Experiencing cramps or mood swings before the arrival of your monthly period? Find out what premenstrual syndrome entails and its potential effects.

As a woman, you’ve probably had uncomfortable pre-period cramps that may have become unbearable at times. Or an unfortunate pimple outbreak just before that time of the month. 

No – your body isn’t go crazy. You’re experiencing premenstrual syndrome - the name for the symptoms that women may experience in the weeks before their period. These symptoms often include physical or emotional discomfort, and the severity differs from individual to individual. 

In fact, up to 40 per cent of menstruating women have some form of premenstrual syndrome. Fortunately, these symptoms typically resolve spontaneously when your menstrual cycle begins. 

What is premenstrual syndrome like? 

Premenstrual syndrome is typically most common in women who are in their late 20s to early 40s, have had a child, depression, postpartum depression or bipolar disorder. That being said, any woman who menstruates can experience premenstrual syndrome. 

Physical signs and symptoms include: 
- Breast tenderness
- Stomach cramps
- Water retention
- Bloating
- Lethargy
- Insomnia
- Acne outbreaks 

Emotional and behavioural symptoms may include: 
- Tension / anxiety
- Depressed mood
- Crying spells
- Mood swings
- Irritability 
- Appetite changes 
- Food cravings
- Social withdrawal
- Poor concentration
- Change in libido

What causes premenstrual syndrome? 

The exact causes of premenstrual syndrome are unknown. However, certain factors may contribute, including: 

- Cyclic hormone changes: Signs and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome change with hormonal fluctuations and disappear with pregnancy and menopause.
-Chemical changes in the brain: Fluctuations of serotonin (a brain chemical that plays a pivotal role in mood states) can trigger premenstrual syndrome symptoms. Insufficient amounts of serotonin may contribute to premenstrual depression, as well as cravings, sleep problems and fatigue. 
-Depression: Some women with severe premenstrual syndrome have undiagnosed depression, though depression alone does not cause all of the symptoms. 

Premenstrual syndrome may also be worsened or exacerbated by: 
- Stress
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Drinking too much alcohol

What can you do? 

Take over-the-counter pain medication

These include paracetamol and Ibuprofen that are sold at pharmacies and supermarkets. Ibuprofen is a form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which works to reduce the levels of hormones that stimulate inflammation and pain in the body. Take them according to the recommended dosage for short durations every month, no more than two to three consecutive days every month is likely to be safe. If you have severe heart problems, stomach ulcers and severe liver disease, avoid Ibuprofen.

Take dietary and herbal supplements

For example, fenugreek seeds, ginger, herbs like valerian and zataria, zinc sulphate, and Vitamin B1. Studies done on these supplements have shown some effectiveness in relieving pain. Ginger also works to soothe inflammation, stomach discomfort and nausea. 

Apply heat

Use heat pads or hot water bottles to help ease and manage cramps.

Take meds to control hormone levels

Birth control pills, implants and certain types of intrauterine devices (IUD) release hormones that supress ovulation and on certain months, stops your period altogether. 

Eat omega-3 fatty acids 

Fish oils can reduce inflammation in the body and lower the production of prostaglandin. 

Do relaxation exercises

Meditation, yoga and deep-breathing techniques can help you take your mind off the pain and other symptoms.

Do physical exercises 

Low-volume strength training and power-based activities. Light walking or other light cardio may help too. 

Make changes to your diet

Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Consider cutting back on sugar, salt, caffeine, and alcohol. 


If the severity of your premenstrual syndrome symptoms is affecting your daily activities, you may be among the three to eight per cent of women who experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder. This condition is debilitating and can result in severe depression, so it’s best to seek medical help. Clinics such as Thomson Women’s Clinic offer a comprehensive range of women’s healthcare services, with specialities in such conditions. 

Photos: iStock

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