PMS: What is Normal?

PMS What is Normal?

By: Kelsey Pukala, dietitian at Nourishing Minds Nutrition

what is pms? is it normal?

Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a combination of symptoms that most women experience about 1 week before their period.  The majority of statistics I read stated that anywhere from 75-90% of women experience some level of PMS. That’s a lot!  

What exactly falls under the category of “PMS?”  Most women tend to experience bloating, headaches and moodiness; however, there are a LOT of different symptoms associated with PMS:  

  • Swollen or tender breasts

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Bloating or gas

  • Cramping

  • Headache or backache

  • Irritability

  • Feeling tired

  • Sleep problems

  • Anxiety

  • Mood swings

Just to name a few.  This will be different for everyone!  You may experience none of these or several.  To “qualify” as PMS symptoms, they must occur during the ten days before your period and then disappear shortly after you bleed.  But what is normal?  

PMS symptoms that impact how you live your life are NOT normal.  Yes, it’s normal to experience some of these symptoms to a mild degree and generally feel uncomfortable around your period.  Our hormones fluctuate throughout our cycles, which can absolutely lead to various symptoms. You may feel a little more tired or have some cravings or feel some discomfort or see acne… this is normal.

Symptoms that cause you to stay home from work or that significantly alter your daily life are probably not normal.  These could be things like painful cramping, heavy bleeding, severe mood swings, migraines etc.  

What causes pms?

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes PMS, but PMS may be correlated with high levels of estrogen.  Estrogen and progesterone levels shift and change throughout our cycles, and changing hormone levels can also play a role in PMS.  If you don’t have enough progesterone, relative to estrogen, the likelihood of experiencing PMS symptoms is higher. Some women may be more sensitive to these hormonal changes than others.  More noticeable symptoms may appear when hormone shifts are dramatic. Genetics can also play a role… just something to keep in mind!

Often, birth control is the “solution” for PMS and don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for medications!  100%. But, instead of going straight to birth control, it may be worth figuring out the cause of your PMS (if that’s important to you).  Hormone panels can be very helpful here and you can even track your basal body temperature to look for a temperature rise of at least 10 days in the luteal phase (after ovulation), which could be helpful in determining if progesterone levels are low.  

Working with a professional can also be helpful in treating any underlying issues, rather than just using birth control to mask symptoms. 

I should mention too that if you are healing from hypothalamic amenorrhea or have irregular cycles due to stress, over-exercise and/or under-eating, sometimes cycles can return with a vengeance!  If this is you, everything could just be working itself out as your body tries to get back on track. If your PMS symptoms last longer than 3-6 months or are unbearable, please talk to a professional.

What can you do to help PMS symptoms? 

First, let me just say, around your period is an excellent time to tune in to your body… if you’re feeling extra tired, try giving yourself additional time to rest and/or sleep.  If you’re hungrier the week before your period (totally normal!), honor that. If you are unable to go the exercise class you usually attend, it’s okay to skip it. Your body is about to undergo an extremely energy intensive process.  

There are a few supplements that may help (key word may) including: magnesium and B6.  We always recommend working with someone if you are interested in potentially adding a supplement.  If your stomach is feeling meh, ginger and turmeric teas can be soothing.  Personally, I find sitting with a heating pad on my belly feels amazing.

To sum it up, if you’re consistently experiencing PMS symptoms that keep you from living your life, it may be time to talk to a professional!  At Nourishing Minds Nutrition, we love empowering other women to become more in tune with their bodies and cycles. If you have questions or comments about this topic, please share in the comments section below!

Tell me: Do you experience PMS? What helps you feel better when you are experiencing it?

Other Period and Hormonal Support Resources:

 How the Menstrual Cycle Works

Not Getting Your Period is Not Normal Part One and Part Two

NWP Episode 86: Fertility Awareness Method, the Menstrual Cycle and Hormones with Lisa Hendrickson-Jack

NWP Episode 63: Unpacking PCOS

NWP Episode 58: Period Talk: What is Normal with Menstruation, Cervical Discharge and Common Infections

Thank you Kelsey for this amazing article on PMS! You can learn more about Kelsey here and learn about her services at Nourishing Minds Nutrition here.