What is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?

Most women experience PMS before they begin menstruating every month, which includes both physical and mental symptoms.

What is a menstrual cycle?

People assigned female at birth get their first period around puberty. Although there’s no way to tell when you will start menstruating because everybody develops at a different pace, many people can expect to get their first period between 10 and 15 years old. Some start earlier or later than that however. 

Your menstrual cycle might be as short as 21 days or as long as 35, and that’s completely fine. Your cycle also might not be exactly the same length every month -- that’s normal, too.

When people first start menstruating, they often experience irregular periods. Irregular periods are periods that come early, late, or not at all. This is common, but it's a good idea to talk to your family doctor if you’re concerned.

Throughout the menstrual cycle, the hormones in your bodies are constantly changing. At the beginning of your cycle, some hormones cause the lining of the uterus (or womb) to build up. The lining is built up so that if one of your eggs is fertilized and you get pregnant, the uterus will be strong enough to carry the fertilized egg as it grows. When there’s no fertilized egg that attaches to the uterus, then the lining breaks down and causes you to bleed. 

This cycle occurs every month and can cause you to experience different types of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. 

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome affects most women before they get their period. Symptoms can begin early as two weeks before the first day of their period and usually finish a few days after menstruation starts. 

Physical symptoms of PMS include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Sore breasts
  • Acne
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

Emotional and mental symptoms of PMS include:

  • Irritability and anger
  • Mood swings
  • Sadness

What if symptoms are really bad?

If your symptoms are so severe that they interfere with your everyday life, it may be possible that you have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMD). PMDD affects 3 to 8% of people who menstruate.

PMDD is a severe and rare reaction when your brain responds to your hormones in a way that may lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. People who experience PMDD have similar symptoms to people who experience PMS, but the symptoms are extreme.

If you're experiencing mental health issues that are impacting your day-to-day life, it is important that you receive support. Talk to your family doctor or gynecologist, or consider getting in touch with a mental health professional.

How can I cope with PMS?

There are many ways you can lessen the symptoms of PMS, both when it’s occurring and through lifestyle changes. 

If you’re experiencing PMS, drink lots of fluids, get lots of rest, and consider taking pain-relieving medication like ibuprofen or aspirin. 

You may also want to consider building better habits that have been proven to ease PMS like:

  • Having a balanced diets with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding sugar, salt, caffeine and alcohol
  • Taking supplements (talk to your doctor about which ones specifically help with PMS)
  • Exercising to decrease bloating and improve your mental health
  • Sleeping at least 8 hours every night
  • Trying individual or group counselling, specifically cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Incorporating self-care in your day-to-day and and try to reduce stress from your life as much as possible 

Remember, hormonal changes are a normal part of growing up! There are lots of resources online for you to learn more about these changes, but be careful - there’s also a lot of misinformation on the internet. If you have any questions or concerns, you should speak to a trusted adult, like your doctor, a counsellor, or other mental health professional.