Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): How monthly hormone fluctuation affects a woman’s mood

Many women in their childbearing years experience physical and emotional changes on and off around the time of their period. Usually, these symptoms are mild and tolerable, albeit often the cause of jokes and teasing from men. Should a woman be irritable or emotional, it is not uncommon that she receives the comment “Oh, she must be having PMS!”

The scientific basis for this common observation, said to occur in up to 75 per cent of women, lies in the hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle. During the premenstrual period - the so-called luteal phase that lasts one or two weeks before menstruation - there is a predominant load of progesterone, a depressogenic hormone, as compared to oestrogen, which tends to enhance a women’s mood state.

For a small group of women, these emotional and physical symptoms of PMS can be significant, and cause disruption to their daily functioning.

What is premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and what are some of its symptoms?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a popular term, first coined in the 1950s, referring to physical, behavioural and emotional symptoms occurring in the week or so before menses. It is said to affect some 30 - 75 per cent of women during their menstruating years.

Some of the physical symptoms of PMS commonly experienced include breast tenderness, bloatedness, headaches, and muscle aches. Frequently reported emotional and behavioural symptoms include irritability, emotionality, low mood, oversensitivity, poor concentration and tiredness.

What can I do to help my PMS?

Some of the recommended lifestyle changes mentioned below can help to improve the symptoms of PMS:

  • Limiting intake of caffeine, sugar and salt
  • Restricting the use of alcohol and nicotine
  • Having adequate rest, relaxation and regular aerobic exercise

There has been inconclusive scientific evidence regarding the use of herbal remedies such as evening primrose oil, agnus castus fruit extract (also known as chaste tree or vitex), gingko biloba, black cohosh, St John’s Wort and kava kava. This is also true of various vitamin supplements such as Vitamin E or Vitamin B6, as well as calcium carbonate. Caution must be taken as these can have adverse effects if taken in excess.​​​​

Read on to learn about premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS.

Ref: S13