What Causes PMS?
Updated: Jan 16
80% of women suffer from PMS, but little is known about the cause.
PMS (or Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) is a set of symptoms that many women experience in the days leading up to the start of their menstrual cycle. These symptoms include feeling especially prone to extreme emotions (crying, irritation, etc), backaches, breast tenderness, cravings, headaches, bloating, and changes in hair and skin (such as oily hair or pimples). Women have known about PMS long before it acquired a name, and doctors have been acknowledging it for about a century. However, very little research has gone into understanding what causes PMS.
At least, up until this year.
In May of 2016, the Journal of Women's Health published a study that finally seems to explain the mystery of PMS. In this study, researchers concluded that inflammation was an underlying cause of most, if not all, PMS symptoms. However, the study also pointed out that inflammation was likely only one cause of symptoms, and that each symptom likely had a complex number of causes.
So what does this mean for women suffering from PMS?
Now that there's an established link between the symptoms of PMS and inflammation, there's evidence that anti-inflammatory drugs can help more than just cramps or headaches. While the anti-inflammatory ibuprofen has long been a home remedy for PMS (and part of other combination drugs like Midol), no one was completely sure why it helped. After this study, it may be more possible for women to get prescription strength anti-inflammatory drugs once per month to help alleviate symptoms.
With this news, women can also take other measures, such as eating more anti-inflammatory foods like tomatoes, nuts, and leafy greens in the days leading up to their periods. Of course, it's also important to avoid foods that can cause inflammation, such as fried or sugary foods. Whether a woman chooses to use pharmaceuticals or natural remedies, one thing is clear: prevention is key. Closely tracking one's menstrual cycle and beginning preventative treatment in the day or days before it's due can limit the severity of symptoms when or if they arrive.
The Future of PMS
It's the hope of one of the study's leaders, Dr. Susan Kornstein, that this will lead to medical prevention of PMS, and possibly a greater acceptance of PMS as a condition worthy of addressing. Despite major recent advances in the STEM fields to include open the doors to more female professionals, throughout most of history, medicine has been a male-dominated field. This has understandably lead to a lack of interest and attention for ailments that are exclusively female, such as PMS and period pain.
Thankfully, now that a cause has been identified, other researchers may be encouraged to create similar studies to learn more about the complex causes of PMS symptoms, as well as continue to shine a light on the challenges many women and trans men face regarding menstruation. As these studies continue and more is revealed about the causes, new treatment options will become available, one day making PMS a thing of the past.