Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes the symptoms that occur around the time of your period. PMS is also known as premenstrual tension (PMT) – they mean the same thing.
Premenstrual syndrome symptoms
Symptoms usually start in the few days before you start bleeding, and finish during your period. They can include:
- tender or swollen breasts
- water retention
- abdominal pain or swelling, feeling bloated
- swollen ankles
- headaches or migraines
- fluid retention
- poor coordination or clumsiness
- tiredness, lethargy, insomnia
- weight gain
- constipation and/or diarrhoea
- food cravings
You might also find you are more irritable, nervous or depressed. You might have mood swings and difficulty sleeping.
Many women experience premenstrual symptoms, especially when they are aged 20 to 40.
Although the causes of PMS are unknown, it is thought to be linked to changing hormone levels.
Looking after yourself
There are several treatments available to help women manage symptoms of PMS. If your symptoms are severe you should discuss treatment options (including hormone therapy) with your doctor.
Being stressed can worsen your symptoms. Talk to your family about your PMS and work out ways that they can support you. Professional counselling and learning how to relax can help.
Your diet and lifestyle
There are several ways to reduce your symptoms of PMS by eating and drinking the right things. You could:
- Eat little and often. Eating smaller meals throughout the day can help avoid that bloated feeling. Your stomach will feel comfortably full throughout the day. It’s better than waiting until you feel hungry and eating large meals that may fill you up too much.
- Avoid foods that are high in salt as salt retains fluid, which can make you feel bloated.
- Drink water and avoid alcohol and caffeine as these also cause bloating, mood swings, headaches and tiredness.
- Eat foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. These contain complex carbohydrates which release energy slowly so you don’t feel so tired or hungry.
- Eat plenty of vitamin-rich food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, as these can ease symptoms and give the body an overall boost.
- Maintain your weight at a healthy level.
- Smoking or breathing in other people’s smoke can make symptoms worse. Try to avoid being around people who are smoking. If you smoke, try to cut down or quit. Visit healthdirect for advice on quitting smoking.
Exercise is a great way to improve your mood if PMS makes you feel tired, angry, depressed or emotional. Exercising raises the level of a chemical called serotonin, which makes us feel happier.
It is recommended that adults do at least half an hour (30 minutes) of exercise 5 times a week. It will not only improve the way you feel when you have PMS, it will also help prevent the onset of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Exercises such as pilates, yoga and other stretching techniques, can help reduce your feelings of stress and tension. They can also increase your circulation and flexibility, help ease cramps, and improve sleep patterns.
When you do any type of exercise, it is important that you listen to your body. If you feel any discomfort or pain you should stop immediately and rest. Never continue if you feel dizzy or faint as you could hurt yourself. Remember to drink plenty of water to replace any fluids that are lost through sweating.
Vitamins and minerals
If you are considering taking vitamin and mineral supplements, you are advised to speak with your doctor or pharmacist first. The doctor or pharmacist will want to check that any condition you may have or medicine you are taking will not interact with the supplements. They may also suggest alternative supplements or techniques to ease symptoms.
If these lifestyle changes don’t work, talk to your doctor about taking antidepressant medications, or other medications for craps or inflammation. The pill can help some women with PMS.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your premenstrual syndrome (PMS), why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: November 2019