PMS can be a blessing and a curse sometimes. Yes, there are days where the pain is so bad that you just wished the earth would swallow you up whole if it had any mercy, but there are also days where symptoms are milder, and you realise you have a get-out-of-jail-free card for any type of social situation. While we don’t exactly condone taking advantage of your PMS to flake off any commitment you made previously, come on, who hasn’t sneaked in that “I have PMS” excuse at least once in their lives?
But what are the common symptoms of PMS, and are your symptoms normal or a signal for underlying problems? Today we’ll be talking about these common symptoms, and discuss some remedies that you can use to deal with them to make your period more comfortable!
This old faithful is a loyal companion of Aunt Flo when she visits each month. For those who are blessed enough to be spared the pain, please count your blessings, but for the rest of us, we will just have to deal with the pain that comes every month. Menstrual cramps happen when your uterus contracts in preparation to dispel uterine lining and the unfertilised egg, and we feel this contraction in the form of that painful stabbing sensation.
While menstrual cramps are normal, extreme pain and discomfort should be taken seriously, as this may be a sign of endometriosis. This is a syndrome where the tissue that forms the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterine cavity, and may eventually result in fertility issues later on. So if you suspect that your menstrual cramps are out of the ordinary, then always seek the opinion of your gynae!
How to Manage:
The benefits of heat therapy in dealing with menstrual cramps have been well documented, as it is incredibly effective in easing muscle cramps, which is essentially what your menstrual cramps are. We have an article here that provides you with 6 ways to beat those pesky menstrual cramps!
A lot of people experience the feelings of bloatedness during their periods, and this is due to water retention that happens during PMS. The hormonal changes that happen shortly before your period starts are to blame. They disrupt the function of the kidneys and cause less water to be passed out of the system as urine, leaving more of it in your body and causing bloating.
Extreme bloating can, however, be an indication of other deeper underlying disorders, such as gluten intolerance, Crohn’s Disease, or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
How to Manage:
Basically the only way to deal with this symptom is to lead a healthy lifestyle, with a diet low in salt, and including plenty of physical activity in your routine to sweat it out. As painful as this is during PMS, it is undoubtedly the most effective way to beat the bloat. But if you want a little bit of help, try eating bananas or other foods rich in potassium that will help to eliminate water retention!
Ever felt like 20 years were added overnight when on PMS? Well, blame the common PMS symptom of joint pain. Research has found that hormonal fluctuations that happen before the onset of your period are said to contribute to changing the way muscles move, diminishing the stability of joints during this point of time. While no conclusive evidence points to a specific period of time when joints are particularly weak, it is true that joint and muscle aches are a typical part of PMS.
How to Manage:
For short term pain that you feel from PMS, the best remedy would be to just put less stress on your joints and get a massage. If you don’t feel up to going for a workout, then by all means, give your body a break!
It should not be a surprise by now – hormone fluctuations before your period are once again responsible for this common symptom. Estrogen causes the breast ducts to enlarge, and progesterone production causes the milk glands to swell. As both hormones increase during the second half of your menstrual cycle, both of these events will cause your breasts to feel sore during the later part of your cycle.
Breast tenderness during your period and PMS is very common, and generally breast pain is not associated with breast cancer. However, if you experience prolonged periods of pain, you should still consult your physician.
How to Manage:
A simple but a useful tip: if you’re particularly well endowed, wearing a bra more often, or a bra with more support, can really help. Also, eating foods that are high in Vitamin E and Magnesium can help ease symptoms of PMS in general, and hence help with breast tenderness. These foods include spinach, hazelnuts, carrots, bananas, avocados, and brown rice, among other things.
When you have PMS, you usually experience a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin, and this then triggers those terrible carb cravings as your body uses carbs to synthesise serotonin. If you are facing a particularly stressful time, your body then secretes the hormone cortisol. The combination of high cortisol and low serotonin is what makes you go crazy for carby foods or fatty foods, and especially so for simple carbs – like sugar based treats like chocolate. Why? Well, because these simple sugars are metabolised very readily, and hence offer a quick serotonin fix.
How to Manage:
Instead of reaching for those simple carbs, go for complex carbs that are fibre-rich, such as whole-grain bread, legumes, fruits, and veggies. Also, eating food high in protein will also help you feel full for longer, and reduce blood sugar imbalances. Foods high in protein include turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, or even peanut butter! These foods will take longer for your body to break down, and keep you from feeling hungry or peckish through the day, hence stopping you from gravitating to your secret stash of chocolate.
Even if you have been maintaining a consistent workout routine, and eating healthily, don’t be alarmed if you suddenly see a slight increase on the scales. It can usually be accounted for by water weight due to water retention. But this effect can also be compounded by the fact that you may just feel fatter when you see that ponch in the mirror due to gas bloating (though it does not actually contribute to any additional weight).
So if you gain a few pounds before your period, don’t worry about it! You will most probably lose that weight as soon as menstruation starts. Just remember to try and curb those cravings, and take it easy on the chocolate too!
How to Manage:
Dealing with water weight gain is very much like how you deal with bloatedness. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, and stay away from foods high in sodium. Also, keep those cravings in check and don’t indulge (too much)!
This list would not be complete without mentioning the “mood swings” that many women suffer from. But what exactly causes this mysterious change in a woman’s disposition during PMS? Well, turns out the answer is not exactly very clear cut, but there are a few indications that can help us get a clue as to what’s happening in your brain when seeing a tiny kitten can move you to tears in an instant, or when one wrong word can set you off on an hour-long tirade.
As per normal, talking about anything PMS related cannot escape the influence of your hormones. Estrogen is said to increase serotonin, and endorphins which are the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. The levels of estrogen are generally high throughout the menstrual cycle except after the 25th day where levels of both estrogen and progesterone plummet to its lowest point when you are on your period. This sudden decrease in the amount of estrogen provides a glimpse into why women can go from feeling very good to feeling very bad in a short period of time during PMS.
Having some mood swing is normal, but if you are experiencing prolonged periods of depression of anxiety, you should look into possible underlying psychological issues. Just like how other parts of our body get worn out sometimes, the brain may need some TLC too from time to time!
How to Manage:
Dealing with mood swings can seem to be impossible at worst, and extremely difficult at best. There is no real one stop fix for this, and while eating healthy can help reduce symptoms of PMS, the bottom line is that your body just doesn’t feel good during this time of month. And that’s fine. Give yourself a break, and take it easy. But if you feel the need to, and if your emotions are getting too negative, distract yourself with aerobic exercise, such as jogging or yoga, to help take your mind off the things that are bothering you. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is also really important to let you have some control over your emotions, with the minimum being 7 hours of sleep.
Your body is going through a lot of changes during this time, so feel free to give yourself a break emotionally and physically. But while these hormonal changes can make a woman feel easily angered or quickly overwhelmed by stress, remember that at the end of the day, you are not an uncontrollable beast that cannot be tamed when you’re on PMS. Don’t let your hormones get the best of you, and try to stay positive!
Chen Wei Chua
Chen Wei is an undergrad majoring in Psychology. She's currently spending a year in New York City, where she's interning at a startup. When she's not at work, you can find her practising yoga, or exploring the Big Apple with her camera in hand.