Fri | Feb 28, 2020

Dear Doc | My boyfriend doesn't think PMS is a real thing

Published:Sunday | November 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Q Dear Doc, could you kindly let my boyfriend know that PMS is a real thing. I was trying to tell him that it is not simply a bad mood, but that it is way more than that - with breast tenderness, bloating and food cravings among other things. He is saying that our hormones are always there, so PMS isn't real, and if it's because of hormones, we would have PMS all the time. So kindly let him know there is an explanation. Thank you.

A Oh dear! I know this question will stir many 'battle of the sexes' conversations as well as a few arguments. However, unfortunately, for boyfriend and many men in the debate, PreMenstrual Syndrome or PMS is a real thing. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms that happens right before a woman gets her monthly period. Many women get PMS, especially mild PMS. However, when the symptoms are severe, so severe that some women can have trouble at work, school, or getting along with family and friends, it is no longer called PMS and is called PreMenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD.

PMDD is not as common as PMS, but is what most people sensationalise PMS to be.

The most common PMS symptoms are:

Emotional symptoms such as:

- Depression

- Angry outbursts (mood swings)

- Irritability

- Feeling tired, angry, or worried

- Feeling sad or hopeless, or crying a lot (crying spells)

- Anxiety

- Confusion

- Social withdrawal

- Trouble concentrating

- Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping

- Changes in sexual desire

Physical symptoms such as:

- Bloating and weight gain

- Eating more than usual or craving certain foods

- Breast tenderness

- Headaches

- Aches and pains

- Fatigue

- Skin problems

- Gastrointestinal symptoms

- Abdominal pain

There has been a lot of medical research done to support this, and based on the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an estimated 85 per cent of women experience at least one symptom of PMS per month.

Now in defense of the boyfriend who is right, hormones are always there, so while PMS symptoms are often talked about, the truth is that the hormones actually influence a woman's mood and behaviour throughout the month of her menstrual cycle.

The first part of the menstrual cycle called the follicular phase, begins on the day you start your period and lasts for about 10 to 14 days. During this time, the oestrogen levels begin to rise. This is more likely to be your 'happy' time of the month.

The estradiol rising in the body, helps to lessen the effects of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which helps in preserving happy moods.

During the mid part of the menstrual cycle, known as the ovulatory phase and around the time of ovulation, oestrogen is present in significant amounts, and it can interact with other hormones resulting in an increased sexual desire (increased libido).

Some experts surmise that this may be nature's way of encouraging women to have sex during their most fertile time. Studies have also concluded that women are indeed more likely to display sexual behavior just before ovulating, and are more likely to buy clothes, makeup and other items to help themselves feel more attractive according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

After ovulation, the levels of the hormone progesterone, begins to rise, you may begin to feel moodier. This happens because progesterone helps the body to make cortisol, a hormone that is higher in people who are stressed.

The 'yucky' feelings that come in the days before your period, might have you looking for creature comforts to feel better. According to the same study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, women are more likely to eat high-calorie foods during the luteal phase of their cycle.

Now for the big game changer for the 'battle of the sexes'. If cortisol levels are already elevated because of outside factors, for example stress from a busy work week, or poor lifestyle habits, then progesterone causes a further increase by the time one gets to the second half of their cycle, then you will be even more irritable and have worse PMS symptoms!

Eating a poor diet, drinking a lot of alcohol, and skimping on sleep, can all disrupt the body's hormone levels, making PMS harder to deal with. Developing healthier lifestyle habits can do a great deal to improve PMS symptoms.