About 20 to 50% of women of reproductive age have PMS; about 5% have a severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
The cause of PMS is unclear.
Possible causes or contributing factors include
Multiple endocrine factors (eg, hypoglycemia, other changes in carbohydrate metabolism, hyperprolactinemia, fluctuations in levels of circulating estrogen and progesterone, abnormal responses to estrogen and progesterone, excess aldosterone or antidiuretic hormone [ADH])
A genetic predisposition
Possibly magnesium and calcium deficiencies
Estrogen and progesterone can cause transitory fluid retention, as can excess aldosterone or ADH.
Serotonin deficiency is thought to contribute because women who are most affected by PMS have lower serotonin levels and because selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase serotonin, sometimes relieve symptoms of PMS.
Magnesium and calcium deficiencies may contribute.
Type and intensity of PMS symptoms vary from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle. Symptoms last a few hours to ≥ 10 days, usually ending when menses begins. Symptoms may become more severe during stress or perimenopause. In perimenopausal women, symptoms may persist until after menses.
The most common symptoms are irritability, anxiety, agitation, anger, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, depression, and severe fatigue. Fluid retention causes edema, transient weight gain, and breast fullness and pain. Pelvic heaviness or pressure and backache may occur. Some women, particularly younger ones, have dysmenorrhea when menses begins.
Other nonspecific symptoms may include headache, vertigo, paresthesias of the extremities, syncope, palpitations, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and changes in appetite. Acne and neurodermatitis may also occur.
Preexisting disorders may worsen while PMS symptoms are occurring. They include the following:
Eye problems (eg, conjunctivitis)
Seizure disorders (increased seizures)
Connective tissue disorders (eg, systemic lupus erythematosus [SLE, or lupus], rheumatoid arthritis, with flare-ups)
Respiratory disorders (eg, allergies, infections)
Mood disorders (eg, depression, anxiety)
Sleep disorders (eg, insomnia, hypersomnia)
Some women have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe form of PMS. In PMDD, symptoms occur regularly and only during the 2nd half of the menstrual cycle; symptoms end with menses or shortly after. Mood is markedly depressed, and anxiety, irritability, and emotional lability are pronounced. Suicidal thoughts may be present. Interest in daily activities is greatly decreased.
In contrast to PMS, PMDD causes symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with routine daily activities or overall functioning. PMDD is severely distressing, disabling, and often underdiagnosed.
PMS is diagnosed based on physical symptoms (eg, bloating, weight gain, breast tenderness, swelling of hands and feet). Women may be asked to record their symptoms daily. Physical examination and laboratory testing are not helpful.
If PMDD is suspected, women are asked to rate their symptoms daily for ≥ 2 cycles to determine whether severe symptoms occur regularly.
For PMDD to be diagnosed, women must have ≥ 5 of the following symptoms for most of the week before menses, and symptoms must become minimal or absent during the week after menstruation. Symptoms must include ≥ 1 of the following:
In addition, ≥ 1 of the following must be present:
Decreased interest in usual activities, possibly causing withdrawal
Low energy or fatigue
Marked changes in appetite, overeating, or specific food cravings
Insomnia or hyperinsomnia
Feelings of being overwhelmed or out of control
Physical symptoms associated with PMS (eg, breast tenderness, edema)
Also, the symptom pattern must have occurred for most of the previous 12 months, and symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with daily activities and function.
Patients with symptoms of depression are evaluated using a depression inventory or are referred to a mental health care practitioner for formal evaluation.
PMS can be difficult to treat. No single treatment has proven efficacy for all women, and few woman have complete relief with any single type of treatment. Treatment can thus require trial and error, as well as patience.
Treatment of PMS is symptomatic, beginning with adequate rest and sleep, regular exercise, and activities that are relaxing. Regular exercise may help alleviate bloating as well as irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. Yoga helps some women.
Dietary changes—increasing protein, decreasing sugar, consuming complex carbohydrates, and eating smaller meals more frequently—may help, as may counseling, avoiding stressful activities, relaxation training, light therapy, sleep adjustments, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Other possible strategies include avoiding certain foods and drinks (eg, cola, coffee, hot dogs, potato chips, canned goods) and eating more of others (eg, fruits, vegetables, milk, high-fiber foods, low-fat meats, foods high in calcium and vitamin D).
Some dietary supplements are mildly efficacious for reducing symptoms; they include chasteberry extract from the agnus castus fruit, vitamin B6, and vitamin E.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy may help if mood issues are a major concern, including in women with PMDD. Biofeedback and guided imagery may also help. Psychotherapy can help a woman learn to better cope with the symptoms; stress reduction and relaxation techniques and meditation can help relieve tension and strain.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve aches, pains, and dysmenorrhea.
Selective serotonin release inhibitors (SSRIs) are the drugs of choice for relief of anxiety, irritability, and other emotional symptoms, particularly if stress cannot be avoided. SSRIs (eg, fluoxetine 20 mg orally once a day) effectively relieve symptoms of PMS and PMDD. Continuous dosing is more effective than intermittent dosing. No SSRI appears to be more effective than another. Clinical trials have shown SSRIs to be effective for treatment of PMDD; effective SSRIs include fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, and citalopram. These drugs can be prescribed continuously or only during the 14-day luteal phase (second half) of the menstrual cycle.
Clomipramine, given for the full cycle or a half-cycle, effectively relieves emotional symptoms, as does nefazodone, a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI).
Anxiolytics may help but are usually less desirable because dependence or addiction is possible. Buspirone, which may be given throughout the cycle or during the late luteal phase, helps relieve symptoms of PMS and PMDD. Adverse effects include nausea, headache, anxiety, and dizziness.
For some women, hormonal manipulation is effective. Options include
Women who choose to use an oral contraceptive for contraception can take drospirenone plus ethinyl estradiol. However, risk of venous thromboembolism may be increased.
Rarely, for very severe or refractory symptoms, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist (eg, leuprolide 3.75 mg IM, goserelin 3.6 mg subcutaneously every month) with low-dose estrogen/progestin (eg, oral estradiol 0.5 mg once a day plus micronized progesterone 100 mg at bedtime) is given to minimize cyclic fluctuations.
Fluid retention may be relieved by reducing sodium intake and taking a diuretic (eg, spironolactone 100 mg orally once a day) just before symptoms are expected. However, minimizing fluid retention and taking a diuretic do not relieve all symptoms and may have no effect.
Bromocriptine and monoamine oxidase inhibitors are not useful. Danazol has significant adverse effects.
Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can be nonspecific and vary from woman to woman.
PMS is diagnosed based on symptoms alone.
If symptoms seem severe and disabling, consider premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is often underdiagnosed, and ask patients to record symptoms for ≥ 2 cycles; for a diagnosis of PMDD, clinical criteria must be met.
Usually, treatment is a matter of trying various strategies to identify what helps a particular patient; start with lifestyle modifications, then SSRIs, oral contraceptives, or sometimes cognitive-behavioral therapy.
GnRH agonists and oophorectomy are reserved for severe cases.
The following is an English-language resource that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.
Lanza di Scalea T, Pearlstein T: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Med Clin North Am 103(4):613–628, 2019. doi: 10.1016/j.mcna.2019.02.007: This article discusses the definition, etiology, and treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder.