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Dealing with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

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Mother nature likes to drop a nuclear body bombshell that we know as ‘periods’ once a month.

All women experience a few period-related symptoms throughout their life, but for some women, their periods are utterly unbearable. 

Just like a right of passage, every girl developing into a woman must get her period. Regardless of how old you are when you start, all women experience some symptoms. However, there are some very poor souls that suffer from every symptom listed. We’re talking bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, joint pain, food cravings, mood swings or frequent crying, panic attacks, fatigue, mood changes, irritability, and trouble focusing. These are among the most common symptoms. Not only that, but their mood drops massively, to a point where everything seems hopeless, pointless and things are ten times more difficult than usual.

As if that wasn’t enough, these symptoms don’t just start when their period starts, these women suffer the week before and the week during. That's two weeks of a monthly cycle, or 24 weeks a year. That means they spend almost 6 months a year with the worst kind of period symptoms. It is only recently that doctors have recognised this isn’t just your usual PMS but something more extreme. They are calling it 'Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder' (PMDD). 

Up to one million British women suffer from this little understood but debilitating condition. PMDD is a severe form of PMS which negatively affects a woman’s mood, which may be caused by a cellular disorder. Like PMS, PMDD follows a predictable, cyclic pattern. Symptoms begin in the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (after ovulation) and end shortly after menstruation begins. The exact causes are still not fully understood but some possible factors are being very sensitive 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. Research also suggests an increased sensitivity to changes in hormone levels may also be caused by genetic variations.

PMDD is commonly defined as an endocrine disorder, meaning that it is a hormone-related disorder. But as well as physical symptoms, women with PMDD also experience a range of different mental health symptoms such as depression and suicidal feelings. According to Mind, these reasons have led doctors to list PMDD as a mental health problem. 

However, just because it is listed as a mental health issue, it doesn’t mean it is something to be scared about. Mental health issues are becoming more accepted in today’s society, as well as being more understood. There are now many ways to help women who think they might be suffering. From practising mindfulness techniques, getting to know your monthly cycle or prescribed medication.

Dr Catherine Jarvis, a specialist in women’s health answered a few questions on Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder:

1. Of course, all women suffer from periods. In your professional opinion, what would you say is the best way to boost mood during the time of the month?

Many of the symptoms overlap with depression. Things women can do to help themselves would be to try and eat healthily and sleep regularly, avoid alcohol and illicit drugs, avoid extra stresses and seek calming activities, whether that's seeing friends, enjoying a pastime, gardening, meditation, a walk in the sun or whatever else works for them.  

2. There is lots of advice online, but being a women’s health expert, what would you suggest women can do to help themselves cope with PMDD?  

Sharing experiences with their friends or partners helps them understand their symptoms and helps them realise they're not 'going mad'. CBT can be helpful - this can be accessed via apps and online modules as well as books.

3. What advice would you give to our readers if they think they might be suffering from PMDD? 

If symptoms are troublesome and disruptive to life, and other methods above haven't helped, some might find St John's Wort at least partially effective. This is available to buy over the counter. If all else fails they should speak to their doctor as sometimes we use specific medication such as anti-depressants (SSRIs) or hormone control of cycle can help (contraceptive pills). 

For more advice on PMDD, go online to the NHS website or the Mind website. In addition, book an appointment with your GP to discuss your options and ways to cope better with bad periods.

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