PMS - Part 1 Signs and Symptoms

Many of us grew up thinking that one week out of every month would be awful. Pain, headaches, mood swings, sometimes totally debilitating to the point of missing school or work. Most times we are told to ‘get on with life’ or push through it. Its ‘just PMS’ we are told, learn how to carry on without showing weakness. This is what makes us ‘the weaker sex’ after all. Doctors prescribe birth control pills, we pop over the counter pain medication but no long-term relief is usually found.

What we often fail to realize is that PMS is a sign of imbalance. It is your body reminding you to take it easy. The symptoms tell us a bigger story. First off if you are experiencing severe symptoms it is worth a trip to your medical doctor. Just to help rule out any more serious underlying medical issue. My own path in becoming an herbalist has really brought into focus for me the way botanicals and lifestyle together can bring balance to areas I may have thought not possible. Symptoms I had for years, that I thought we just part of being a woman, started to disappear as I gained control of my health.

Lets start by exploring exactly what PMS is.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has very clear and specific criteria to define it.

A woman reports one or more of the following symptoms during the five days before the onset of menses for three consecutive cycles:

  • Anxiety

  • Breast tenderness

  • Headache

  • Bloating

  • Clumsiness

  • Angry outbursts

  • Weepiness/cries easily

  • Depression

  • Irritability

  • Social withdrawal

  • Lack of sex drive

  • Acne

  • Food cravings/binges

  • Insomnia

  • Herpes outbreaks

  • Water retention

  • Changes in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea, gas)

  • Swelling of extremities

  • Symptoms are relieved within four days of menses onset without recurrence until at least day 13

  • Symptoms present in the absence of any pharmacologic therapy, hormone ingestion or drug or alcohol abuse

  • Symptoms occur during two cycles of prospective recording

This is a huge list of possible symptoms. A woman does not have to have all of these symptoms each month. The primary indicator is that the symptoms recur each month in a predictable pattern. Generally symptoms may start off mild and get worse over time if balance is not achieved. Up to 85% of women will report having one or more of these symptoms in her lifetime. Up to 5% of women experience a very severe form of PMS called PMDD or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Over the next few blog posts I will talk about many ways we can use herbs and lifestyle changes to improve this cycle. The good news is in most cases PMS is not something we have to tolerate and live with. We can take charge of our wellness. There is hope! Your period does not have to be something you dread or grit your teeth and push through each month. I am here with the plants to help!


Obstetrics and Gynecology at a Glance 4th Ed; Errol R. Norwitz and John O. Schorge

Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom; Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health; Aviva Romm, M.D.

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