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"Oh, it's just PMS!"

Published on October 29, 2013 by Virginia Women's Center

PMS, an acronym commonly used to describe a woman’s mood surrounding the time of her menstrual cycle, stands for premenstrual syndrome. While the term is likely overused as an excuse, it does describe a real condition where a woman experiences emotional and physical changes in the days leading up to her menstrual cycle. PMS will be diagnosed by a health care provider when some of the below symptoms occur in the five days before her cycle and end four days after her cycle, for at least three cycles in a row.

CrampsPMS can happen to menstruating women at any age. It is estimated that as many as three out of four women experience some symptoms of PMS. For some women, the symptoms of PMS may just be a nuisance, but not need treatment. Others may find that their daily activities are interrupted by PMS. There are still others (approximately one percent of menstruating women) who experience extreme, disabling symptoms of PMS and can be diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Some of the emotional symptoms include:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Angry outbursts
  • Irritability, mood swings or crying spells
  • Social withdrawal
  • Confusion, poor concentration or poor memory
  • Changes in sexual desire


Some of the physical symptoms include:

  • Thirst and appetite changes or food cravings
  • Swollen or tender breasts
  • Headache, backache or joint/muscle pain
  • Swelling of the hands or feet
  • Fatigue, trouble sleeping, increased napping or insomnia
  • Acne or skin problems
  • Upset stomach, bloating, weight gain, constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain


There are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms to PMS. In order to determine the right diagnosis, it can be helpful for you to track your cycles and the symptoms you experience. This can be done using a paper journal or through different smartphone apps.

If you feel like you dread that time of the month because the symptoms of PMS interfere with your normal activities, try tracking your symptoms and discussing different treatment options with your health care provider. There are many changes that can be made in your diet or lifestyle that can help ease the symptoms of PMS. If those are not sufficient, your health care provider may recommend certain medications to help.