As anyone who has ever menstruated knows, getting your period can be the absolute worst — in addition to the uncontrollable bleeding that tends to start at the worst possible time (let's have a brief moment of silence for all the gorgeous undies that were ruined by periods that snuck up on us), most of us also have to deal with cramping, bloating, fatigue and the other fun symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). So unless you’re one of those rare and fortunate souls who has never had a menstrual cramp in her life, then you’re probably all too familiar with the horrors of PMS. But if your PMS symptoms are off-the-charts crazy, you may actually be suffering from PMDD without even realizing it. So what is PMDD, and how can you tell the difference between that and regular PMS?
PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) is a severe form of PMS that affects between two and 10 percent of all menstruating women. But although the symptoms of both conditions are very similar, PMDD symptoms differ from those of regular PMS — because they are actually severe enough to interfere with your work, social activities, and even your relationships.
Though the causes of PMDD are unclear, research suggests that women who experience PMDD may also have low levels of the brain chemical serotonin (the hormone that helps your brain transmit nerve signals). It’s also worth noting that women with a personal or family history of depression and/or postpartum depression are at higher risk for developing the condition. If you think you might be suffering from PMDD, it’s important to find out for sure so you can start treating it. So if you've always wondered if the things you feel during PMS are normal, here are 5 ways to tell the difference between PMDD and regular PMS.
1. Your Mood Swings Are Out Of Control
While PMS can also cause moodiness, you’ll know your intense moodiness is PMDD-related if your mood swings are so extreme they’re messing with your relationships and your overall ability to function in social and professional settings. However, keep in mind that if your severe mood swings extend beyond those ten days before your period starts and the first few days after it has begun, then they’re being caused by a condition other than PMDD. Either way, consider making an appointment to talk to your doctor about your mood swings as soon as possible.
2. You’re In A Ton Of Pain
PMS causes a lot of painful symptoms: tender breasts, headaches, menstrual cramps, abdominal bloating, sleep problems, fatigue, aching joints and muscle pains are all symptoms that PMS and PMDD share. However, if these symptoms are so severe that they’re forcing you to call in sick to work every month before your period, or if they sometimes keep you from leaving your bed at all, then it’s probably PMDD. However, your pain and fatigue could also be caused by other conditions such as endometriosis or fibroids. Consult your gynecologist to make sure you get the right treatment for the right diagnosis.
3. You’re Fighting With Your Friends/Coworkers/Partner Too Much
Again, PMS also causes irritability. But if you have PMDD, you (and everyone around you) will be able to see a significant increase in your irritability and interpersonal conflicts. If you feel uncontrollably angry, or you notice yourself picking fights with the people in your life — for reasons you’re not sure you even understand— during your premenstrual phase, then PMDD is likely to blame. While it is technically not your fault you’re experiencing this boost in irrational anger, not getting it under control could seriously damage your relationships. Plus, it’ll make you feel out of control of your own body and emotions, which will only add to your feelings of hopelessness and irritability. There's no reason to put yourself or loved ones through this miserable situation — get yourself the treatment you need.
4. You’re Super Depressed
If you’re feeling hopelessly depressed each month around your period — to the point that you lose interest in the activities you normally love — then you’re dealing with more than just PMS. There is no reason you should have to endure crippling depression every month, so don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about how anti-depressants can help alleviate your PMDD-related depression. If you’re worried about becoming dependent on medication, know that you have the option to only take your anti-depressants during the window between when your ovulation begins and when you start your period. But if your depression is lasts all month, consider having yourself evaluated by a mental health professional as well your general practitioner.
5. Your Anxiety Has Put You In Panic Mode
Both PMS and PMDD can cause tension and anxiety, but PMDD-related anxiety will be so severe, you’ll notice it disrupting your life and your relationships. If your premenstrual anxiety is so bad you feel seriously panicked and don’t know why, then it’s more than PMS. Don’t just suffer through this immobilizing anxiety. Even if your anxiety is only present during your premenstrual phase, it’s still really bad for your overall well-being. And it’s terrifying. If you’re afraid to take anti-anxiety medications, try exercising regularly, doing lots of yoga and getting as much sleep as you can without neglecting your responsibilities. If that doesn’t do the trick, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about managing your anxiety with medication. After all, that’s what it’s there for.
What To Do If You’re Suffering From PMDD
PMDD is an absolutely miserable condition, but there are multiple treatment options that can help you keep it from running your life and wrecking your relationships. If the above symptoms sound all too familiar to you, make an appointment with your gynecologist or your primary care physician today so they can start working on a treatment plan specific to your needs. Also, take comfort in the fact that certain anti-depressants, birth control pills, and over-the-counter drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen can really help you manage the physical and emotional effects of PMDD. Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of regular exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep to fight your PMDD symptoms. Don't lose hope. You can beat this.