In a society where it’s taboo to talk about our menstrual periods, it’s easy to believe that what you feel is “just PMS” — and that there’s not much you can do about it.
But we’re here to tell you otherwise.
Your feelings are valid. And you can definitely do something about it.
If you’re experiencing pain, or the symptoms before or during your period are affecting your everyday life and relationships, something is not right. Don’t let others downplay your symptoms or feelings — even if it’s your doctor.
Why? Because aside from PMS, there are a few other mood disorders associated with your menstrual cycle, including PMDD, PME, and PMAD. These are sometimes misdiagnosed or downplayed as PMS because of medical biases and limited resources in the healthcare system.
So if doctors brushed you off, there’s a good chance you were left in the dark about these topics.
But no one knows your body more than you do. In this article, we’ll bring PMS, PMDD, PME, and PMAD out of the shadows, and shed light on natural and safe remedies to use, so you can be an advocate for your own health.
Let’s begin with…
First of all, it’s time we stop normalizing period pain.
It’s not “just something that happens every month” — it’s an uncomfortable pain that is difficult to endure. You deserve to feel heard and to have options at your disposal that can reduce and eliminate this pain.
Period pain hurts differently for each woman. Some can manage to mask a smile, while some can barely get out of bed — and the bleeding is just a small fraction of it.
So what really is PMS?
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a combination of symptoms that manifest a week or two before you start bleeding. It affects about 47.8% of women around the globe and around 20% of this population experience severe symptoms that disrupt their daily life.
The most common symptoms of PMS are:
- Physical Symptoms – cramps & bloating, sore breasts, headaches, spotty skin, greasy hair, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, joint or muscle pain, acne, and hot flashes.
- Psychological Symptoms – mood swings, sadness, anxiety, irritability, and changes in appetite and sex drive.
On the other hand…
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a more intense form of PMS. Others may even describe it as the pain of PMS times two or, perhaps, more. On record, an estimated 3–8% of women suffer from PMDD but experts suggest that it may be closer to 13–18%.
If you are smoking, obese, or have experienced traumatic events, you are more at risk of having PMDD than others. However, some studies also speculate that genetics could be one of the culprits.
But what’s the difference between PMS and PMDD?
There’s no machine that could accurately tell whether you have PMS or PMDD right on the spot. Interestingly, you can actually help assess your condition using three things — a calendar, a pen, and your keen observation.
Tracking your symptoms before your period starts will provide clues to help you figure out if you have something more than PMS.
Why do I have to track my symptoms?
Because it will help you find out if you fit in the PMDD criteria:
Timing – take note if your symptoms start a week before your period and gradually improve after that. Also, make a note if you have at least one symptom in each of these two categories, and if you have a total of 5 between them:
- Affective lability (mood swings, sadness, or sensitivity to rejection)
- Irritability (intense anger or conflict with other people)
- Feeling of depression (hopelessness or self-harm)
- Anxiety (tension or feeling on edge)
- Less interest in usual activities or hobbies
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low energy (including fatigue)
- Appetite changes (cravings, overeating or not eating at all)
- Sleeping problems (hypersomnia or insomnia)
- Sense of being overwhelmed or out of control
- Physical symptoms such as breast tenderness or swelling, muscle pain, and feeling of bloating or weight gain
Severity – are the symptoms significantly affecting your day-to-day activities (including work or usual chores) and relationship with others? Take note that it’s not just an exacerbation (worsening) of an existing mental or psychological disorder.
Frequency – are your symptoms recurring over the span of two months? This should not be influenced by either physiological effects of a substance (like drug abuse and other medications) or another illness.
If you fit these criteria, discuss them with a doctor who has experience dealing with cases of PMDD. This is crucial because diagnosing the condition can be tricky.
Why? Because some symptoms of PMS and PMDD have a…
Link to Mood Disorders
Although a blood or hormone test isn’t necessary to diagnose PMS or PMDD, your doctor will make use of your medical history and might refer you to other specialists to rule out other disorders that PMDD closely resembles, such as:
- Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that severely affects your mood, energy, and ability to function. Like PMDD, it is also described as cycling between different emotional states. Their difference mainly lies in whether the symptoms consistently occur before your period or not.
- Depression and anxiety disorder – much like PMDD, the first line of treatment is serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). However, PMDD shows irritability and affect lability as its distinguishing factors, rather than depressed mood and anxiety.
- Perimenopause is the transitional period (around 4–5 years) before a woman stops menstruating. Due to the effects of hormonal fluctuation during this phase, the symptoms could be mistaken as PMDD.
- Other disorders like migraines; chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS); pelvic and bladder pain; and hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Sadly, you could have any of these conditions and PMDD as well.
Or, you might already have one of these disorders (except PMDD) that gets worse during your period — and there is another term for that— it’s called PME.
Premenstrual Exacerbation (PME) refers to the premenstrual exacerbation/worsening of the symptoms of another disorder. Compared to PMDD, there are fewer studies about PME and it is not yet diagnosed or treated clinically.
Simply put, you have PME if you have another mood disorder that occurs any time, but worsens a week before your period.
Wonder which conditions can be exacerbated before your period?
Honestly, it could be anything. This includes major depressive disorder, suicidality, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, alcoholism, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and the list goes on.
If you have a family history of mental health issues, it’s best to inform your healthcare provider so it can be taken into consideration. You also don’t want to delay treatment even when you’re still young as it can easily get tangled with family life and your intimate relationships, especially when you’re planning to have a baby.
What about PMAD?
Perinatal or Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) is a term used to encompass negative mental and emotional issues experienced by a woman during pregnancy and even after childbirth. Yes, even your male partner may experience PMAD but this is more common, with 10–15% of women being affected.
For many years, this was called postpartum depression but depression is just one of the many things a new mother may feel after labor, thus the gradual adaptation of the acronym PMAD.
Perhaps you’re wondering how this is related to PMS — after all, you won’t get a period when you’re pregnant. That’s right: no period. But the question remains…
Can pregnant women experience PMS-related symptoms?
And here, the answer is yes. During pregnancy and a year after childbirth (also called the perinatal period), our hormones are still fluctuating, causing mood changes among other physical and psychological symptoms which are quite similar to PMS.
And don’t worry, it’s normal to feel “off” up to a week after delivery. It even has a fitting name: baby blues. But PMAD is not the same thing.
So, what’s the difference between PMAD and baby blues?
Two things: length and severity of symptoms. Baby blues seldom exceed a week, so when it does, this could be one of the early signs that you have PMAD.
Another thing, baby blues won’t usually interfere with your daily activities, but PMAD will.
When your symptoms feel debilitating and persistent, it’s time to seek help, whether you choose traditional options or safe, alternative treatments.
Ways To Manage your PMS, PMDD, PME & PMAD Symptoms
What we’ve found most effective in addressing hundreds of different symptoms and various disorders, is to take a holistic healing approach. Not just putting a band-aid on the symptom, but understanding and treating the root cause of the problem.
Yes, we’ve ditched pills and over-the-counter medicines.
You could do some research and ask your doctor about prescription medications, but we want to emphasize 8 safe, natural, and effective methods that we at Women Cycles can personally vouch for:
- Maintain a healthy diet rich in whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables.
- Avoid PMS & PMDD triggers including alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, and processed salt.
- Try reducing your stress by doing meditation to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
- Engage in low impact exercises like Yoga, Tai-Chi, walking, swimming, and cycling.
- Try herbal remedies such as raspberry leaf tea, dandelion roots, fringe tree bark, etc.
- Explore Chinese medicine and Ayurveda to help balance your hormones.
- Use essential oils such as clary sage, marjoram, and lavender.
- Get plenty of sleep (preferably 7–8 hours) to rest, reset, and recharge your organs, especially your adrenal glands. These glands produce your stress hormones, so they need proper rest and plenty of it.
The Bottom Line is…
If you have PMS, PMDD, PME, PMAD, or other conditions, we understand how limiting and painful they can be. Plus, they strain your personal relationships with your family and partners. We’ve been there before. But these conditions don’t define you, and they are not forever.
Your body has an innate ability to heal itself when given the right environment and tools.
And you create the ideal environment for bringing health, harmony, and joy back into your life by first addressing the root cause of your condition.
Having a community of like-minded women who care about you and have your back will speed up this process so you can get to be you.