Find out how to treat PMS including lifestyle changes, herbal remedies and conventional medicines
PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is a highly individual condition. There is often no rhyme nor reason why you might experience one set of symptoms, and your neighbour a set of symptoms different from your own.
This variability means that some treatments might work for one person but not for the next. What is important to bear in mind, however, is that although there is no specific cure for PMS, it is a highly treatable condition and as you persevere, you are likely to find a solution for your problems. You don’t just have to live with it. Understanding how PMS affects your body is the first step towards finding a suitable treatment.
For some women, making a few simple lifestyle changes can bring about the relief needed. With these in place, there is often little need to look at medication.
- Diet – what you eat affects your whole body and having as healthy a diet as possible will have an impact on both your physical and mental wellbeing. If you suffer from bloating, eating smaller but more regular meals may help improve matters; if you keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, you are more likely to avoid headaches; and, avoiding energy rushes brought on by sugar and caffeine will keep your mood more stable. Many find that it is worth trying a PMS diet to see if the symptoms improve
- Exercise – regular exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, a powerful chemical which reduces pain and lifts your mood. It may also help with any food cravings you experience. If you are suffering from PMS, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising but scientific evidence tells us that being physically active can help improve symptoms. Moderate aerobic exercise such as swimming, cycling or walking several times a week can bring you back to your old self and is recommended over short periods of intense physical activity.
- Talking therapies – this can be effective in treating any emotional symptoms of PMS experienced such as anxiety or low mood. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), in particular, has been shown to be effective for the psychological symptoms of PMS. This form of therapy teaches you how to change your mindset and responses to different situations, bringing you back to your usual, rational self.
How can herbal remedies help?
Herbal remedies can be used alone or in combination with lifestyle changes. There are two main approaches:
- Tackle the underlying hormone imbalance at the root of PMS. Much research has been done on Vitex Agnus castus, a medicinal plant also known as Chaste Tree or Chasteberry. Extracts of the fruit (berries) have a long tradition of use in helping with both physical and emotional symptoms of PMS such as irritability, mood swings, bloating, menstrual and breast pain. Agnus castus is particularly appropriate if you suffer from a number of PMS symptoms
- Treating individual symptoms. If there is one particularly troublesome symptom that you suffer from, you may wish to address this separately. For example, you may use St. John’s wort to treat low mood, or a valerian based product to help you sleep better.
- In general, Agnus castus may be taken together with St. John’s wort or Valerian or any other herb, unless specifically stated otherwise. However, do not take Agnus castus or St. John’s wort if you are already taking contraceptives or HRT as the herb can affect the action of these treatments.
Treatments from my doctor
If neither lifestyle changes or herbal remedies have helped you, your doctor may consider the use of prescribed medication. As with other forms of treatment, you may have to try several types before finding the one which is most effective for you.
Most doctors would start by recommending the use of painkillers (either bought at your pharmacy or prescribed) to help you cope with menstrual cramps and pain. Depending on the type of symptoms troubling you, other treatments can include sedatives (to help with anxiety) or SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) anti-depressants to help you cope with the psychological symptoms of PMS.
The use of hormonal drugs may also be considered. They work by suppressing ovulation and hence, are also contraceptives. The main types are:
- Oestrogen patches or implants
- Combined contraceptive pills (containing oestrogen and progestogen)
- GnRH analogues – this class of drugs are used as a last resort in PMS. They mimic a hormonal pathway which suppresses ovulation
However, for some women, the side-effects of prescribed medication can be more troublesome than the symptoms of PMS. However, it is important not to give up hope, but to keep looking for a treatment which works for you.
If you are concerned about your condition or the treatments you are taking, seek help and advice from your doctor.
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