Content Notice: Some of the outbound links in this article contain gendered language.
During your menstrual cycle, it’s safe to expect headaches, mood swings, abdominal pain, and just general discomfort. This is called PMS or premenstrual symptoms caused by your hormones having a party. Up to 40% of menstruators experience PMS and around 3-8% experience such symptoms at a level that makes it difficult for them to function normally. This is called PMDD or premenstrual dysphoric disorder. So if you think you’re just overreacting or you’re being too soft or too weak, chances are, you’re not. PMDD is a worse version of PMS and it’s very real and it doesn’t make you any less of the kind of person that you are.
Common Symptoms To Pay Attention To
Just like PMS, PMDD symptoms usually present themselves a few days to one week before your period starts, and they end a few days after your period starts. The most common symptoms include mood changes, depression and anxiety, irritability, abdominal bloating, gastrointestinal upset, as well as headaches and backaches. However, PMDD may present rare symptoms such as severe fatigue, fainting, sleeplessness, hot flashes, and heart palpitations. You may also notice yourself becoming more forgetful or having difficulty focusing and concentrating.
When to Talk to Your Doctor About It?
Sometimes these symptoms get so bad, they'll start to interfere with your daily routine and ability to function. This is when it’s advisable to speak to your doctor about it. Aside from taking your medical history, your doctor may give you physical exams as well as blood tests to rule out any medical problems. If you’re speaking with a general practitioner or family doctor, they may refer you to a gynaecologist whose expertise includes PMS and PMDD.
If you have a family history of mood disorders, postpartum depression, depression, and anxiety, studies suggest it is more likely you will experience PMDD. And it’s highly advisable to chat with your doctor to find out the best course of treatment that will fit your lifestyle. Treatments include antidepressants, hormone therapy such as birth control pills, and anti-inflammatory medicines. Your doctor may also suggest exercise to help with stress, as well as a diet change.
The exact cause of premenstrual dysphoric disorder remains unclear. However, medical experts suspect that it is because of the brain’s abnormal response to the fluctuation of hormones during the monthly flow. It’s also worth noting that premenstrual dysphoric disorder can sometimes be difficult to diagnose thus, if you’re unhappy with your doctor’s diagnosis or if you feel like getting a second opinion, that is totally okay.
Additional Acts of Self-Care
Of course, there’s more that you can do - aside from what your doctor recommends - to help yourself cope with PMDD. Consider it the time of the month when you need to be more kind and gentle with yourself. Relaxation therapy, yoga, and talking to a therapist are only few of the many options that may offer additional relief.
At home, you can also consider aromatherapy as it may help improve your emotional health during this time. Chamomile helps promote sleep and relaxation and neroli is often helpful in easing anxiety. Lavender also has a calming effect that may be beneficial with all the anxiety and mood changes. These home remedies, when coupled with medication from your doctor, can greatly help you deal with premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Find Community Support
We’d also like to mention the importance of community support. There are lots of Facebook groups out there full of people who are more than willing to hear you out and make you feel less alone. PMDD is often misunderstood and we don’t always get the support we need from friends and family. And let’s be honest, sometimes, it’s much easier to ask questions and discuss emotions with strangers. Facebook groups and online communities are perfect for this.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a chronic disorder that lasts for years. Some folks have it lifelong. But it’s something you can easily manage with the right medication, self-care, and having a solid community. Start by finding a doctor who truly listens and is a great ally. Put yourself first, practice healthy self-care habits, and find a community that makes you feel seen. PMDD symptoms may not disappear completely, but they won’t be as bad as they used to. You will be able to do so much more every day, and your body and mind will thank you for it.
Tammy Danan is a freelance storyteller based in the Philippines. She reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers film, photography, and sustainability and how they intersect with our everyday life. Her words have appeared in Al Jazeera, VICE, Ozy, ZEKE Magazine, Audubon.org, and others.