Anyone who gets their period has likely had moments where they have flown off the handle or burst into tears about the most minor of inconveniences. However, usually Aunt Flo arrives the next day leaving us thinking, “hmmmm maybe that was PMS and I overreacted just a tiny bit,”. For some people who menstruate the usual PMS grumpiness can become something far more serious than yelling at your sibling for eating your entire tub of coconut sorbet (the audacity!). For sufferers of PMDD the weeks leading up to and during their cycle can be a debilitating and dark hurricane of both physical and psychological symptoms that can bring their day to day lives to a grinding halt every month.
PMDD is similar to PMS (premenstrual syndrome) except the symptoms are more severe and serious. Some of the monthly symptoms experienced by sufferers of PMDD can include debilitating depression and anxiety, extreme irritability and an intolerance to things which would otherwise be tolerable, trouble sleeping, panic attacks and even suicidal ideation to name just a few. These horrific symptoms can last anywhere from a couple of days to a week or even longer in some cases, disrupting school, work, parenting and putting stress on relationships with family and friends.
With PMDD said to effect up to as high as 5% of people who menstruate or 1 in 20 women, the fact the condition is still relatively unknown is cause for concern. Many sufferers often think that their symptoms are purely psychological (depression or bipolar for example) without thinking that what they’re experiencing may actually be linked to the hormonal changes taking place in their body every month. Women in their 30’s are said to be the most susceptible to the condition, with symptoms continuing through into menopause. That’s a long time to struggle with such a physically and emotionally debilitating condition.
Unsurprisingly, specialists are still unsure what exactly causes PMDD and PMS, though it is expected there is a correlation to the changing hormones in the body around the time of menstruation. There may also be a link to the brain chemical serotonin, which levels also fluctuate throughout your cycle. It is thought that PMDD sufferers may be more sensitive to changes in serotonin levels experienced during your period. PMDD is diagnosed through a series of sessions with your doctor or specialist, in which they may ask you to keep a diary of your symptoms and feelings throughout your cycle. Generally, you will need to be experiencing at least 5 symptoms of PMDD to receive a diagnosis.
So without a clear understanding of what causes PMDD, how is it treated? Currently there is no one holy grail treatment that works for everyone. Combined therapies are often used on the path to find the right treatment for the individual. Antidepressants that change serotonin levels in the brain may be prescribed as well some types of the contraceptive pill. Over the counter and prescribed pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications may be used to relieve some of the physical symptoms such as joint pain, cramps and headaches. A course of therapy, focusing on stress management techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, reflexology and yoga may also be recommended. Lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet or taking vitamin supplements may also help alleviate some of the symptoms of PMDD.
It should also be noted that further complicating this extreme medical condition is the centuries held notions of trivialising women’s illness and pain, especially when it comes to our reproductive organs. How many times have we been irritated and upset with those around us only to be told, “She must be on her period, bro,”. If you’re feeling like the pain and emotions you feel before or during your period are not normal and are negatively impacting your life, you absolutely have the right to speak up, ask for help and expect the best treatment available. And that’s on period, girl.