Think All Women PMS? Think Again
Whether you're one of the lucky people whose period comes and goes quietly or you suffer in bed with a heating pad, chances are there are a lot of things you never knew about PMS. The truth about premenstrual syndrome is way more complicated than wanting Ben & Jerry's and being bitchy to your roommates. PMS affects folks differently and sometimes it doesn't affect them at all. And it's definitely not like a horror scene out of the movie Carrie.
When debunking the myths about PMS, it's important to know PMS doesn't have a standard medical definition, making it all the more vague for doctors to treat and diagnose. In some cases, you could be misdiagnosing your own PMS. There's a lot going on during your monthly cycle, but that doesn't mean that every mood or physical symptom is a result of hormone changes.
Though PMS is no fun, there are plenty of ways to mitigate the bad parts - and harness the good parts (there are good parts!). In any case, jut be glad you have Midol and tampons. At least you don't have to use an actual rag anymore, right?
Even Some Monkeys Experience PMS
Don't worry, you aren't suffering alone - our evolutionary counterparts also suffer from PMS. Female rhesus monkeys and baboons show behavioral and dietary shifts in the days before menstruation. Macaque monkeys even have a similar cycle to human women, at around 29 days, as do short-tail fruit bats.
However, most animals don't menstruate. Other than humans and some other primates, the only other animals who experience that time of the month may surprise you: elephant shrews and some bats. Why? There are a few hypotheses rolling around about why this is, but the hormone progesterone may have something to do with how few animals menstruate in the wild.
PMS Is Not Your Period
Okay, let's get this out of the way. PMS is not your period. When you're using pads and tampons or a cup, that is not PMS. PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, with "pre" being the operative prefix. PMS distinctly refers to the time before your period.
This means if you're experiencing common PMS symptoms - bloating, fatigue, or cravings - while you're menstruating or in the days after your period, get to a doctor. You could be suffering from depression, anxiety, or something else entirely. PMS symptoms lasting throughout your period are not PMS.
PMS Doesn't Make You Crazy
This is such a tired, old cliche, but menstruating people hear it all the time: "your period is making you crazy!" No, the impending loss of your uterine lining does not send all of your sanity away with it. Rather, your brain is going through a hormonal shift which you can use to your advantage.
Estrogen and progesterone levels drop before a menstrual cycle, which affects the brain. Serotonin - the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood - also drops during this time. These hormone drops before your period make you want to clean house in every sense of the meaning. Dr. Julie Holland, author of Moody Bitches, says "estrogen creates a veil of accommodation," meaning that you're trying to keep everyone happy and keep the peace. But once that estrogen level decreases, you're done being accommodating - hence wanting to "clean house."
So, if you're feeling unhappy with your life or your surroundings, don't chalk it up to hormones and try to forget about it. You're having these feelings for a reason, and Dr. Holland urges women to remember these feelings are totally valid. Use these days of restlessness to get something done and alleviate the feelings of dissatisfaction you're experiencing. You're not crazy!
People Who Think They Are Experiencing Severe PMS May Be Actually Suffering From PMDD
Some people get awful PMS and chalk it up to just that. Unfortunately, many people who menstruate may be experiencing something more severe than a bad case of PMS. PMDD, or premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, can cause the same emotional and physical symptoms of PMS but to a debilitating point. People who suffer from PMDD can suffer a massive depressive episode before their cycles and find their symptoms interfere with their daily lives.
Despite the fact up to 10% of menstruating people suffer from PMDD, the medical community still does not know the exact causes. Since serotonin levels go down in the days leading up to your period, many experts believe someone who is already prone to depression or has a family history of depression may experience PMDD.
Many believe that debilitating PMS is just a fact of life for women, but doctors are working hard to dispel this myth. Your period and the days preceding it should not be preventing you from regular daily life. If you're physically or emotionally beleaguered from PMS, you very well may be suffering from PMDD and should get help from a doctor.
Some People Don't Experience PMS
Many people think PMS is the same for every menstruating person - that every single PMS-er cries, gets cramps, and is generally batsh*t crazy in the days before their period. If you're the proud owner of a uterus, you're probably rolling your eyes right now. The practically nonexistent definition of PMS in the medical community makes it nearly impossible to tell how many people actually experience the condition.
Some lucky folks don't get PMS at all; however, the medical world doesn't agree with how many people actually suffer from the condition. In 2011, The Guardian stated 20% of women will go to a doctor because their PMS is so severe; however, another says that only 8-20% of women have moderate to severe PMS. Another French study claims that PMS varies from cycle to cycle; sometimes PMS can be pretty rough, and other times it's not nearly as severe.
PMS Might Not Exist
Before you freak out about some people thinking that PMS isn't real, take a breath. The researchers who have come to this conclusion aren't crazy sexists - quite the contrary. They believe PMS is a way society is trying to put medical terms on normal moods and emotions, and that PMS just gives society a way to dismiss the completely normal feelings women have. Studies on PMS have been very limited, have only focused on a primarily white, middle class demographic, and have relied solely on memory of events, which makes the few studies on PMS anything but encompassing.
Many women still feel the pressure to be sweet and demure like they're in Leave It To Beaver, and PMS gives women a convenient excuse to express the completely normal and valid emotions of anger, irritation, or sadness while still feeling like they're June Cleaver. Gals, listen up - you don't need a hormonal excuse to express how you're feeling. You are allowed to be angry when you're angry and happy when you're happy, no matter what time of the month.
Along this same vein, some researchers believe that PMS is a set of consequences, not causes - that is, experiencing the crappy physical parts of PMS (like bloating) can cause psychological consequences (like being irritated or moody).