Premenstrual Syndrome

Premenstrual Syndrome

Women's Health Update: No More Periods? Managing Your Menstrual Cycle Today

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Author: HealthyWomen
Published by: National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc., September 2008


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Your Menstrual Cycle: How it Works, How to Manage it

Author: HealthyWomen
Published by: National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc., September 2008

This new, 24-page guide will clue you in on everything you wanted to know about your menstrual cycle. Learn what's normal and what's not; how to manage unmanageable menstrual symptoms such as heavy or irregular periods; how to safely eliminate your periods completely; and much more! This publication is available for download only.


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Passport to Good Health

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Author: HealthyWomen and American Association of Nurse Practitioners
Published by: National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc., December 2010

Keep your health information organized with HealthyWomen and AANP's Passport to Good Health—a compact health record-keeping tool. Containing blood pressure and cholesterol screening ranges, preventive health screening details and schedule, vaccination schedule, personal record-keeping grids and more, it's the perfect place to keep track of personal health information and screening results.


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What is it?

Overview

What Is It?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes a wide range of severe, recurrent symptoms that occur from several days to two weeks before your period.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes a wide range of severe, recurrent symptoms that occur from several days to two weeks before your period. PMS affects up to 75 percent of women in their childbearing years. The symptoms of PMS can appear any time between puberty and menopause, although the most common age for it to start to become a problem is during the late 20s to early 30s.

Symptoms of PMS may get worse with age and stress, although the underlying causes are not well understood. Even women who have had hysterectomies can have PMS if at least one functional ovary is left. Women who are vulnerable to depressive illness, panic disorder, other psychiatric disorders or chronic medical conditions may also be susceptible to PMS, although these conditions may occur in women without PMS as well. Heredity may also play a role: if your mother or sister suffers from PMS, you may find you experience it, too.

As many as 150 physical and behavioral symptoms have been assigned to PMS, but the number of PMS symptoms that most women experience is much more limited. The most common symptoms include irritability, bloating, mood swings, anxiety, depressed mood, fatigue, appetite changes, water retention and breast tenderness, among others.

Menstrual cramps, or dysmenorrhea, are not considered a PMS symptom, although women with PMS may experience cramps.

PMS appears to be caused by rising and falling levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which may influence brain chemicals, including serotonin, a substance that has a strong affect on mood. It's not clear why some women develop PMS or PMDD and others do not, but researchers suspect that some women are more sensitive than others to changes in hormone levels.

Calcium may play a role in PMS. In one study, women who took 600 mg of calcium twice a day experienced fewer PMS symptoms than women who took a placebo.

Dietary changes and exercise may also help relieve the discomfort of PMS symptoms. When symptoms are severe, serotonergic antidepressant medication may be prescribed. It is thought that increased serotonin reduces PMS symptoms.

One of the most important strategies for coping with premenstrual discomfort is to be aware of any pattern your symptoms follow. The more aware you are of your symptoms—when they start and stop and what works best to relieve them, for example—the better you can develop strategies to recognize and cope with them—whatever they may be.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Approximately three to eight percent of women experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a condition that, like PMS, is associated with the menstrual cycle. The symptoms of PMDD are the same as PMS symptoms, although women with PMDD may experience more dysphoric (depressive) symptoms and more severe symptoms. In fact, to be diagnosed with PMDD, symptoms must be severe enough to disrupt a woman's daily function. Symptoms must also meet diagnostic criteria specific to PMDD developed by the American Psychiatric Association.

The most important criteria for a PMDD diagnosis are mood symptoms. Physical symptoms may also be present but aren't as critical to the diagnosis. The difference between PMDD and mild PMS is like the difference between a mild tension headache and a migraine, experts say.

Women who have a history of depression are at higher risk for PMDD than other women. Treatment for PMDD includes serotonergic antidepressant medications and a particular brand of birth control pills, called Yaz. Yaz contains drospirenone (a progestin) and ethinyl estradiol (a form of estrogen) and has been shown to be clinically effective at treating the emotional and physical symptoms of PMDD. A newer form of Yaz, called Beyaz, which contains an additional daily dose of folic acid, is also FDA approved to treat PMDD.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis

There is no specific laboratory test to determine if you suffer from PMS, and diagnosis can take some time because symptoms are so varied. But there are certain characteristics that health care professionals consider. To qualify as PMS, symptoms must follow this general pattern:

  • They tend to increase in severity as your cycle progresses.
  • They improve within a few days of your menstrual period starting.
  • They are present for at least two to three consecutive menstrual cycles.

More than 150 physical and behavioral symptoms may be associated with PMS. The most common are irritability and anxiety/tension. Other symptoms include:

  • Sudden mood swings
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Food cravings
  • Fluid retention
  • Forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Breast swelling and tenderness

The timing and severity of these symptoms are key to a PMS diagnosis. An average menstrual cycle spans 21 to 35 days. The follicular phase extends from menses to ovulation, and the luteal phase extends from ovulation to menses. PMS occurs during the luteal phase—approximately the last 14 days of your cycle, usually during the five to seven days before you get your period.

A premenstrual symptom chart or checklist (also called a menstrual cycle diary) is the most common method used to evaluate menstrual cycle symptoms. With this tool, you and your health care professional can track the type and severity of your symptoms, as well as when they occur, to identify a pattern that may indicate PMS.

Follow these simple steps to determine if your symptoms fit the PMS pattern:

  1. Track your symptoms using the first day of menstrual flow as Day 1. (Note: Don't be surprised if you do not have any symptoms to record before day 18 or so.)

  2. Have a person close to you (your partner, roommate, friend) chart his or her impression of your symptoms, when they occur and their severity.

  3. Chart your symptoms for at least three consecutive months to help you and your health care professional identify a pattern that may indicate PMS.

  4. Record the date when/if any of the following symptoms occur over three consecutive months and note their severity (1 = mild; 2 = moderate; 3 = severe)

Physical Symptoms

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Breast tenderness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Swelling of hands/feet

Emotional Symptoms

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Tension

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Crying spells and tearfulness
  • Decreased or increased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Forgetfulness
  • Hostility

In addition to suggesting that you keep a menstrual cycle diary, your health care professional likely will ask about your personal and family medical history and will give you a physical exam.

Laboratory tests are not routine but may be obtained to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), mania, depression, thyroid disorders, anemia, endometriosis, allergies, fibroids, dysmenorrhea, lupus, endocrine abnormalities, neurological problems such as brain tumors and heart problems.

Menopause and PMS share some of the same symptoms, so depending on your age and health history, your health care professional may want to make sure that you are indeed ovulating and therefore experiencing PMS, not menopausal symptoms.

To do this, you will probably be asked to use an over-the-counter ovulation testing kit. This is a simple test that you can do at home. The results tell you when ovulation is likely.

If you are approaching menopause (the average age is about 51 for U.S. women, but ranges from 42 to 60 years), blood hormone tests may also be used to confirm if you are menopausal. However, a single blood test is not informative because hormone levels change often.

Treatment

Treatment

Many premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms improve with treatment. Treatment options range from medication therapy to birth control pills to diet modification, including vitamin and mineral supplementation, herbal medicines and exercise.

Antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically recommended to women with severe mood-related symptoms such as anxiety, depression or mood swings.

Overall, common treatment options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications are used to relieve premenstrual headache and other menstrual-cycle related pain. A variety of NSAIDs are available including over-the-counter ibuprofen products (Motrin) and others or naproxen sodium (Aleve). They usually cost less and have fewer side effects than other treatments. Prescription NSAIDs also are available.

    Note: NSAIDS carry some risks, such as an increased risk of serious cardiovascular (CV) events, including heart attack and stroke. As a result, the FDA has issued a "black box" warning highlighting this risk, as well as the risk of potentially life-threatening stomach bleeding. If you've recently had heart surgery, you shouldn't take NSAIDS. All other women considering NSAIDS to ease PMS or any other condition should discuss these potential risks with their health care professional.

  • Contraceptive hormones. Some women with PMS or PMDD experience relief of their symptoms after they start taking birth control pills. (Other women, however, feel worse on birth control pills.) You can take the pill continuously to avoid having a menstrual period, thus preventing the hormonal changes that can lead to PMS/PMDD. The combination birth control pills Yaz (containing 3 mg of drospirenone, a progestin, and 20 mcg ethinyl estradiol, a form of estrogen) and Beyaz (containing 3 mg of drospirenone, 20 mcg ethinyl estradiol and a daily dose of folic acid) are FDA approved for the treatment of PMDD.

  • GnRH agonists (gonadotropin-releasing hormone). These medications include leuprolide (Lupron), among others. They belong to a class of hormones used to temporarily shrink fibroids and relieve endometriosis. They also may be recommended to treat PMS because they "turn off" the menstrual cycle by blocking estrogen production. Side effects may include menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness and bone loss. That's why low-dose hormone therapy, a combination of estrogen and progestin hormones, is typically prescribed along with GnRH agonists. Some women may experience a return of their PMS symptoms with the additional hormone therapy. GnRH agonists are usually considered only as a short-term treatment option (given for no longer than six months) because of the increased health risks such as osteoporosis associated with low estrogen levels.

  • Antidepressant medications. Antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the preferred antidepressants for treating severe PMS and PMDD symptoms, including depression. SSRIs include sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), and fluoxetine (Prozac). Other types of antidepressants may also be prescribed to treat PMS and PMDD, including venlafaxine (Effexor) and clomipramine (Anafranil). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that women taking antidepressants should monitor their symptoms closely, with the help of their health care professional, for signs that their condition is getting worse or that they are becoming suicidal, especially when they first start therapy or when their dose is increased or decreased.

  • Danazol. Danazol (Danocrine) is a medication that works similarly to GnRH agonists to prevent ovulation. Danocrine works to improve PMS symptoms in some women, but it has some unpleasant side effects, such as acne and facial hair growth, so it is usually only used in women who do not respond to other treatments.

  • Anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam (Xanax) are sometimes prescribed when anxiety is the main symptom associated with PMS or PMDD. These drugs can be taken during the 14 days between ovulation and menstruation (the luteal phase) when symptoms occur (rather than daily). Dependence and serious withdrawal reactions can occur with Xanax, so its dosage and discontinuation should be carefully monitored.

  • Calcium supplements (1,200 mg daily). Additional calcium in any form may help relieve some PMS symptoms. Low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese) are a primary source of calcium, but you can also gain calcium from the following:

    • Tofu and other soy products
    • Rice milk
    • Broccoli
    • Dark greens, like turnip greens
    • Green or red cabbage (raw)
    • Salmon and sardines
  • Taking an over-the-counter calcium supplement can also help. In one study, women who took 600 mg of calcium twice a day experienced fewer PMS symptoms than women who took a placebo. But be patient; it may take two to three months to relieve PMS symptoms with calcium supplementation. If symptoms persist, have your vitamin D levels checked or change the type of calcium supplement you're using. Low levels of vitamin D can affect how the body absorbs calcium, and some generic supplements may not have enough calcium available for absorption.

  • Exercise. Regular exercise can also help relieve and possibly prevent PMS symptoms. You will get the greatest benefits if you exercise for at least 30 minutes, at least five days a week. But even taking a 20- to 30-minute walk three times a week can improve your mood.

  • Chasteberry. The extract of the fruit of the chasteberry tree is shown to be a safe and effective treatment for PMS. This therapy is used primarily outside the United States. It may be obtained over the counter, but the dose and purity may be uncertain.

In addition, there's some evidence that some nutritional supplements such as vitamin E, magnesium and vitamin B-6 may help ease symptoms of PMS. Discuss these and other strategies with your health care professional before taking any dietary supplement.

There is no single treatment that works well for every woman who experiences PMS. Typically, it's wise to try the most conservative treatment options first, which include lifestyle changes such as modifying your diet and exercising more. Discuss your symptoms with your health care professional if strategies you've tried don't work, so he or she can recommend other treatment options.

Prevention

Prevention

Can premenstrual syndrome (PMS) be prevented? Many women report benefits from a variety of lifestyle change including dietary changes, exercise and stress management. Dietary changes may include:

  • Increasing calcium intake.

  • Decreasing consumption of refined sugar.

  • Decreasing or avoiding caffeine and nicotine, which act as stimulants and can increase tension and anxiety as well as interfere with sleep patterns. For some women, the severity of PMS symptoms increases as caffeine consumption increases.

  • Decreasing alcohol consumption, which can act as a depressant. If you experience PMS, you may have an increased sensitivity to alcohol at certain points during your cycle.

  • Decreasing salt intake and increasing water consumption to avoid water retention and bloating.

  • Avoiding sodas, which may contain high levels of caffeine, salt, sugar and/or artificial sweeteners.

  • Drinking natural diuretics, such as herbal teas.

Ironically, some PMS symptoms, such as mood swings, irritability, bloating, hunger, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue, may lead you to consume foods that aggravate the condition.

Premenstrually, you may crave either refined sugar (usually combined with chocolate) or fat (combined with salt). Generally, foods high in refined sugars and fat temporarily raise energy levels. But within several hours or less, as your body metabolizes these foods, you may "crash," meaning you'll feel worse than before you ate them. Foods high in sugar content can also leave you feeling jittery.

To alleviate mood swings and fatigue, try adding more high-quality, complex carbohydrates to your diet such as:

  • Whole grain breads, pastas and cereals
  • Potatoes (white or sweet)
  • Rice (preferably brown or wild)
  • Fresh vegetables, particularly corn and peas, such as chickpeas and lentils
  • Fresh fruits

These complex carbohydrates help keep blood sugar levels even while providing your body with a long-lasting source of energy.

It's not uncommon for your appetite to increase just before your period begins. To combat the munchies and extra weight gain, try eating smaller, low-fat healthful meals using the food choices listed above.

Make sure you include adequate calcium in your diet; calcium may help prevent irritability, anxiety and other PMS symptoms. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat milk and milk products like yogurt, ice cream and cheese
  • Broccoli
  • Dark greens (like turnip greens)
  • Green or red cabbage (raw)
  • Cooked collards
  • Salmon and sardines
  • Soy products, such as tofu and soy milk
  • Calcium-fortified orange and grapefruit juices

Another good way to prevent PMS symptoms is through regular exercise in the form of aerobic activities such as brisk walking, jogging, biking or swimming. You will get the greatest benefits from exercise if you do it for at least 30 minutes, five or more days a week. But even taking a 20- to 30-minute walk three times a week can:

  • Increase endorphin and serotonin production, brain chemicals that may help decrease pain and discomfort and improve mood, respectively
  • Decrease stress and anxiety
  • Increase REM sleep

Other lifestyle changes that will help you control PMS include:

  • Sleeping consistent hours
  • Establishing a bedtime routine to help cue body and mind for sleeping
  • Keeping a PMS symptom checklist, also called a menstrual cycle diary, to identify when symptoms and which symptoms occur so you can be prepared for them

Facts to Know

Facts to Know

  1. An estimated 75 percent of women of childbearing age suffer from PMS in some form.

  2. Approximately 3 to 8 percent of women experience premenstrual symptoms severe enough to disrupt their daily function and meet criteria for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)––a severe form of PMS.

  3. Taking additional calcium in any form may help improve or even prevent PMS symptoms. Ideally, increase daily amounts of low-fat dairy products and other calcium-containing foods to reach the 1,200 mg of calcium daily health care professionals recommend. If you have trouble reaching this goal from your diet alone, consider using over-the counter calcium supplements.

  4. Symptoms of PMS may get worse with age.

  5. If you experience PMS, you may experience an increased sensitivity to alcohol at certain points in your menstrual cycle.

  6. Some evidence suggests that women who are vulnerable to depressive illness, panic disorder or other psychiatric or chronic medical disorders may be particularly susceptible to PMS.

  7. Strategies for PMS symptom relief include medication, dietary changes, exercise and stress management.

  8. Dietary changes to relieve PMS symptoms include increasing daily amounts of dietary or supplemental calcium, drinking more water and adding more complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and grains) to your meals. Decreasing foods in your diet that contain refined sugar, limiting or avoiding caffeine and nicotine, decreasing alcohol consumption, decreasing salt intake and avoiding sodas may also help.

  9. Some of the PMS symptoms you may experience, such as mood swings, irritability, bloating, hunger, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue, may lead you to consume high-fat foods and/or foods high in refined sugar, which actually aggravate these symptoms. Try to avoid them.

  10. Even women who have had hysterectomies can have symptoms of PMS if at least one functional ovary is left intact following the hysterectomy.

Questions to Ask

Questions to Ask

Review the following Questions to Ask about premenstrual syndrome (PMS) so you're prepared to discuss this important health issue with your health care professional.

  1. What causes PMS?

  2. Are my symptoms characteristic of PMS?

  3. What other illnesses could be causing these symptoms?

  4. Which tests, if any, should I have to rule out other illnesses?

  5. How is PMS treated?

  6. What treatment may work best for me?

  7. I've heard that not getting enough calcium can cause PMS. How can I add calcium to my diet?

  8. What tests are available to determine calcium deficiency, and where can I get tested?

  9. What's premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)?

  10. How do you treat PMDD?

Key Q&A

Key Q&A

  1. What exactly is premenstrual syndrome (PMS)?

    There are more than 150 documented symptoms of PMS, but the number of symptoms seen in the vast majority of patients is much more limited. Some of the most common PMS symptoms include bloating, fatigue, sudden mood swings, irritability,anxiety, depression, weight gain, headaches, joint and muscle aches, food cravings and fluid retention. To be considered PMS symptoms, they must occur exclusively in the last 14 days of your menstrual cycle (usually about five to seven days before your period begins). True PMS symptoms tend to increase in severity as the cycle progresses, are relieved within a few days after the start of the menstrual flow and are present for at least two to three consecutive menstrual cycles. Cramps are not considered a symptom of PMS, but they can occur in women with PMS.

  2. What causes PMS?

    PMS appears to be caused by rising and falling levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which may influence brain chemicals, including serotonin, a substance that has a strong affect on mood. It's not clear why some women develop PMS or PMDD and others do not, but researchers suspect that some women are more sensitive than others to changes in hormone levels.

  3. How is PMS diagnosed?

    There is no single laboratory test for PMS, but one of the most common ways to diagnosis PMS is by keeping a daily checklist, chart or "menstrual cycle diary" that tracks when your premenstrual symptoms occurs for at least three months. Your health care professional should rule out other disorders or diseases that mimic or are identical to the symptoms caused by PMS before diagnosing you with the condition. These conditions include thyroid disorders, depression, endocrine abnormalities, menopause, heart problems, allergies and low blood sugar, among other conditions. Laboratory tests, personal and family medical histories and a physical exam are also part of the diagnostic process.

  4. Is PMS treatable?

    Yes! Many women experience some relief from PMS symptoms if they make diet and lifestyle changes, particularly increasing consumption of calcium, complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, grains and beans) and water, and decreasing caffeine, alcohol, salt and refined sugar intake. Regular exercise and sleep may also help relieve symptoms. Certain medications can provide relief.

  5. When does PMS typically appear?

    PMS symptoms can appear any time between puberty and menopause, though the most common age for PMS to start to become a problem is during your late 20s to mid-30s.

  6. Will my PMS symptoms get better as I age?

    Probably not until you reach menopause. In some women, symptoms of PMS worsen with age and stress. Even women who have had hysterectomies can have PMS if at least one functional ovary is left intact following the hysterectomy. Once you reach menopause, your PMS symptoms will end with the end of menstruation.

  7. If I regularly take the recommended steps to relieve my PMS symptoms, how long before I may see results?

    It may take two to three months to experience relief from PMS symptoms. If you don't see any improvements by then, check with your health care professional for a new action plan.

  8. Are menstrual cramps a symptom of PMS?

    Cramps are not considered a symptom of PMS, although they may occur in women who have PMS. Called dysmenorrhea, cramps typically begin just before (24 to 48 hours) the onset of menstruation and disappear by the end of flow.

Lifestyle Tips

Lifestyle Tips

  1. Lifestyle changes for PMS sufferers

    Some of the lifestyles changes recommended to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may also be useful in preventing symptoms. Performing aerobic activity such as brisk walking, jogging, biking or swimming for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week or ideally, for at least 30 minutes, five or more days a week, coupled with a balanced diet (with increased whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and decreased or no salt, sugar, alcohol and caffeine) can help. It's also important to get adequate rest; the body may have different sleep requirements at different times during the menstrual cycle.

  2. Eating right to fight PMS

    To reduce your PMS symptoms, spread your normal caloric intake over three small meals and three small snacks per day, and avoid going for long periods of time without eating. Avoid or wean yourself off caffeine. Caffeine can worsen breast tenderness, and many women report that irritability and headaches decrease when they cut their caffeine intake. Reducing salt intake can relieve fluid retention. Snack suggestions: Plain yogurt; unsalted nuts, seeds and popcorn; whole-wheat bread with peanut butter; pumpkin or banana bread; graham crackers; unsalted whole-grain crackers; bran or oatmeal muffins; raw vegetables; and raw or dried fruits.

  3. Calcium can help alleviate PMS symptoms

    If you suffer from the physical and psychological symptoms typical in premenstrual syndrome (PMS), calcium may help solve your problem. In one study, women who took 600 mg of calcium twice a day experienced fewer PMS symptoms than women who took a placebo. Calcium can be obtained through the diet or in the form of nutritional supplements or antacids. Remember to talk to your health care professional before taking calcium supplements.

  4. Medications for PMS

    If a healthy diet, regular exercise and calcium supplements fail to improve mood swings or other emotional symptoms of PMS, you may want to talk to your health care professional about a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant medication. Other prescription medications sometimes prescribed for severe PMS include the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam (Xanax) and gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist treatments that suppress estrogen production. Two "combination" oral contraceptives containing drospirenone, a progestin, and ethinyl estradiol, a form of estrogen—Yaz and Beyaz (which contains added folic acid)—are FDA approved for both the prevention of pregnancy and for the emotional and physical symptoms associated with PMDD. Be sure to ask your health care professional about short- and long-term side effects of any medications recommended to relieve symptoms of PMS/PMDD, including the potential for dependence with the use of certain anti-anxiety medications.

  5. Is it PMS or PMDD?

    If your premenstrual symptoms are bothersome , you may have PMS. If the symptoms are primarily emotional or behavioral and are severe enough to interfere significantly with work or relationships, you may have a more serious form of PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which affects about 3 to 8 percent of women of childbearing age. PMDD symptoms can include a markedly depressed mood, severe anxiety or tension and wild mood shifts, as well as significant physical symptoms. However, severe mood-related symptoms are key to PMDD. If you suspect you have PMDD or PMS, consult your health care professional.

Organizations and Support

Organizations and Support

For information and support on coping with Premenstrual Syndrome, please see the recommended organizations, books and Spanish-language resources listed below.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Website: http://www.acog.org
Address: 409 12th Street, SW
P.O. Box 96920
Washington, DC 20090
Phone: 202-638-5577
Email: resources@acog.org

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP)
Website: http://www.arhp.org
Address: 1901 L Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-466-3825
Email: arhp@arhp.org

MGH Center for Women's Mental Health
Website: http://www.womensmentalhealth.org
Address: Perinatal and Reproductive Psychiatry Program Simches Research Builiding
185 Cambridge St Suite 2200
Boston, MA 02114
Phone: 617-724-7792

National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA)
Website: http://www.nfprha.org
Address: 1627 K Street, NW, 12th Floor
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 202-293-3114
Email: info@nfprha.org

A Gynecologist's Second Opinion
by William H. Parker and Rachel L. Parker

Bitchin' in the Kitchen: The PMS Survival Cookbook
by Jennifer Evans

Curing PMS Naturally with Chinese Medicine
by Bob Flaws

Natural Medicine for PMS
by Deborah R. Mitchell

Once a Month: Understanding and Treating PMS
by Katharina Dalton

PMS & Perimenopause Sourcebook: A Guide to the Emotional, Mental, and Physical Patterns of a Woman's Life
by Lori Futterman and John E. Jones

PMS Relief: Natural Approaches to Treating Symptoms
by J. Marshall

PMS: Women Tell Women How to Control Premenstrual Syndrome
by Stephanie Degraff Bender and Kathleen Kelleher

Self-Help for Premenstrual Syndrome
by Marla Ahlgrimm R.Ph.

SOS for PMS: Whole Food Solutions for Premenstrual Syndrome
by Lissa Deangelis and Molly Siple

Medline Plus: Premenstrual Syndrome
Website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/premenstrualsyndrome.html
Address: Customer Service
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20894
Email: custserv@nlm.nih.gov

Womenshealth.gov
Website: http://www.womenshealth.gov/espanol/preguntas/pms.cfm
Hotline: 1-800-994-9662

Last date updated: 
Mon, 2011-10-03

What is it?

Overview

What Is It?
Menstrual disorders are a disruptive physical and/or emotional symptoms just before and during menstruation, including heavy bleeding, missed periods and unmanageable mood swings.

Some women get through their monthly periods easily with few or no concerns. Their periods come like clockwork, starting and stopping at nearly the same time every month, causing little more than a minor inconvenience.

However, other women experience a host of physical and/or emotional symptoms just before and during menstruation. From heavy bleeding and missed periods to unmanageable mood swings, these symptoms may disrupt a woman's life in major ways.

Most menstrual cycle problems have straightforward explanations, and a range of treatment options exist to relieve your symptoms. If your periods feel overwhelming, discuss your symptoms with your health care professional. Once your symptoms are accurately diagnosed, he or she can help you choose the best treatment to make your menstrual cycle tolerable.

How the Menstrual Cycle Works
Your menstrual period is part of your menstrual cycle—a series of changes that occur to parts of your body (your ovaries, uterus, vagina and breasts) every 28 days, on average. Some normal menstrual cycles are a bit longer; some are shorter. The first day of your menstrual period is day one of your menstrual cycle. The average menstrual period lasts about five to seven days. A "normal" menstrual period for you may be different from what's "normal" for someone else.

Types of Menstrual Disorders
If one or more of the symptoms you experience before or during your period causes a problem, you may have a menstrual cycle "disorder." These include:

  • abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB): which may include heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia), no menstrual bleeding (amenorrhea) or bleeding in between periods (metrorrhagia)
  • dysmenorrhea: (painful menstrual periods)
  • premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • premenstrual dysphonic disorder (PMDD)

A brief discussion of menstrual disorders follows below.

Heavy menstrual bleeding
One in five women bleed so heavily during their periods that they have to put their normal lives on hold just to deal with the heavy blood flow.

Bleeding is considered heavy if it interferes with normal activities. Blood loss during a normal menstrual period is about 5 tablespoons, but if you have heavy menstrual bleeding, you may bleed as much as 10 to 25 times that amount each month. You may have to change a tampon or pad every hour, for example, instead of three or four times a day.

Heavy menstrual bleeding can be common at various stages of your life—during your teen years when you first begin to menstruate and in your late 40s or early 50s, as you get closer to menopause.

If you are past menopause and experience any vaginal bleeding, discuss your symptoms with your health care professional right away. Any vaginal bleeding after menopause isn't normal and should be evaluated immediately by a health care professional.

Heavy menstrual bleeding can be caused by:

  • hormonal imbalances
  • structural abnormalities in the uterus
  • medical conditions

Many women with heavy menstrual bleeding can blame their condition on hormones. Your body may produce too much or not enough estrogen or progesterone—known as reproductive hormones—necessary to keep your menstrual cycle regular.

For example, many women with heavy menstrual bleeding don't ovulate regularly. Ovulation, when one of the ovaries releases an egg, occurs around day 14 in a normal menstrual cycle. Changes in hormone levels help trigger ovulation.

Certain medical conditions can cause heavy menstrual bleeding. These include:

  • thyroid problems
  • blood clotting disorders such as Von Willebrand's disease, a mild-to-moderate bleeding disorder
  • idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a bleeding disorder characterized by too few platelets in the blood
  • liver or kidney disease
  • leukemia
  • medications, such as anticoagulant drugs such as Plavix (clopidogrel) or heparin and some synthetic hormones.

Other gynecologic conditions that may be responsible for heavy bleeding include:

  • complications from an IUD
  • fibroids
  • miscarriage
  • ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg begins to grow outside your uterus, typically in your fallopian tubes

Other causes of excessive bleeding include:

  • infections
  • precancerous conditions of the uterine lining cells

Amenorrhea
You may also have experienced the opposite problem of heavy menstrual bleeding—no menstrual periods at all. This condition, called amenorrhea, or the absence of menstruation, is normal before puberty, after menopause and during pregnancy. If you don't have a monthly period and don't fit into one of these categories, then you need to discuss your condition with your health care professional.

There are two kinds of amenorrhea: primary and secondary.

  • Primary amenorrhea is diagnosed if you turn 16 and haven't menstruated. It's usually caused by some problem in your endocrine system, which regulates your hormones. Sometimes this results from low body weight associated with eating disorders, excessive exercise or medications. This medical condition can be caused by a number of other things, such as a problem with your ovaries or an area of your brain called the hypothalamus or genetic abnormalities. Delayed maturing of your pituitary gland is the most common reason, but you should be checked for any other possible reasons.
  • Secondary amenorrheais diagnosed if you had regular periods, but they suddenly stop for three months or longer. It can be caused by problems that affect estrogen levels, including stress, weight loss, exercise or illness.

Additionally, problems affecting the pituitary gland (such as elevated levels of the hormone prolactin) or thyroid (including hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism) may cause secondary amenorrhea. This condition can also occur if you've had an ovarian cyst or had your ovaries surgically removed.

Severe menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea)
Most women have experienced menstrual cramps before or during their period at some point in their lives. For some, it's part of the regular monthly routine. But if your cramps are especially painful and persistent, you may have a condition called dysmenorrhea and should consult your health care professional.

Pain from menstrual cramps is caused by uterine contractions, triggered by prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that are produced by the uterine lining cells and circulate in your bloodstream. If you have severe menstrual pain, you might also find you have some diarrhea or an occasional feeling of faintness where you suddenly become pale and sweaty. That's because prostaglandins speed up contractions in your intestines, resulting in diarrhea, and lower your blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, leading to lightheadedness.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
PMS is a term commonly used to describe a wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. About 30 to 40 percent of women experience symptoms severe enough to disrupt their lifestyles. PMS symptoms are more severe and disruptive than the typical mild premenstrual symptoms that as many as 75 percent of all women experience.

There are more than 150 documented symptoms of PMS, the most common of which is depression. Symptoms typically develop about five to seven days before your period and disappear once your period begins or soon after.

Physical symptoms associated with PMS include:

  • bloating
  • swollen, painful breasts
  • fatigue
  • constipation
  • headaches
  • clumsiness

Emotional symptoms associated with PMS include:

  • anger
  • anxiety or confusion
  • mood swings and tension
  • crying and depression
  • inability to concentrate

PMS appears to be caused by rising and falling levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which may influence brain chemicals, including serotonin, a substance that has a strong affect on mood. It's not clear why some women develop PMS or PMDD and others do not, but researchers suspect that some women are more sensitive than others to changes in hormone levels.

PMS differs from other menstrual cycle symptoms because symptoms:

  • tend to increase in severity as the cycle progresses
  • are relieved when menstrual flow begins or shortly after
  • are present for at least three consecutive menstrual cycles

Symptoms of PMS may increase in severity following each pregnancy and may worsen with age until they stop at menopause. If you experience PMS, you may have an increased sensitivity to alcohol at specific times during your cycle. Women with this condition often have a sister or mother who also suffers from PMS, suggesting a genetic component exists for the disorder.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is far more severe than the typical PMS. Women who experience PMDD (about 3 to 8 percent of all women) say it significantly interferes with their lives. Experts equate the difference between PMS and PMDD to the difference between a mild tension headache and a migraine.

The most common symptoms of PMDD are heightened irritability, anxiety and mood swings. Women who have a history of major depression, postpartum depression or mood disorders are at higher risk for PMDD than other women. Although some symptoms of PMDD and major depression overlap, they are different:

  • PMDD-related symptoms (both emotional and physical) are cyclical. When a woman starts her period, the symptoms subside within a few days.
  • Depression-related symptoms, however, are not associated with the menstrual cycle. Without treatment, depressive mood disorders can persist for weeks, months or years. If depression persists, you should consider seeking help from a trained therapist.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis

To help diagnose menstrual disorders, you should schedule an appointment with your health care professional. To prepare, keep a record of the frequency and duration of your periods. Also jot down any additional symptoms, such as cramping, and be prepared to discuss health history. Here is how your health care professional will help you specifically diagnose abnormal uterine bleeding, dysmenorrhea, PMS and PMDD:

Heavy menstrual bleeding

To diagnose heavy menstrual bleeding—also called menorrhagia—your health care professional will conduct a full medical examination to see if your condition is related to an underlying medical problem. This could be structural, such as fibroids, or hormonal. The examination involves a series of tests. These may include:

  • Endometrial biopsy. A scraping method is used to remove some tissue from the lining of your uterus. The tissue is analyzed under a microscope to identify any possible problem, including cancer.

  • Ultrasound. High-frequency sound waves are reflected off pelvic structures to provide an image. Your uterus may be filled with a saline solution to perform this procedure, called a sonohysterography. No anesthesia is necessary.

  • Hysteroscopy. In this diagnostic procedure, your health care professional looks into your uterine cavity through a miniature telescope-like instrument called a hysteroscope. Local, or sometimes general, anesthesia is used, and the procedure can be performed in the hospital or in a doctor's office.

  • Dilation and curettage (D&C). During a D&C, your cervix is dilated and instruments are used to scrape away your uterine lining. A D&C may also be used as a treatment for excessive bleeding and for bleeding that doesn't respond to other treatments. It is performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia.

You can also expect blood tests to check your blood count for anemia and a urine test to see if you're pregnant, as well as other laboratory tests.

The more information you can give your health care professional, the better. Take notes on the dates and length of your periods. You can do this by marking your calendar or appointment book. You might also be asked to keep a daily track record of your temperature to determine when you are ovulating. Ovulation kits, that use a morning urine sample, are available without a prescription and are easy to use.

During your initial evaluation with your health care professional, you should also discuss the following:

  • current medications
  • details about menstrual flow and cycle length
  • any gynecologic surgery or gynecologic disorders
  • sexual activity and history of sexually transmitted diseases
  • contraceptive use and history
  • family history of fibroids or other conditions associated with AUB
  • history of a breast discharge
  • blood clotting disorders—either your own or in family members.

PMS and PMDD

There are no specific diagnostic tests for PMS and PMDD. You'll probably be asked to keep track of your symptoms and write them down. A premenstrual symptom checklist is one of the most common methods currently used to evaluate symptoms. With this tool, you can track the type and severity of symptoms to help identify a pattern.

Generally PMS and PMDD symptoms:

  • tend to increase in severity as the menstrual cycle progresses.
  • tend to be relieved when menstrual flow begins or soon afterward.
  • are present for at least three consecutive menstrual cycles.

Treatment

Treatment

Treatments for menstrual disorders range from over-the-counter medications to surgery, with a variety of options in between. Your treatment options will depend on your diagnosis, its severity, which treatment you prefer, your health history and your health care professional's recommendation.

Abnormal uterine bleeding

Medication and surgery are used to treat AUB. Typically, less invasive therapies should be considered first. Treatment choices depend on your age, your desire to preserve fertility and the cause of the abnormal bleeding (dysfunctional or structural). Some treatments may reduce your menstrual bleeding to a light to normal flow.

Medication

Medication therapy is often successful and a good first option. The benefits last only as long as the medication is taken, so if you choose this route, you should know that medical treatment is a long-term commitment.

Low-dose birth control pills, progestins and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help control heavy or irregular bleeding caused by hormonal imbalances. If your periods have stopped, oral contraceptives and contraceptive patches are highly effective in restoring regular bleeding, although they will not correct the reason you stopped bleeding. Both can also help reduce menstrual flow, improve and control menstrual patterns and relieve pelvic pain during menstruation.

They are considered for PMS treatment if your symptoms are mostly physical, but may not be effective if your primary symptom is mood changes. However, a newer brand of oral contraceptive containing a form of progesterone called drospirenone and marketed under the names YAZ, Beyaz, Yasmine, Ocella, Gianvi and Zarah, may reduce some mood-related symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, tearfulness and tension. And Yaz is FDA-approved for the treatment of PMDD.

Natazia, which contains the synthetic estrogen estradiol valerate, is the first birth control pill FDA-approved for treatment of heavy menstrual bleeding that is not caused by a condition of the uterus. The combination estrogen-progesterone pill may help women who choose oral contraceptives for contraception and do not have risk factors that may make using hormonal birth control inadvisable.

Birth control pills may not be an appropriate treatment choice if you smoke, have a history of pulmonary embolism (blood clots in your lungs) or have bothersome side effects from this medication. The risk of these side effects is even higher if you use the birth control patch, because it contains higher levels of estrogen.

Progestins, either oral or injectable, are also used to manage heavy bleeding, particularly that resulting from a lack of ovulation. Although they don't work as well as estrogen, they are effective for long-term management. Side effects include irregular menstrual bleeding, weight gain and, sometimes, mood changes.

The levonorgestrel intrauterine system (Mirena) is FDA-approved to treat heavy menstrual bleeding in women who use intrauterine contraception as their method of birth control prevention. The Mirena system may be kept in place for up to five years. Over this time, it slowly releases a low dose of the progestin hormone levonorgestrel into the uterus. Mirena is also referred to as an intrauterine device, or IUD.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available over the counter and can help reduce menstrual bleeding and cramping. These medications include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and mefenamic acid (Ponstel). Common side effects include stomach upset, headaches, dizziness and drowsiness.

Tranexamic acid (Lysteda), although new to the United States, has been used successfully to decrease heavy menstrual bleeding in other countries for many years. These tablets are only taken on the days you expect to have heavy bleeding.

Surgery

Except for hysterectomy, surgical options for heavy bleeding preserve the uterus, destroying just the uterine lining. However, most of these procedures result in the loss of fertility, ending your ability to have children.

There are other important considerations for each of these treatment options. Risks common to all surgical options include infection, hemorrhage and other complications.

  • Endometrial ablation. Endometrial ablation involves using heat, electricity, laser, freezing or other methods to destroy the lining of the uterus. These procedures are recommended only for women who have completed their families because they affect fertility. However, following treatment, you must use contraception. Although endometrial ablation destroys the uterine lining, there is a small chance that pregnancy could occur, which could be dangerous to both mother and fetus. Overall, endometrial ablation procedures have a good success rate at reducing heavy bleeding, and some women stop having menstrual periods altogether.

  • Endometrial resection. During this surgical procedure, the surgeon uses an electrosurgical wire loop to remove the lining of the uterus.
  • Dilation and curettage (D&C). During a D&C, your cervix is dilated and instruments are used to scrape away your uterine lining. A D&C may also be used to diagnose abnormal uterine bleeding. It is performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia. This treatment is often only a temporary solution to the heavy bleeding.
  • Myomectomy. Fibroids are a common cause of heavy bleeding, and removal of fibroids with a procedure called myomectomy usually resolves the problem. Depending on the size, number and position of the fibroids, myomectomy may be performed with a hysteroscope, laparoscope or through a bikini abdominal incision.
  • Hysterectomy. This is one of the most common surgical procedures performed to end heavy bleeding. It is the only treatment that completely guarantees bleeding will stop. But it is also a radical surgery that removes your uterus. Several factors make elective hysterectomy a serious consideration: It is major surgery and includes all the risks associated with any surgical procedure. A lengthy recovery period, often four to six weeks, may be necessary for some women. Fatigue associated with the procedure can last much longer.

    Several types of hysterectomy are available. More information is available at www.HealthyWomen.org.

Menstrual cramps

If you are experiencing severe menstrual cramps (called dysmenorrhea) regularly, your health care professional might suggest you try over-the-counter and prescription medications and exercise, among other strategies.

Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, can be purchased without a prescription. Treatment works best if started hours before the onset of cramping. If you wait until you have pain, it doesn't work as well. This will also help reduce heavy bleeding.

Oral contraceptive pills are also effective for menstrual cramps. If active pills are taken continuously for 90 to 120 days in a row, periods will only occur three to four times a year.

Other ways to relieve symptoms include putting heat on your abdominal area and mild exercise.

PMS and PMDD

To help manage PMS symptoms, try exercise and dietary changes suggested here and ask your health care professional for other options. If you suffer from PMDD, however, don't try to treat on your own; make sure you talk to your health care professional.

Dietary options for PMS include:

  • Cutting back on alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, salt and refined sugar, which can make PMS and PMDD symptoms worse.
  • Increasing the calcium in your diet from sources such as low-fat dairy products, soy products, dark greens such as turnip greens and calcium-fortified orange juice. Increased calcium may help relieve some menstrual cycle symptoms.
  • Increasing the amount of complex carbohydrates in your diet; these include fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.

Exercise is another good way to relieve menstrual cycle symptoms. You will get the greatest benefits from exercise if you do it for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. But even taking a 20- to 30-minute walk three times a week can:

  • Increase brain chemicals that give you more energy and improve mood.
  • Decrease stress and anxiety.
  • Improve deep sleep at night.

Other medical therapies your health care professional might suggest include:

  • Low doses of antidepressants such as paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa) and fluoxetine (Prozac). These are prescribed because they are effective in regulating the brain compound serotonin, which is related to PMS. Often these can be taken just during the times of expected symptoms.
  • GnRH agonists (Lupron), sometimes in combination with estrogen or estrogen-progestin hormone therapy, for short-term treatment (less than six months). This treatment is used for very severe symptoms since it has numerous side effects, including hot flashes, headaches and vaginal dryness.
  • Diuretic medications, such as spironolactone (Aldactone) to help with water weight gain and bloating.
  • Oral contraceptives that contain a progesterone called drospirenone may help reduce some mood-related PMS symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, tearfulness and tension.

There's evidence that some nutritional supplements such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin B-6 may help ease symptoms of PMS. Discuss these and other strategies with your health care professional before taking any dietary supplement.

Prevention

Prevention

You cannot prevent abnormal uterine bleeding, but you can manage it once it develops.

Women who experience chronic ovulation problems—failure to ovulate—can regulate their bleeding by continuing to take oral contraceptives.

For other menstrual cycle-related problems, such as cramping or premenstrual syndrome, you can take steps to prevent or minimize your discomfort and pain as described in the Treatment section of this entry.

Additionally, changing your diet, exercising and adopting a regular sleep pattern can all help with PMS and PMDD symptoms. Specifically, try:

  • Changing your diet by reducing refined sugars, salt, nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, which can aggravate PMS symptoms

  • Exercising at least 20 to 30 minutes three times a week, ideally for at least 30 minutes, five days a week

  • Sleeping consistent hours and establishing a bedtime routine to help cue your body and mind for sleeping

  • Keeping a premenstrual symptom checklist to be prepared for highs and lows

For PMDD, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, particularly a type called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help prevent disruptive symptoms. It may not be necessary to take an SSRI every day; taking the medication only during your luteal phase (starting 14 days before your next period) may be sufficient.

Facts to Know

Facts to Know

  1. Abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) includes menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding), metrorrhagia (bleeding in between menses) and hypermenorrhea (menses too long). Abnormal uterine bleeding also includes amenorrhea or absence of menstrual periods.

  2. Abnormal uterine bleeding can occur at any age, but it is more likely to occur at certain times in a woman's life. For instance, before menopause, your periods may suddenly become lighter or heavier because you are ovulating less often. If you have just begun to menstruate, you may also experience AUB.

  3. Sometimes abnormal bleeding is caused by hormonal problems. A significant number of women with excessive menstrual bleeding fall into this category. Hormonal imbalances occur when your body produces too much or not enough of certain hormones.

  4. Aside from hormonal problems, there are many other causes of abnormal uterine bleeding. They include:

      • certain birth control methods, such as the copper-T intrauterine device (IUD) and birth control pills
      • infection of the uterus or cervix
      • uterine fibroids
      • blood clotting problems
      • some types of cancer, including uterine, cervical and vaginal
      • chronic medical problems, such as hypo- and hyperthyroidism, liver disease, kidney disease and diabetes

  5. Hysterectomy is the only treatment that completely guarantees heavy menstrual bleeding will end permanently. However, this is a radical surgery where your uterus is removed and you will no longer be able to have children.

  6. Some premenopausal women don't have periods at all. Called amenorrhea, or the absence of menstruation, this condition is normal before puberty, after menopause and during pregnancy. There are two kinds of amenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary amenorrhea is diagnosed if you reach the age of 16 and haven't yet begun to menstruate. Secondary amenorrhea is diagnosed if you've had regular periods, but they suddenly stop for more than three to six months.

  7. Pain from menstrual cramps is caused by contractions of your uterus triggered by prostaglandins, hormone-like substances found in many types of tissue.

  8. Both medication and surgery can be used to treat AUB. Typically, less invasive therapies should be considered first. Treatment depends on your age, desire to preserve fertility and the cause of the bleeding.

  9. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a term commonly used to describe a range of severe physical and psychological symptoms that some women experience about five to seven days prior to the start of their periods and end just after. To qualify as PMS symptoms, they must be associated with the menstrual cycle, become more severe as the menstrual cycle progresses and be present for at least three consecutive menstrual cycles.

  10. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is different from the more common PMS; it's far more severe. Women who experience PMDD (about 3 to 8 percent of all women) say that it significantly interferes with their lives. The most common symptoms of PMDD are heightened irritability, anxiety and mood swings. Women who have a history of major depression, postpartum depression or mood disorders are at higher risk for PMDD than other women.

Questions to Ask

Questions to Ask

Review the following Questions to Ask about menstrual disorders so you're prepared to discuss this important health issue with your health care professional.

  1. Once you've diagnosed my condition, can we try treatment with medications before trying any surgical procedures? If you are recommending a surgical treatment, why haven't we considered a less invasive route first?

  2. What are the advantages, disadvantages and risks connected with the treatment option you are suggesting to control or end my abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB)?

  3. Do any of the recommended diagnostic procedures hurt?

  4. If I have a problem that's causing my AUB, such as uterine fibroids, polyps or scar tissue, can it be successfully treated without a hysterectomy?

  5. If you are recommending any surgical procedure, how many of these procedures have you performed? How many in situations like mine? Have you had any complications with this procedure? If you haven't done many, can you refer me to someone who has, if you think this is the best course of treatment?

  6. What can I do to relieve my menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms?

Key Q&A

Key Q&A

  1. How is abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) defined? Is my condition serious enough to be considered AUB?

    Abnormal uterine bleeding, or menorrhagia, refers to menstrual periods that are abnormally heavy, prolonged or both. The term may also refer to bleeding between periods or absent periods.

  2. I used to have regular periods, and they've suddenly disappeared over the past few months. Is this something to be concerned about?

    This condition, called secondary amenorrhea, can be caused by problems that affect estrogen levels, including stress, weight loss, exercise or illness. Also you may experience secondary amenorrhea because of problems affecting the pituitary, thyroid or adrenal gland. This condition can also occur if you've had ovarian cysts or have had your ovaries surgically removed. You should consult with a health care professional to determine what is causing you to skip periods.

  3. Is there a certain age group of women who are more likely to have problems with AUB?

    Abnormal uterine bleeding can occur at any age, but it is more likely to occur at certain times in a woman's life. For instance, for a few years before menopause, your periods may suddenly become lighter or heavier because you are ovulating less often. If you have just begun to menstruate, you may also experience AUB.

  4. Can AUB be a problem for me if I've already gone through menopause?

    If you are post-menopausal, any uterine bleeding is considered abnormal and should be evaluated by a health care professional as soon as possible.

  5. Aside from excessive or lengthy bleeding, what other problems can be described as AUB?

    Other types of AUB could include:

    • absence of periods (no bleeding)

    • bleeding between regular periods

    • spotting

  6. What are my treatment options for AUB?

    Generally, both medications and surgery are options. Typically, less invasive therapies should be considered first. Treatment choices depend on your age, your desire to preserve fertility and the cause of the bleeding (dysfunctional or structural).

  7. Is PMS (premenstrual syndrome) a problem I have to learn to live with every month or is there anything I can do to relieve my symptoms?

    PMS is not a disease but a collection of symptoms. Still, there are many things you can try to alleviate your pain, discomfort and emotional distress. They include dietary changes, exercise and medication options . Ask your health care professional for more information.

Lifestyle Tips

Lifestyle Tips

  1. No periods? Find out why.

    If your period is irregular most of the time, or if you've never had a period, see a health care professional for an evaluation. Amenorrhea—the absence of menstruation—during the childbearing years can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, medications or lifestyle issues. For example, anorexia nervosa, hyperthyroidism and excessive exercise affect the menstrual cycle. A complete medical history and blood tests will be the first steps your health care professional takes to identify the cause of your amenorrhea and develop a treatment plan.

  2. Don't put up with painful periods.

    If your menstrual periods cause mild to moderate discomfort, relief may be as close as your medicine cabinet. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) often relieves mild menstrual pain. Ibuprofen, naproxen and mefenamic acid (brands such as Motrin IB, Advil, Bayer Select Pain Relief Formula, Midol IB) can relieve moderate to more severe pain. These medications work best when symptoms first begin. If menstrual pain lasts several days, your doctor may prescribe another type of pain reliever. Discuss your symptoms and treatment options with your health care professional.

  3. Relax yourself to ease painful menstruation.

    Next time you get painful menstrual cramps, lie down with a heating pad on your abdomen. Then use your fingertips to lightly massage your belly in a circular motion. Drinking warm, noncaffeinated beverages can help, as can taking a warm shower or performing waist-bending exercises or walking.

  4. Oral contraceptives or contraceptive patches often alleviate menstrual pain.

    If you have menstrual pain, your doctor may offer to put you on an oral contraceptive as a means of treating your discomfort. Unless you wish to stay on the pill for contraception, you can discontinue taking it after six to 12 months. Many women report continued relief from menstrual pain even after they stop taking oral contraceptives.

  5. Call your health care professional about excessive menstrual bleeding.

    If you have one or two periods with heavy or prolonged bleeding, there's probably no reason to worry. If, however, heavy bleeding (menorrhagia) recurs during three or more consecutive menstrual periods, or if you have bleeding after menopause, or the abnormal bleeding is accompanied by fever or other symptoms, consult your health care professional. Also call your health care professional if the heavy bleeding is accompanied by pain that is not relieved by ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Avoid taking aspirin because it could worsen the bleeding problem.

Organizations and Support

Organizations and Support

For information and support on coping with Menstrual Disorders, please see the recommended organizations, books and Spanish-language resources listed below.

American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL)
Website: http://www.aagl.org
Address: 6757 Katella Avenue
Cypress, CA 90630
Hotline: 1-800-554-AAGL (1-800-554-2245)
Phone: 714-503-6200

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Website: http://www.acog.org
Address: 409 12th Street, SW
P.O. Box 96920
Washington, DC 20090
Phone: 202-638-5577
Email: resources@acog.org

American Social Health Association (ASHA)
Website: http://www.ashastd.org
Address: P.O. Box 13827
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
Hotline: 1-800-227-8922
Phone: 919-361-8400
Email: info@ashastd.org

American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
Website: http://www.asrm.org
Address: 1209 Montgomery Highway
Birmingham, AL 35216
Phone: 205-978-5000
Email: asrm@asrm.org

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP)
Website: http://www.arhp.org
Address: 1901 L Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-466-3825
Email: arhp@arhp.org

AWARE Foundation
Website: http://www.awarefoundation.org
Address: 834 Chestnut Street, Suite 400
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: 215-955-9847

National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA)
Website: http://www.nfprha.org
Address: 1627 K Street, NW, 12th Floor
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 202-293-3114
Email: info@nfprha.org

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH)
Website: http://orwh.od.nih.gov
Address: 6707 Democracy Blvd., Suite 400
Bethesda, MD 20892
Phone: 301-402-1770
Email: odorwh-research@mail.nih.gov

Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Website: http://www.plannedparenthood.org
Address: 434 West 33rd Street
New York, NY 10001
Hotline: 1-800-230-PLAN (1-800-230-7526)
Phone: 212-541-7800

Society for Menstrual Cycle Research
Website: http://www.menstruationresearch.org
Address: The Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre
2775 Laurel Street, Room 4111 - 4th Floor
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9
Email: cemcor@interchange.ubc.ca

A Gynecologist's Second Opinion
by William H. Parker and Rachel L. Parker

Break in Your Cycle: The Medical & Emotional Causes & Effects of Amenorrhea
by Theresa Francis-Cheung

Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation
by Karen Houppert

Dr. Susan Love's Menopause and Hormone Book: Making Informed Choices
by Susan M. Love and Karen Lindsey

Honoring Menstruation: A Time of Self-Renewal
by Lara Owen

Is Menstruation Obsolete?
by Elsimar M. Coutinho and Sheldon J. Segal

Yale Guide to Women's Reproductive Health: From Menarche to Menopause
by Mary Jane Minkin and Carol V. Wright

US Dept of Health and Human Services
Website: http://www.womenshealth.gov/espanol/preguntas/menstru.cfm
Address: National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC)
Hotline: 1-800-994-9662

Medline Plus: Menstrual periods - heavy, prolonged, or irregular
Website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spanish/ency/article/003263.htm
Address: Customer Service
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20894
Email: custserv@nlm.nih.gov

Last date updated: 
Wed, 2011-03-16