what PMDD looks and feels like. If Dr. Hagberg diagnoses you with PMDD, she can help you manage your symptoms with oral contraceptives (which contain hormones), antidepressants, and diuretics.
Preventing and managing normal PMS
Fortunately, most PMS is not severe. In fact, most women can easily manage and even prevent most of their PMS symptoms by controlling their lifestyle choices.
Proper nutrition is your best friend when it comes to easing your PMS symptoms. Lots of fruits and vegetables and foods rich in calcium can help fight bloating. Here are a few more items to reach for during that time of the month:
- Dairy products
- Pumpkin and squash
- Whole grains
- Iron-rich foods, like red meat
Things you should stay away from include:
The bottom line is that this list is a healthy diet to stick to all month and all year, regardless of your PMS symptoms. Add regular exercise to the mix and you should notice a marked improvement in your monthly aches and issues.