PMS is the changes in mood, emotions, physical health, and behavior that can occur between ovulation and the start of your period. It typically lasts until a few days after your period begins and can have a negative impact on your life.

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Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is a very common concern. Nearly 48 percent of women who are of reproductive age experience PMS, and for about 20 percent of them, symptoms are severe enough to affect their regular routine.

Contrary to what some people may suggest, PMS is a real condition, one that can disrupt daily life and cause significant physical discomfort and emotional distress.

Below, we’ll cover the symptoms of PMS in detail, plus offer some tips on getting support and relief from your symptoms.

While PMS often involves mild or moderate symptoms that don’t majorly affect daily life, symptoms can be severe enough to impact your everyday activities and overall well-being.

If you have PMS, you’ll experience symptoms consistently before each menstrual period. You might experience only some of the symptoms below, or several, but PMS typically involves at least a few different symptoms.

Emotional and behavioral symptoms

PMS-related changes in your mood, emotions, and behavior might include:

Physical symptoms

With PMS, you’ll likely also notice some physical symptoms, such as:

When do PMS symptoms begin?

On average, the menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days. If you have an average-length cycle:

  • Ovulation, or the egg’s release from the ovaries, will occur around day 14, or the midpoint of the cycle.
  • PMS symptoms can begin any time after ovulation (though they typically begin in the week before your period) and last until 5 or so days after menstruation begins.
  • Menstruation, or bleeding, will begin on day 28 of the cycle.

Learn more about the stages of the menstrual cycle.

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Scientific research hasn’t led to a conclusive cause of PMS, or an explanation for why some people experience it more severely than others. That said, researchers have suggested a few different theories.

Cyclical changes in hormones

Many experts believe PMS happens in response to changing levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

These hormones naturally fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase, which follows ovulation, hormones reach a peak and then decline rapidly, which may lead to anxiety, irritability, and other changes in mood.

Chemical changes in the brain

The neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine have several important functions in the body, including helping regulate mood, emotions, and behavior.

These chemical messengers may also factor into symptoms of PMS.

For example, a drop in estrogen may prompt the release of norepinephrine, which leads to declining production of dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin. These changes can trigger sleep problems and lead to a low or depressed mood.

Existing mental health conditions

Living with a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, could raise your chances of experiencing PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS.

A family history of PMS, bipolar disorder, or depression, including postpartum depression, can also increase this risk.

You might also notice premenstrual exacerbation. This means symptoms of underlying mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder or depression, intensify shortly before your period begins.

Experts have yet to arrive at a conclusive explanation for the link between mental health symptoms and menstruation-related mood changes. But many believe it relates to the chemical changes in the brain discussed above.

Lifestyle factors

Certain habits might affect the severity of your PMS symptoms. Potential lifestyle factors that could worsen PMS symptoms include:

Research from 2018 also links alcohol use to increased risk of PMS. If you binge drink or drink heavily on a regular basis, you’re even more likely to experience PMS symptoms.

PMDD, which tends to involves more drastic and overwhelming changes in mood, can have a major impact on day-to-day life. The most recent edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)” recognizes PMDD as a mental health condition.

An estimated 3 to 8 percent of menstruating women experience PMDD. That said, the actual number of people living with PMDD could be higher.

Many people never seek help for symptoms, and those who do often experience dismissal and lack of support from healthcare professionals.

As with PMS, PMDD symptoms may occur due to fluctuations in levels of estrogen, progesterone, and serotonin.

Symptoms of PMDD might include:

Having thoughts of suicide?

It can be tough to talk about intense emotions or persistent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide. But you’re not alone, even if you don’t feel able to open up about your feelings to family and friends.

Get free, confidential support 24/7 by contacting a crisis helpline. Trained crisis counselors can help you talk through overwhelming feelings and practice new strategies to cope during a crisis.

Find more suicide prevention resources here.

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If you have symptoms of PMDD, your doctor may recommend working with a therapist or psychiatrist, especially if you experience co-occurring mental health symptoms related to depression, trauma, or stress.

Other treatments and coping strategies that may help include:

Learn more about PMDD, potential treatments, and how to get support.

Most people who menstruate report at least a few symptoms of PMS, but these symptoms won’t necessarily show up every month or affect your everyday life.

If PMS symptoms become severe enough to disrupt your regular routine on a monthly basis, a good next step involves reaching out to a doctor or clinician.

Healthcare professionals can diagnose PMS or PMDD and help you explore potential options for treatment, such as:

To make an accurate diagnosis, they may:

  • ask about your personal and family history of PMS, PMDD, and other mood and mental health conditions
  • ask about your family history of other health conditions, including hypothyroidism or endometriosis
  • recommend a pelvic exam to rule out gynecological conditions, depending on your symptoms
  • suggest keeping a diary and calendar to track menstruation and any related symptoms you experience for 2 to 3 months

If your symptoms show up consistently during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle and disappear shortly after your period begins, a healthcare professional may diagnose PMS.

On the other hand, if they linger throughout the entire month or come and go without any regularity, they may link them to premenstrual exacerbation or another health condition.

Other conditions that may involve similar symptoms include:

While there’s no cure for PMS, you can take steps to ease your symptoms.

To get relief from mild or moderate symptoms, it may help to give the following strategies a try:

Over-the-counter medications and treatments can also help reduce physical PMS symptoms. Options include:

  • pain relievers, like ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen, for head and muscle aches or stomach cramping
  • diuretics to help relieve bloating and sore or tender breasts
  • heat wraps or heating pads on your abdomen to relieve cramps

If you have severe mood symptoms that create complications in your daily life, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other therapy approaches can help you learn new ways to reframe and cope with distressing thoughts and emotions.

If PMS symptoms affect your routine and quality of life month after month, and home remedies and over-the-counter medications make little difference, it’s always best to connect with a healthcare professional.

Severe PMS symptoms may require a more in-depth treatment approach, but they do often improve with treatment. A doctor or clinician can offer more guidance on developing a personalized treatment plan that makes a difference for you.