If you are a woman young or old who has been of the age of menstruation, you have undoubtedly heard the term PMS. It is a term that gets thrown around a lot, often in ways which show little understanding of what it is. Many of us have been accused of having PMS if we are irritable, if we feel and speak passionately about something, cry for any reason, or sometimes even if we merely disagree with someone. Some women have even been told that PMS isn't really a thing, it is just a figment of their imaginations. This is very untrue. PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) is an actual phenomenon linked to our menstrual cycles. A term that is not thrown around a lot is Dysmenorrhea. It is so uncommon to hear about, that both the term and abbreviation for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) are easily accepted by auto correct, but I am told that Dysmenorrhea is not even a word. Like Premenstrual Syndrome, Dysmenorrhea is a collection of symptoms linked to our menstrual cycles. So today in our quest for more knowledge about the menstrual cycle, we are going to talk about those two terms, what they mean, and how to treat them.
Let's start with the one with which we are most familiar: Premenstrual Syndrome.
What it means: If we break down the word, we have the prefix "pre" which literally means before, "menstrual" referring to menstruation, and "syndrome" which refers to a group of symptoms that consistently occur together. So, quite literally, Premenstrual Syndrome means a group of symptoms that consistently occur before menstruation. That means that if you are experiencing symptoms while on your period, it is likely due to the less widely known Dysmenorrhea discussed below. That is not to say that you do not get PMS, as it is possible to have both.
Symptoms: The symptoms of PMS are varied and are experienced differently by everyone. Some people may experience all of them, while someone else only experiences one or two. For some women, the symptoms may be somewhat debilitating, while others may barely notice them. Some of the symptoms associated with PMS include:
Causes: PMS is fairly common. About 85% of women report experiencing symptoms of PMS. Of those women, 20-40% report that the symptoms cause problems for them, and of those women 10-50% report significant problems. There can be several reasons why someone would experience symptoms of PMS.
Treatment: While many of us have been led to believe that PMS is just something that we have to put up with, there are actually several things that you can do to lessen its impact and maybe even get rid of it. The best thing you can do is see if you can discover the cause of your PMS. If you find that it is a hormonal or nutritional imbalance, your doctor may prescribe birth control or antidepressants, and may refer you to a nutritionist to discuss how to eliminate the deficiencies in your diet. If you are having trouble pinpointing the cause, you can try managing the symptoms. Some treatments for PMS symptoms include:
What it means: Let's break this word down too. We have the prefix "dys" which means bad or ill, "menor" which refers to menstruation, and the suffix "rhea" which means flow or discharge. So, the word Dysmenorrhea literally means a bad menstrual flow.
Symptoms: Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea are much less varied than those of Premenstrual Syndrome. The main symptom of Dysmenorrhea is pain. It can occur before, during, or after your period. You may have noticed that cramping was not listed as a symptom of PMS. Although many people consider it to be one Premenstrual Syndrome's main symptoms, cramping actually falls under the umbrella of Dysmenorrhea. Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea usually occur during the first few days of the period, but may persist through the whole phase and include:
Causes: The causes of Dysmenorrhea are a bit more complicated than those of PMS. There are actually 2 types of Dysmenorrhea; primary and secondary. Primary Dysmenorrhea generally begins right around the menarch (a girl's first period), and is a condition unto itself. Primary Dysmenorrhea is often caused by prostaglandins (fatty acid compounds that can intensify uterine contractions) or ligament irritation. There is also some evidence that there may be a genetic component just as with Premenstrual Syndrome. Secondary Dysmenorrhea is when you have any of the symptoms above with your period, but they are caused by another condition such as Endometriosis, fibroid tumors, ovarian cysts, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), an STD, or scar tissue from a previous injury or surgery. In order to tell if it is primary or secondary, your doctor may run tests such as ultrasound, cultures for infection, or laparoscopic surgery.
Treatments: Treatments for Dysmenorrhea are similar to those of PMS. If your doctor can determine an underlying cause, they may prescribe birth control, antibiotics, or surgery to deal with them. If your doctor is unable to find a cause, you can use some of the following treatments for the symptoms.
Do you experience Premenstrual Syndrome or Dysmenorrhea? How do you cope with the symptoms?
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.