Menstrual cycles and their symptoms are as unique as you are. Many symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, including abdominal cramps, mood swings, bloating and irritability, are considered normal. Irregular periods, hot flashes and insomnia can be early signs that you’re transitioning into menopause.
Around 75% of women of childbearing age experience some levels of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Common PMS symptoms include abdominal cramping, mood swings, bloating and irritability.
Most symptoms begin as early as two weeks before the period and disappear a few days after the period begins. It is important to keep a period or a symptom and menstrual calendar to help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis of PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Some ways that PMS symptoms can be treated at home include:
• Eating a diet high in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables
• Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
• Exercising regularly
• Taking anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen
While PMS symptoms may be inconvenient or uncomfortable, they should not interfere with your day-to-day life. If you experience severe mood swings, hopelessness, anger or high levels of irritability, you may have a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
About 3% to 6% of women experience PMDD, according to the Endocrine Society. Fortunately, the treatment for PMDD can be similar to treatment for PMS. If your symptoms do not get better with lifestyle changes, speak with your provider, who may suggest antidepressants or other options to help ease your symptoms.
Similarly, while abdominal cramping may be common during PMS or your period, severe cramping may be a sign of endometriosis. Endometriosis is caused when uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus. Just over 10% of American women suffer from endometriosis, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
In addition to very painful menstrual cramps, endometriosis may also cause chronic lower back and pelvic pain, pain during or after sex, or intestinal pain. Endometriosis may also cause digestive problems, infertility and bleeding or spotting between periods. Some women find relief from symptoms by using hormonal birth control, while others manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter pain medicine. If your period cramps are especially painful, talk to your provider about treatment options that may be best for you.
Transitioning to menopause
Most women begin menopause between the ages of 47 and 55. Before you enter menopause, your periods may be longer or shorter than your typical cycle. Your periods will likely become less regular, and you may skip some months. When you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months, you have entered menopause.
Some menopausal symptoms, such as mood swings, are similar to PMS. Other symptoms of menopause may include:
• Hot flashes
• Vaginal dryness
If your menopause symptoms are uncomfortable, speak with your provider about treatment options. Keep in mind that the time in a woman’s life when the discomforts of menopause occur is often accompanied by tremendous physical and social changes. Empty nest, aging parents, marital stress and poor physical health add to the discomfort of menopause. Talk to your doctor as there are many options to help a woman weather this transition.
Dr. Holly Stevens is an obstetrician/gynecologist at Novant Health Carolina Women’s Health Associates – China Grove.