Premenstrual syndrome

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (also called PMT or Premenstrual Tension) is a collection of physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms related to a woman's menstrual cycle. While most women (about 80 to 95 percent) of child-bearing age have some premenstrual symptoms,[1] women with PMS have symptoms of "sufficient severity to interfere with some aspects of life".[2] Further, such symptoms are predictable and occur regularly during the two weeks prior to menses. The symptoms may vanish after the bleeding starts, but may continue even after bleeding has begun. Also, many females get easily irritated during PMS.[1] About 14 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 35 become so affected that they must stay home from school or work.[3]

For some women with PMS, the symptoms are so severe that they are considered disabling. This form of PMS has its own psychiatric designation: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Culturally, the abbreviation PMS is widely understood in the United States to refer to difficulties associated with menses, and the abbreviation is used frequently even in casual and colloquial settings, without regard to medical rigor. In these contexts, the syndrome is rarely referred to without abbreviation, and the connotations of the reference are frequently more broad than the clinical definition.


The exact causes of PMS are not fully understood. While PMS is linked to the luteal phase, measurements of sex hormone levels are within normal levels. PMS tends to be more common among twins suggesting the possibility of some genetic component.[2] Current thinking suspects that central-nervous-system neurotransmitter interactions with sex hormones are affected.[2] It is thought to be linked to activity of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in the brain.[4] [5][6]. Ethynodiol diacetate and ethinyl estradiol can cause premenstrual syndrome.


There is no laboratory test or unique physical findings to verify the diagnosis of PMS. To establish a pattern, a woman's physician may ask her to keep a prospective record of her symptoms on a calendar for at least two menstrual cycles. [7] This will help to establish the symptoms are, indeed, premenstrual and predictably recurring. In addition, other conditions that may explain symptoms better may have to be excluded.[2]

A number of standardized instruments have been developed to describe PMS, including the Calendar of Premenstrual syndrome Experiences (COPE), the Prespective Record of the Impact and Severity of Menstruation (PRISM), and the Visual Anague Scales (VAS).[2]

A number of medical conditions are subject to exacerbation at menstruation, a process called menstrual magnification. These conditions may lead the patient to believe that she may have PMS, when the underlying disorder may be some other problem. A key feature is that these conditions may also be present outside of the luteal phase. Conditions that can be magnified perimenstrually include depression, migraine, seizure disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, and allergies. PMS is more common in women with stress.[2]


PMS is a collection of symptoms. 150 separate symptoms have been identified.[8] The exact symptoms and how severe they are vary from person to person and from month to month. Most women with premenstrual syndrome experience only a few of the problems. The most common symptoms are: [7] [9] [5]


Many treatments have been suggested for PMS, including diet or lifestyle changes, and other supportive means. Medical interventions are primarily concerned with hormonal intervention and use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

  • Supportive therapy includes evaluation, reassurance, and informational counseling, and is an important part of therapy in an attempt to help the patient regain control over her life. In addition, aerobic exercise has been found in some studies to be helpful.[2] Some PMS symptoms may be relieved by leading a healthy lifestyle: Reduction of caffeine, sugar, and sodium intake and increase of fiber, and adequate rest and sleep.[10]

Alternative views

Some medical professionals suggest that PMS might be a socially constructed disorder.[12]

Supporters of PMS's medical validity claim support from the non-disputed status of a more serious but similar problem, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder ("PMDD"). In women with PMDD, studies have shown a correlation between self-reported emotional distress and levels of a serotonin precursor as measured by Positron emission tomography (PET).[13] PMDD also has a consistent treatment record with SSRIs, when compared with placebos. [14]

However, most supporters of PMS as a social construct do not dispute PMDD's medical status. Rather, they believe PMS and PMDD to be unrelated issues, one a product of brain chemistry, the other a product of a hypochondriatic culture. There has not been enough debate between the two views to come to any sound conclusion.

Part of the reason the validity of the emotional aspects of PMS is being doubted is the lack of scientifically-sound studies on the matter. Many Western studies on PMS (PMS is primarily seen in Western Europe and North America) rely solely on self-reporting, and since Western women are socially conditioned to expect PMS or to at least know of its purported existence, they report their symptoms accordingly.[15]

Another view holds that PMS is too frequently or wrongly diagnosed in many cases. A variety of problems, such as chronic depression, infections, and outbursts of frustration can be mis-diagnosed as PMS if they happen to coincide with the premenstrual period. Often, says this theory, PMS is used as an explanation for outbursts of rage or sadness, even when it is not the primary cause. [16]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Apotek1: PMS". 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: Apotek 1 " ignored (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 ACOG Practice Committee (April 2000). "Premenstrual syndrome". Text " publisher: ACOG " ignored (help)
  3. "Mozon: Sykemelder seg på grunn av menssmerter". 2004-10-25. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: Mozon " ignored (help)
  4. "NHS Direct: Premenstrual syndrome - Causes". 2005-11-09. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: NHS Direct " ignored (help)
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Merck Manual Professional - Menstrual Abnormalities". 2005-11. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. "Causes of PMS". 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-11. Text " publisher: Always " ignored (help)
  7. 7.0 7.1 " Premenstrual syndrome syndrome (PMS): Signs and symptoms". 2006-10-27. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: " ignored (help)
  8. "NHS Direct: Premenstrual syndrome syndrome - Symptoms". 2005-11-09. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: NHS Direct " ignored (help)
  9. "Always: Tips and information". 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: Always " ignored (help)
  10. 10.0 10.1 " PMS: What you can do to ease your symptoms?". 2005. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: " ignored (help)
  11. "U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Premenstrual syndrome". 2006-09. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Text " publisher: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services " ignored (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. | Mood changes correlate to changes in brain serotonin precursor trapping in women with premenstrual dysphoria.
  15. Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 144.
  16. Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 142.

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