Experiencing a certain level of discomfort just before your period is both common and normal. However, approximately four in ten women have symptoms serious enough to temporarily undermine their quality of life. They suffer from premenstrual syndrome or PMS.
Before tackling this complex issue, we need to define menstruation and highlight its most frequent symptoms. This will help us better understand what PMS entails.
Definition of menstruation
Menstruation, also called periods or menses, is the first stage of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Normally occurring every month, it is characterized by blood flow from the vagina that can last from three to six days.
Before and during their periods, many women will experience discomfort that ranges in intensity, but this is not necessarily a sign of PMS. Some of these symptoms include:
Menstrual cramps, which are caused by uterine contractions, are the most common symptom.
Definition of PMS
PMS corresponds to a series of marked physical, psychological and emotional symptoms that occur a few days to two weeks before the onset of the menses. Because of their intensity, they can temporarily undermine a woman’s quality of life.
Despite research into the issue, the exact causes of PMS are not clearly understood, but it is believed that those affected are hypersensitive to the hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle.
There are currently no tests to screen for PMS with any certainty. To determine if a woman suffers from this syndrome, she must experience certain symptoms for a minimum of three consecutive cycles.
Many signs – not exclusive to PMS – can indicate the presence of this health issue. Among the hundreds of possible symptoms there can be:
- Moodiness (fits of anger, irritability, etc.);
- Depressive state;
- Water retention (weight gain, swollen extremities, swollen, sensitive breasts, aching legs, excessive sweating of the hands and feet);
- Headaches or migraines;
- Acne flare-ups;
- Abdominal cramps;
- Hot flashes;
- Cravings for sweet or salty foods.
Treatment of PMS
Fortunately, there are many ways to alleviate the symptoms of PMS. Here are a few possible solutions:
- Exercise regularly throughout the month (in fact, aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the organs and helps to regulate the fluctuation of sex hormones);
- Eat three balanced meals a day, at regular hours, to maintain a stable blood sugar level;
- Cut back on caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, chocolate) and increase your intake of calcium;
- Eat foods rich is complex carbohydrates and fibre (e.g. whole grain bread, fruit and vegetables) to prevent sugar cravings;
- Reduce your sodium intake (often associated with water retention);
- Manage stress through relaxation techniques.
Certain medications might also be helpful. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, oral contraceptives and progesterone to ease the more severe symptoms.
If you think you may be suffering from PMS, record your symptoms (their intensity and frequency) in a diary, such as the Uniprix health journal, for at least three months, then visit your doctor. He alone can accurately diagnose the problem.
Do you have questions about your menstrual cycle? Speak with your family pharmacists for answers and expert advice!
Your pharmacists can also prescribe* medications for certain minor health problems, such as menstrual issues (dysmenorrhea), when the treatment and diagnosis are known. A consultation will be required so the pharmacist can make sure you meet the prescribing criteria.
To avail yourself of this service, you may need to book an appointment with your family pharmacist. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more details. Some Uniprix-affiliated pharmacies also offer an online appointment booking service. To locate the store nearest you providing this service, click here.