Shortly before your period starts, you may experience an array of symptoms such as bloating, headaches, tender breasts and mood swings. The collective name for these monthly symptoms is premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. Up to 90% of women experience some degree of PMS, though it is typically mild. However, in rare cases, you may have premenstrual dysphoric disorder – an assortment of severe symptoms that disrupt your ability to work or fulfill other essential responsibilities. If you have PMDD, how can it affect your life, and what are your treatment options?
What Is PMDD?
PMDD involves many of the same physical and mental symptoms as PMS, but at a higher intensity. Many women living with PMDD also have anxiety or depression, and these disorders may compound each other.
If you have PMDD, you might experience:
- Unexplained irritability or anger that cause you to lash out at other people
- Sadness, despair or suicidal thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings or crying jags
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Trouble concentrating on tasks
- Extreme fatigue
- Food cravings or binge eating
- Trouble sleeping
What Causes PMDD?
Physicians and scientists have yet to pinpoint a cause for PMDD or one cohesive explanation of why some women have this condition and others don’t. However, some women may be more sensitive to their bodies’ natural hormonal and chemical changes throughout their menstrual cycle. For example, women with PMDD may experience a dramatic drop in a brain chemical called serotonin, a neuromodulator that helps regulate a host of bodily functions, including mood.
There is also a genetic component to the hormonal sensitivities associated with PMDD. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that women with PMDD have dysregulation in one of the gene complexes that controls the physical response to estrogen and progesterone. This discovery represents a breakthrough for many women with PMDD because it provides a concrete explanation for uncontrollable mood swings and other unpredictable behavior.
PMDD and Substance Abuse
Even if it doesn’t cause you to experience severe psychiatric symptoms, PMDD may harm your relationships and affect your ability to function. Feeling out of control may drive you to drink or use drugs to seek relief, which might ultimately lead to a substance dependence or addiction. While drug and alcohol abuse is dangerous for anyone, it may be riskier for women with PMDD, because it could eventually make your mental health worse by intensifying your depression or anxiety symptoms.
Instead of relying on intoxicants to cope with your PMDD and any co-occurring mental health issues, see a doctor to discuss your treatment options. For instance, your physician may prescribe you an antidepressant medication called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. They might also suggest making specific lifestyle modifications, such as increasing your physical activity, eating more fresh produce and making time for healthy self-care activities you enjoy.
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