PMS or PMDD? Period Blues and Your Mental Health-image

PMS or PMDD? Period Blues and Your Mental Health

PMS and PMDD can both occur during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Common symptoms include mental health-related issues. But what is the difference between PMS and PMDD and what are the treatments available? Read on to find out. If you need urgent help for your mental health you can contact the Samaritans 24/7 helpline, or Mind’s crisis resources.

Quick facts:

  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) affects around 90% of people who menstruate. 
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form of PMS. 
  • PMDD affects around 3-8% of people.
  • Both conditions share similar symptoms. 
  • There are treatments available to elevate symptoms, including speaking to a mental health professional.

What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a set of symptoms that people can experience in the weeks leading up to their period, known as the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. PMS is super common, with up to 90% of women and people who menstruate experiencing it at some point. 

PMS can vary from person to person, with some people just experiencing mild symptoms, with others suffering from more extreme symptoms that can affect their daily lives.

PMS Symptoms

There are a combination of physical and mental symptoms that can be associated with PMS. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Feeling upset, anxious or irritable
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Bloating and digestive issues
  • Food cravings 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Acne flare-ups or breakouts
  • Oily skin
  • Greasy hair
  • Changes in appetite

What’s the difference between PMS and PMDD?

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is similar to PMS, but more severe, with far more exaggerated mental health-related symptoms. PMDD can have a significant impact on your life, affecting work, social life, relationships and friendships. 
Around 3-8% of women and people who menstruate experience PMDD. Similarly, PMDD affects people the week or two before their period, with some people experiencing symptoms throughout this time and others just for a few days. Symptoms tend to improve once your period ends.

PMDD symptoms

Again, like PMS, symptoms of PMDD can be expansive. But common symptoms often include:

  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness
  • Severe anxiety or tension
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Decreased interest in social activities
  • Concentration struggles
  • Lethargy and low energy levels
  • Change in appetite or cravings 
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
  • Various physical symptoms, such as pains, abdominal bloating, diarrhoea or constipation

In the most severe cases of PMDD, some people may experience suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts.

If you need urgent help for your mental health you can contact the Samaritans 24/7 helpline, or Mind’s crisis resources.

What are the causes of PMS and PMDD?

The exact causes are still not fully understood, but researchers believe that PMDD is caused by how sensitive your body is to changes in hormone levels. Recent research suggests that PMDD is associated with increased sensitivity to the normal hormonal changes that occur during your monthly menstrual cycle.

There is research to suggest other possible causes for PMDD, as well as things that may make your PMDD worse. Some of these possible factors are:

  1. Genetics: Some research suggests that increased sensitivity to changes in hormone levels may be caused by genetic variations.
  2. Smoking: Some research suggests that smoking can have an impact on your hormone sensitivity.
  3. Trauma and stress: Other research has shown that in some cases PMDD may be linked to stressful and traumatic past events, such as emotional or physical abuse. Stress may also make your PMDD symptoms worse.

PMS and PMDD treatments

Several medical and non-medical treatments can help to alleviate PMS and PMDD symptoms. 

If you don’t already, tracking your symptoms and cycle to see if there’s a correlation between when your symptoms are appearing and where you’re at in your cycle can really help. 

You can track your cycle using a cycle-tracking app, or simply keep a record of it on a calendar. Once you’ve deciphered any patterns with your symptoms appearing, it can become easier to anticipate when they’ll appear. This can allow you to have more control over planning your schedule around them and factoring in self-care. 

You’ve heard it all before, but we’re telling you again—eating well, exercising regularly and reducing stress, is proven to have a positive impact on PMS symptoms and of course, your overall health. 

Some prescription hormonal contraceptives have also been shown to improve PMDD and PMS symptoms. Hormonal contraception halts the ovulation process and those prescribed without taking a break will level the natural fluctuation of your hormones, helping to lessen your symptoms. 

For the more severe cases of PMDD – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also considered an effective treatment. 

If your experience of severe PMS or PMDD symptoms is regularly affecting your wellbeing, it can be extremely beneficial to talk to a professional. The idea of diagnosing a mental health disorder can be daunting, but it is the first and most important move in alleviating your suffering.


Zoya Ali BSc, MSc

Zoya Ali BSc, MSc

Zoya is a scientific researcher with a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology and a Masters in Prenatal Genetics & Foetal Medicine from University College London. Her research interests are reproductive genetics, fertility preservation, gynaecological health conditions and sexual health.

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