Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition familiar to many women. Also known as ovarian cycle syndrome or premenstrual tension, it's defined as a set of symptoms (e.g., moodiness, bloating, breast tenderness) that comes on a few days before the start of a menstrual period. Unfortunately, PMS is poorly understood.
Different women will experience different PMS symptoms. For some women, PMS may cause major discomfort and even disrupt normal activities. Not every woman experiences PMS. Some are totally unaffected and feel perfectly fine during the days leading up to menstruation.
Other women may have a more severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Women with this form of PMS may suffer severe depression, anger, or low self-esteem along with other symptoms.
Women's menstrual cycles are controlled by a complex interaction of female hormones. These hormones help initiate menstruation during puberty, determine the rhythm and length of menstrual periods during childbearing years, and signal the end of menstruation at menopause. Hormonal control of menstruation involves the brain, pituitary gland, and ovaries.
The exact cause of PMS is unknown. It's thought to be related to changes in the level of specific hormones. A few studies suggest that PMS symptoms are linked to premenstrual fluctuations in a brain chemical called serotonin and increased sensitivity to the hormone progesterone. Other studies suggest that the hormone estrogen causes fluid retention, which probably explains the temporary weight gain, breast tenderness, and bloating experienced by many women with PMS. Recent research suggests that women with PMS may metabolize progesterone differently. Other hormonal and metabolic changes may also be involved, but further research is needed.
Other possible factors that may be associated with PMS symptoms include:
- lack of certain vitamins and minerals
- eating a diet that is high in salty foods
- drinking alcohol or caffeine