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Premenstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome
Classification & external resources
ICD-10 N94.3
ICD-9 625.4

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (historically called PMT or Premenstrual Tension) is a collection of physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms related to a woman's menstrual cycle. While most women of child-bearing age (about 80 percent) have some premenstrual symptoms,[1] women with PMS have symptoms of "sufficient severity to interfere with some aspects of life".[2] Further, such symptoms are usually predictable and occur regularly during the two weeks prior to menses. The symptoms may vanish after the menstrual flow starts, but may continue even after the flow has begun. About 14 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 35 become so affected that they must stay home from school or work.[3]

For some women with PMS, the symptoms are so severe that they are considered disabling. This form of PMS has its own psychiatric designation: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Culturally, the abbreviation PMS is widely understood in the United States to refer to difficulties associated with menses, and the abbreviation is used frequently even in casual and colloquial settings, without regard to medical rigor. In these contexts, the syndrome is rarely referred to without abbreviation, and the connotations of the reference are frequently more broad than the clinical definition.



PMS is a collection of symptoms. 150 separate symptoms have been identified.[4] The exact symptoms and how severe they are vary from person to person and from month to month. Most women with premenstrual syndrome experience only a few of the problems. The most common symptoms are: [5] [6] [7]

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Breast tenderness
  • Itching of the breasts
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Depression
  • Appetite changes and food cravings
  • Trouble falling asleep (insomnia)
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue (medical)
  • Acne
  • Swelling of Breasts
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Body temperature increase
  • Worsening of existing skin disorders, and respiratory (eg, allergies, infection) or eye (eg, visual disturbances, conjunctivitis) problems

When discussing PMS, the negative symptoms are often the only ones highlighted. There have been reports of positive aspects of this time in the menstrual cycle. Some women claim that they have more energy and creativity premenstrually. Irritability and anger are often used to describe women with PMS. One view suggests that women hold their anger in too often which can be harmful and they are able to effectively express their feeling during this time. In this light, PMS can be beneficial in some respects.


There is no laboratory test or unique physical findings to verify the diagnosis of PMS. To establish a pattern, a woman's physician may ask her to keep a prospective record of her symptoms on a calendar for at least two menstrual cycles. [5] This will help to establish if the symptoms are, indeed, premenstrual and predictably recurring. In addition, other conditions that may explain symptoms better may have to be excluded.[2]

A number of standardized instruments have been developed to describe PMS, including the Calendar of Premenstrual syndrome Experiences (COPE), the Prespective Record of the Impact and Severity of Menstruation (PRISM), and the Visual Anague Scales (VAS).[2]

A number of medical conditions are subject to exacerbation at menstruation, a process called menstrual magnification. These conditions may lead the patient to believe that she may have PMS, when the underlying disorder may be some other problem. A key feature is that these conditions may also be present outside of the luteal phase. Conditions that can be magnified perimenstrually include depression, migraine, seizure disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, and allergies. PMS is more common in women with stress.[2]


The exact causes of PMS are not fully understood. While PMS is linked to the luteal phase, measurements of sex hormone levels are within normal levels. PMS tends to be more common among twins suggesting the possibility of some genetic component.[2] Current thinking suspects that central-nervous-system neurotransmitter interactions with sex hormones are affected.[2] It is thought to be linked to activity of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in the brain.[8] [7][9]


Many treatments have been suggested for PMS, including diet or lifestyle changes, and other supportive means. Medical interventions are primarily concerned with hormonal intervention and use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

  • Supportive therapy includes evaluation, reassurance, and informational counseling, and is an important part of therapy in an attempt to help the patient regain control over her life. In addition, aerobic exercise has been found in some studies to be helpful.[2] Some PMS symptoms may be relieved by leading a healthy lifestyle: Reduction of caffeine, sugar, and sodium intake and increase of fiber, and adequate rest and sleep.[10]


PMS was originally seen as an imagined disease.[citation needed] When women first started reporting these symptoms, they were often told it was "all in their head". Interest in PMS began to increase after it was used as a criminal defense in Britain during the early 1980's.

The study of PMS was brought about by many characters in society. Physicians and researchers study and treat recognized medical conditions. In order to have an impact, the existence, and importance of a disease needs to be socially accepted. Women have contributed to the rise of interest in PMS and society's acceptance of it as an illness. It is argued that women are partially responsible for the medicalization of PMS.[12] By legitimizing this disorder, women have contributed to the social construction of PMS as an illness. It has also been suggested that the public debate over PMS and PMDD was impacted by organizations who had a stake in the outcome including feminists, the APA, physicians and scientists.[13]

The study of PMS symptoms is not a new development. Debates about the definition and validity of this syndrome have a long history. As stated above, growing public attention was given to PMS starting in the 1980’s. Up until this point, there was little research done surrounding PMS and it as not seen as a social problem. Through clinical trials and the work of feminists, viewing PMS in a social context had begun to take place.

Alternative views

Some medical professionals suggest that PMS might be a socially constructed disorder.[14].

Supporters of PMS's medical validity claim support from the non-disputed status of a more serious but similar problem, Premenstrual dysphoric disorder ("PMDD"). In women with PMDD, studies have shown a correlation between self-reported emotional distress and levels of a serotonin precursor as measured by Positron emission tomography (PET).[15] PMDD also has a consistent treatment record with SSRIs, when compared with placebos. [16]

However, most supporters of PMS as a social construct do not dispute PMDD's medical status. Rather, they believe PMDD and PMS to be unrelated issues: one a product of brain chemistry, the other a product of a hypochondriatic culture. There has not been enough debate between the two views to come to any sound conclusion.[citation needed] Part of the reason the validity of the emotional aspects of PMS is being doubted is the lack of scientifically-sound studies on the matter. Many Western studies on PMS (PMS is primarily seen in Western Europe and North America) rely solely on self-reporting, and since Western women are socially conditioned to expect PMS or to at least know of its purported existence, they report their symptoms accordingly.[17]

Another view holds that PMS is too frequently or wrongly diagnosed in many cases. A variety of problems, such as chronic depression, infections, and outbursts of frustration can be mis-diagnosed as PMS if they happen to coincide with the premenstrual period. Often, says this theory, PMS is used as an explanation for outbursts of rage or sadness, even when it is not the primary cause. [18]


Identifying natural female experiences as a disease in need of treatment is highly controversial especially because the implications for all women could be devastating.

Feminist scholars suggest that viewing PMS as a disease is born out of our patriarchal society. The symptoms that are associated with PMS are often in conflict with the way a woman "should" behave. Anger, irritability and increased sex drive are patterns of behavior that go against social norms for woman. Some people believe that PMS, along with other female-attributed disorders, are used to enforce gender stereotypes.[19]

It is notable that the emergence of PMS as a disorder was created during a time when women's roles in society were changing. Particularly, women were beginning to enter the work force at increasing numbers. This coincidence has not been ignored especially among those who believe that PMS is used as a method of social control.

Multiple SSRI's have been used to treat PMS which is not without controversy. The makers of Prozac began marketing the generic form, fluoxetine, under the name Sarafem to treat PMS. This coincided with their loss of patent on Prozac which has led to suggestions that their motivations are not completely benign.[20] Recently an oral contraceptive named Yaz has become the first and only birth control pill approved to treat PMDD. The marketing of Yaz centers on this aspect of the drug.

In some societies, this part of a women’s life is not seen in a negative way as is most often found in Western countries. The diagnosis and definition of PMS and PMDD are not universal across the world. The belief in PMS and its effects is mainly a Western creation. This is not to say that other places in the world deny the possibility that women are affected by their menstrual cycle but defining PMS in terms of a disease is specific to the West and the United States in particular. Official recognition of PMDD has only taken place in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepts PMDD as an illness but the World Health Organization (WHO) does not. In Europe, PMDD was forcibly taken off the list of indications for Prozac due to lack of supporting evidence for its effectiveness. Many of the symptoms of these two disorders are seen as negative in the U.S. and in need of treatment. This allows the medical system to become involved and regulate this part of women’s lives.[21]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j ACOG Practice Committee (April 2000). "Premenstrual syndrome".
  3. ^ Mozon: Sykemelder seg på grunn av menssmerter (2004-10-25). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  4. ^ NHS Direct: Premenstrual syndrome syndrome - Symptoms (2005-11-09). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  5. ^ a b Premenstrual syndrome syndrome (PMS): Signs and symptoms (2006-10-27). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  6. ^ Always: Tips and information (2007). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  7. ^ a b Merck Manual Professional - Menstrual Abnormalities (2005-11). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  8. ^ NHS Direct: Premenstrual syndrome - Causes (2005-11-09). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  9. ^ Causes of PMS (2007). Retrieved on 2007-02-11.
  10. ^ a b PMS: What you can do to ease your symptoms? (2005). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  11. ^ U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Premenstrual syndrome (2006-09). Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
  12. ^ Markens, Susan. “The Problematic of ‘Experience’ A Political and Cultural Critique of PMS.” Gender & Society. 10.1 (February 1996): 42-58.
  13. ^ Figert, Anne E. “The Three Faces of PMS: The Professional, Gendered, and Scientific Structuring of a Psychiatric Disorder.” Social Problems. 42.1 (February 1995): 56-73.
  14. ^
  15. ^ | Mood changes correlate to changes in brain serotonin precursor trapping in women with premenstrual dysphoria.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 144.
  18. ^ Carol Tavris, The Mismeasure of Woman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 142.
  19. ^ Rittenhouse, C. Amanda. “The Emergence of Premenstrual Syndrome as a Social Problem”. Social Problems. 38.3 (August 1991): 412-425.
  20. ^ Lorber, Judith and Lisa Jean Moore. Gender and the Social Construction of Illness. 2nd ed. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2002.
  21. ^ 5
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Premenstrual_syndrome". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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