Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a poorly defined condition used to describe symptoms, which occur after ovulation and before a woman’s period. They are usually most intense in the week just before a woman’s period when the levels of estrogen and progesterone are the lowest.

Symptoms include:

  • abdominal bloating
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • headache
  • weight gain
  • fatigue
  • food cravings
  • tension
  • breast swelling
  • backache

Many women experience some of these symptoms.

Some illnesses may become worse during the two weeks before a woman’s period. This is known as ‘menstrual magnification.’ Illnesses where this occurs include:

  • depression
  • migraine headaches
  • seizure disorders
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • asthma
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • allergies

These conditions should be ruled out before a diagnosis of PMS is made. If PMS-like symptoms occur outside of the two-weeks before your period, you doctor should check for other illnesses.

Treatment

Changes in a woman’s diet and lifestyle may help relieve the symptoms of PMS. Here are some things that research has shown may improve PMS symptoms:

  • aerobic exercise
  • a complex carbohydrate diet that involves whole grains like brown flour and rice
  • vitamin supplements of calcium, magnesium and/or vitamin E

Other changes in a woman’s diet may help, such as eating more fruits and vegetables or eating less:

  • fat
  • sugar
  • salt
  • caffeine
  • alcohol

Some women have found herbs such as evening primrose oil or chasteberry helpful.

For women with serious symptoms, particularly mood changes, a group of antidepressant drugs known as SSRIs may be useful.

Birth-control pills are sometimes prescribed to treat PMS to increase hormone levels. This is for women with primarily physical symptoms. There is little evidence to support this approach.