For a lot of women, the only thing more miserable than having their period is having the bloating, cramping, mood swings, back pain and pure exhaustion that often accompany it. In addition to being uncomfortable, premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, can be downright stressful and confusing when you don’t fully understand your body’s symptoms.
Because PMS varies month by month and woman by woman, how do you actually know what’s normal? On top of that, could some of your symptoms be an indication of other health conditions? GMC’s Women’s Health Navigator, Sheila Warren, RN, shares her expertise on what some of the most common PMS symptoms, and what symptoms may be cause for concern.
Spotting PMS Symptoms: Normal vs. Abnormal
Acne. During menstruation, estrogen levels decrease while progesterone levels increase which ramps up your body’s production of sebum, an oily substance on your skin. While menstruation may increase the likelihood of acne, once your hormone levels balance out again, your acne should decrease.
When it’s something more. If you’re battling acne that persists beyond that time of month, it may be due to another health condition, like polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is a surprisingly common condition that is characterized as an excess of androgens, which are known to cause acne.
Upset stomach, bloating or constipation. With a change in hormones during your menstrual cycle comes increased fluid retention. When you’re body retains fluid this can leave you feeling swollen, bloated and just overall uncomfortable. Surprisingly, you may even gain a few pounds of water weight during this time, too.
When it’s something more. If you experienced ongoing digestive issues like constipationand bloating, this could be a sign of a food allergy or intolerance. Often times, a food intolerance will cause additional symptoms like headaches, fatigue, joint pain and gas.
Cramping. Nearly every woman has experienced cramping with PMS. The main cause of menstrual cramps is uterine contractions which causes pain in the abdomen and the lower back. Typically these cramps will only last for 3 days or less and over-the-counter medication, a heating pad, comfortable clothing and a balanced diet will help to soothe discomfort.
When it’s something more. When cramps escalate to be so intense that you feel like you can’t leave the house and nothing you do seems to make them better, this could be a sign of something more serious. Common conditions, like endometriosis, can cause severe cramping and if left untreated it may lead to ovarian cysts, chronic pain and even infertility.
Extra heavy or light bleeding. It’s normal for your flow to vary from month to month; however, keep in mind that your period should last between 2 to 7 days. But there are a number of different factors, like stress, excessive exercise and medication that may impact your cycle.
When it’s something more. If you notice progressively shorter periods or the absence of a period, this could indicate the transition into menopause or another underlying health condition. In fact, a thyroid condition can impact your menstrual cycle regularity.
If you’re experiencing an extremely heavy flow, one that is able to soak through a pad or tampon every hour, this can be a sign of a hormone imbalance or something more serious, like kidney disease or even cancer. If you notice excessive clotting, or clots that are larger than a quarter, this may be a sign of a miscarriage, fibroids, hormonal imbalances or an enlarged uterus.
Furthermore, if your period is lasting more than 7 days, this could be the result of an infection and if left untreated can cause fatigue and other complications. If your period is lasting more than 7 days as a result of pre-menstrual spotting, this may be a sign of endometriosis.
Put your health first, period.
While there are a number of different factors that can impact your period, it can be an important sign of overall health. Furthermore, it’s important to stay in tune with your body so you are able to determine what is normal for you.
To help you stay healthy at every age, GMC’s Women’s Health Navigator is always prepared to help. Whether you are in search of medical information, preventative care or recommendations for diagnostics and treatment, Sheila Warren, RN, is there to offer support at every stage of your health care journey. Remember, there is no health concern too small.