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Premenstrual Syndrome

Varying symptoms that may affect women in the days leading up to menstruation

  • Usually develops in late adolescence; may occur in all menstruating females
  • Stress and certain foods may aggravate symptoms
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

As many as 1 in 3 women experiences symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as her period approaches. In up to 1 in 20 women, these symptoms may be severe enough to disrupt activities.

The cause of PMS is uncertain, but it is thought that the symptoms are triggered by the action of the female sex hormones, particularly progesterone, before menstruation. Stress may make the symptoms worse, as may excessive consumption of chocolate and caffeine containing drinks, such as coffee and cola.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of PMS vary between women and may also differ from month to month. Symptoms may appear just a few hours before a period begins, but they can start up to 14 days beforehand. In most affected women, the symptoms disappear by the time menstruation has finished or a few days afterwards. The symptoms of PMS may include:

  • Tenderness or generalized lumpiness of the breasts.

  • A feeling of bloating caused by the retention of fluid.

  • Mood changes, including feeling tense, irritability, depression, and anxiety.

  • Tiredness.

  • Difficulty concentrating and making everyday decisions.

  • Headaches, including migraine.

  • Backache and muscle stiffness.

  • Disruption of normal sleep patterns.

  • Unusual food cravings.

Less commonly, nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, dizziness, and hot flushes may also be experienced.

What might be done?

The diagnosis of PMS is usually easily made from the timing of your symptoms. Your doctor may ask you to keep a record of symptoms to confirm that they are related to menstruation.

There are several self-help measures you can take to try to prevent PMS (see Preventing premenstrual syndrome). If these are not effective or your symptoms are severe, you should seek medical advice. Certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can help to relieve headaches, backache, and muscle stiffness. Diuretic drugs may help to relieve fluid retention, thereby relieving bloating and breast tenderness. Your doctor may also suggest hormone treatment, such as treatment with the combined oral contraceptive pill. If you have persistent psychological symptoms, such as depression, antidepressant drugs may be helpful. No treatment is consistently successful, but the symptoms can usually be relieved.

Self-help: Preventing Premenstrual Syndrome

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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