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PMDD Vs. PMS: When Premenstrual Symptoms Are Beyond “Normal”

All women go through a lot in their daily lives. From work stress to dealing with relationships and financial obligations to parenting and making sure the kids have everything they need – sometimes being a woman can be a complete roller coaster ride – the kind where you’re not sure if you’re going to make it to the end! And on top of it all, we also have to deal with our own bodily functions that sometimes can be just as difficult as everything else in our lives.

What are we talking about here? Not just that monthly visitor that we all would rather not hear knocking at the door (our periods), but PMS. Yes, that one. However, there is also another version of PMS, and this one can be much more severe and debilitating.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are two conditions that affect many women worldwide. Both PMS and PMDD are related to a woman’s menstrual cycle and can cause a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. However, there are some key differences between the two conditions that are important to understand.

Here, we’ll explore the differences between PMS and PMDD, and what you can do to cope.

Are severe symptoms of PMS or PMDD affecting your daily life? Reach out to Ellie Mental Health today to talk with a compassionate and qualified therapist.

What is PMS?

We all know about that monthly visitor. Sometimes she comes early, and other times she’s concerningly late. But nevertheless, she always seems to come – though never at a convenient time! However, with this monthly visitor, we may also experience PMS. It’s also important to note that not all women experience PMS.

Premenstrual syndrome is a common condition that affects many women during their menstrual cycle. It typically occurs in the days or weeks leading up to a woman’s period and is thought to be caused by hormonal changes in the body. PMS can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

Physical symptoms

  • Breast tenderness or swelling
  • Bloating and water retention
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Changes in appetite or food cravings
  • Muscle aches and joint pain

Emotional symptoms

  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Poor concentration or memory
  • Changes in libido

All of the aforementioned symptoms can vary in severity and can be disruptive to a woman’s daily life. We should also note that PMS is a common condition – with up to 90% of women experiencing at least one symptom of PMS during their lifetime.

What is PMDD?

3-8% of women develop PMDD: an intense version of PMS Infographic

PMDD is a more severe form of PMS that affects around 3-8% of women. Although the symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS, they are typically more severe and can significantly impact your daily life. PMDD is also caused by hormonal changes in the body, but the exact cause is not fully understood. In fact, some medical professionals have theorized that PMDD may be genetic.

In addition to symptoms of PMS, someone with PMDD may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Extreme changes in libido

PMDD symptoms typically occur in the days leading up to a woman’s period and usually subside within a few days after the period begins. Though in some severe cases, PMDD can last for several weeks. And if this is the case, it is recommended that you see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

How are PMS and PMDD diagnosed?

The diagnosis of PMS and PMDD is typically based on the woman’s reported symptoms. There is no specific test for PMS or PMDD, but a healthcare provider may recommend blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

To diagnose PMDD, a woman typically must have at least five of the emotional and physical symptoms listed above, and these symptoms must occur the week before her period starts. The symptoms must also be severe enough to interfere with her daily life.

What causes PMS and PMDD?

The exact cause of PMS and PMDD is not fully understood, but they are both thought to be caused by hormonal changes in the body. Specifically, PMS and PMDD are thought to be caused by fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during the menstrual cycle.

However, there may be other factors that contribute to the development of PMS and PMDD, including:

Genetics: There may be a genetic component to PMS and PMDD, as they tend to run in families.

Brain chemistry: Some studies suggest that women with PMS and PMDD may have abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.

Environmental factors: Stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, and other environmental factors may contribute to the development of PMS and PMDD.

How are PMS and PMDD treated?

The treatment of PMS and PMDD depends on the severity of the symptoms and how much they interfere with a woman’s daily life. The treatment for these conditions might include therapy, mental health medications, and recommended home care. In fact, many women report reduced symptoms after they alter their diets or implement stress-management activities.

A few home care methods for addressing symptoms of both PMS and PMDD include:

  • Implementing healthy food choices
  • Regular weekly exercise
  • Stress management techniques (Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi)
  • Proper sleep each night
  • OTC medications such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen

While home care can be beneficial, some women have severe symptoms that may drastically alter their mental state. If conditions become severe, seeking out a therapist to talk to about your symptoms is highly recommended. For example, a therapist can work with you in a supportive way – to help you learn coping skills to manage symptoms of PMS/PMDD that may be affecting your mood and behavior.

It’s important to note that if you’ve been trying home remedies such as changing your diet and implementing stress-relieving activities and you’re still experiencing severe or debilitating symptoms, this is when it’s time to throw in the towel and see a medical professional.

When Should I See a Therapist for PMS or PMDD?

At the end of the day, if your symptoms are significantly disrupting your daily life and making it difficult for you to get through simple tasks, a therapist can help direct you toward the best path of coping with your symptoms. And if therapy proves ineffective, a therapist may recommend that you see a gynecologist or other healthcare professional.

Mood swings, irritability, and poor concentration are a few symptoms that may make daily life difficult for those with severe PMS or PMDD. But when you begin withdrawing socially or begin having unprovoked moments of anger, thoughts of suicide, or other dark thoughts – don’t try to endure these symptoms alone.

At Ellie, we’re here to help guide you toward greater mental health. And sometimes, just talking about how you’re feeling can be the first step toward coping with your symptoms and getting the help that you need. Are you having difficulty coping with symptoms related to PMS or PMDD? Contact Ellie Mental Health today to speak with a compassionate and qualified therapist.