People often joke about the increased mood swings and emotional sensitivity that accompany a woman’s ‘time of month’. However for some women, premenstrual symptoms are anything but a joke, as they can be intense and cause significant distress when they re-emerge every few weeks.
What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder? (PMDD)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a condition that affects a woman’s physical and emotional well-being for the week or two leading up to her period. PMDD can be thought of as a more severe version of PMS that negatively impacts a woman’s ability to carry out daily responsibilities and engage in relationships.
This condition affects around 5% of women, many of which are living with co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression. (For more information about various mental health disorders, click here).
Signs and Symptoms of PMDD
A woman with PMDD commonly experiences both physical and emotional symptoms which typically start 7-10 days prior to her period. The symptoms are similar to those we typically think of with PMS, but tend to be more severe, particularly the impact on a woman’s mental health. Symptoms typically resolve several days after a period begins.
Common physical symptoms of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
- Abdominal cramps
- Joint or muscle pain
- Back pain
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Food cravings and binge eating
Emotional symptoms of PMDD may look like:
- Feelings of sadness or despair
- Crying spells
- Irritability or anger that affects others
- Feeling out of control
- Increased anxiety or panic attacks
- Loss of interest in normal activities
The intensity of the symptoms can interfere with a woman’s ability to function at work or school. It can also cause relational strain as increased agitation or irritability could cause a woman with PMDD to lash out at others. Their behavior tends to be markedly different from other times during the month.
In order for someone to be diagnosed with PMDD, they have to experience five or more symptoms, at least one of which is mood related. If you are concerned with the premenstrual symptoms you are experiencing, it may be helpful to keep a chart of symptoms and when they occur that you can discuss with a doctor.
What Causes Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder?
Research is still being conducted as to the cause of premenstrual dysphoric disorder. It is thought that changing hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle plays a significant role, and some women may be more sensitive to these changes. As levels of hormones such as estrogen and prestogerestone shift throughout the menstrual cycle, it may cause serotonin deficiency to occur which can trigger mood changes as well as physical symptoms.
There are several risk factors that increase a womans’ risk of developing PMDD such as a family history of the condition or having an already existing mood or anxiety disorder.
If you are experiencing severe symptoms prior to your period that are causing mental and physical distress and impacting your quality of life, reach out to your doctor who can help you to establish a plan for treatment.
Treatment for premenstrual dysphoric disorder typically looks like a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been proven to be effective in altering serotonin levels for women with PMDD. Birth control pills may also be used.
There are simple changes women with PMDD can make to their daily routines to promote positive physical and mental health, particularly at certain points in their menstrual cycle. Following a healthy diet, reducing intake of sugary and salty foods, increasing physical activity and engaging in stress management techniques may alleviate the intensity of symptoms.