Your Period and Your Mental Health: What You Need to Know
Since more than 90 percent of women experience at least one PMS symptom prior to the beginning of their period, it’s no surprise that those symptoms are pretty well known. Nearly every woman is familiar with the moodiness, bloating, cramps, headaches, and general discomfort that tend to pop up every 28 days or so.
For most women, these symptoms are relatively minor and are not a significant cause for concern. Others, however, face much more severe complications when their periods roll around each month. Between three and five percent of the menstruating population suffer from a debilitating condition known as premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, or PMDD. This condition is an extension of PMS that includes a range of troubling emotional and behavioral symptoms.
While technically classified as an endocrine disorder, PMDD can take a serious toll on your mental health. And even if you don’t have PMDD, the hormonal changes that occur during your menstrual cycle can still impact your mental and emotional well-being. Here’s what you need to know.
Mental Health-Related Symptoms of PMS and PMDD
PMS and PMDD can both cause symptoms that are related to mental health. In cases of PMDD, however, those symptoms tend to be more extreme. Patients who are diagnosed with PMDD typically exhibit at least five symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with relationships and normal daily activities. Keep in mind that both PMS and PMDD can cause a wide range of physical symptoms, too, such as bloating, headaches, acne breakouts, etc. In this particular blog post, however, we are focusing on those that are related to mental health.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Severe mood swings
- Sleep problems
- Serious depression
- Decreased interest in normal activities
The Link Between PMS, PMDD, and Mental Health
The exact cause of PMS and PMDD is unknown, but the majority of researchers agree that the hormonal changes that happen during your cycle are the shared link. In a study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, researchers discovered that there is a connection between low levels of serotonin and PMDD. Serotonin is a natural chemical present in the brain that transmits nerve signals and helps control pain, mood, and sleep. When serotonin levels drop significantly during one’s menstrual cycle, it can result in PMDD.
Many people who suffer from PMS and PMDD have underlying mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. While these conditions are present throughout the entire month, research indicates that the hormonal changes that take place to trigger the start of your period can worsen their symptoms. These changes tend to make you more emotional, which can exacerbate preexisting mood disorders.
Common Risk Factors
Some women are more predisposed to experiencing severe mental health issues prior to and during their periods than others. During the diagnostic process for PMDD, doctors consider a wide range of genetic and environmental risk factors that could make a woman more likely to develop this disorder. Certain socio-cultural aspects, seasonal changes, a history of interpersonal trauma, stress, and preexisting mental health disorders can all make one more susceptible to PMDD. In some cases, however, underlying mood disorders are mistaken for PMDD. Up to 40 percent of women who seek treatment from PMDD are actually suffering from a mood disorder. Because an underlying condition could be at play, it is crucial to undergo a thorough evaluation before beginning any sort of treatment.
Currently, it is unknown if PMDD is a hereditary condition. However, it is worthwhile to note that between 30 and 80 percent of women who experience PMS symptoms state that other menstruating women in their families suffer from symptoms, as well. It is also known that many mental health and mood disorders tend to run in families. Taking these things into consideration, it only makes sense to assume that there is a high probability that there is a genetic component to PMDD, too. While research is still ongoing into the subject, there is a change that you may be more inclined to suffer from PMDD if there are other women in your family who have been diagnosed with it.
What You Can Do
If you struggle with your mental health in the week or two leading up to your period, there is hope. Before you attempt any type of treatment, consult with your primary care provider, gynecologist, or mental health provider. This article does not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. Only your healthcare providers can diagnose the cause of your symptoms and help you find a solution. The treatment that your healthcare provider will ultimately recommend will vary depending on the type and severity of your symptoms.
Certain lifestyle changes are often helpful in managing PMS. Things like decreasing alcohol consumption, eliminating sugar and caffeine from your diet, and making sure you get plenty of sleep could lessen the severity of your symptoms. Certain nutritional supplements, such as Vitamin B6, magnesium, and Vitamin E, may help, too. Some people have also reported experiencing a degree of relief when undergoing light therapy, psychotherapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the degree to which they impact your daily life, your doctor may recommend medications. Effective options include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), benzodiazepines, and hormonal drugs.
PMS and PMDD are genuine disorders that can have an impact on your daily life. In fact, PMDD is classified as a mental health disorder in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The link between menstruation and troubling emotional and behavioral symptoms is well-known, and treatment options are available.
If you struggle with your mental health in the week or two leading up to your period (or at any time during your cycle), talk to your doctor. You could be suffering from PMDD or an underlying mental health or mood disorder. Always remember that you are far from alone in these struggles and that help is available.
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