As anyone with a uterus and a period might tell you, the menstrual cycle can be a complex thing to navigate. Premenstrual syndrome, otherwise known as PMS, might conjure images of ravaged ice cream containers, hot water bottles and heating pads, and weeping women on couches — but there are some serious myths about PMS that need to stop being a thing.
There’s no shortage of gags about stereotypical PMS symptoms, Gina Florio wrote for Hello Giggles. And while many a period-getter will tell you that PMS can be a rocky ride, getting a period doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to unending misery ad infinitum, In fact, it might even be possible to feel good pre-period flow. There’s no ‘right’ way to experience PMS — and if your PMS symptoms are severe, mild, ever-changing, or non-existent, that’s totally valid experience (and one that there are tools to manage, too).
As JR Thorpe wrote in a previous report for Bustle, it can be hard to get at the truth of what PMS actually is, but one thing’s for certain, there are some stubborn myths that persist. Here are seven of the most pervasive myths about PMS, and why they need to get debunked, STAT.
1. "All PMS Symptoms Are The Same"
PMS is not a universal phenomenon, according to Elizabeth Kissling writing for the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in 2010. "Research using daily surveys to examine patterns of depression and anxiety symptoms in young women found that some women experience symptoms mid-cycle, others pre-menstrually, and still others do not experience mood changes in association with their menstrual cycle," wrote Kissling.
2. "If You Get A Period, You'll Get PMS"
There is no doubt that PMS symptoms are real for those who experience them. But it's equally valid to coast through your luteal phase relatively unscathed. While most people with a period will experience PMS at some point in their lives, not everyone does, according to the Office of Women's Health.
Additionally, if you have a family history of depression, you have high levels of stress, or you have a personal history with some form of depressive disorder, you're more likely to experience PMS symptoms. PMS symptoms can also get worse (or better) depending on your age and various other health factors, the Office on Women's Health says.
3. "PMS Makes You Moody & Irrational"
According to Lindy West writing for Jezebel in 2012, reducing a period-haver's emotions and cognitive ability down to monthly hormonal fluctuations can feel deeply invalidating. If you feel anger, sadness, or depression during the third week of your cycle, it's true that biochemical processes may be part of the picture. But to say that there aren't valid reasons for a person's feelings — like living in a culture that's often toxic and invalidating while dealing with chronic stress and maybe trauma — can feel very dismissive. Further, some people may experience PMS in totally different ways, like bloating, cramping, trouble sleeping, or other issues, since, well, all PMS doesn't look alike.
4. "PMDD Is Just Bad PMS"
John Hopkins Medicine writes that premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS that affects about 5 percent of people who get a period. It's marked by intense depressive episodes that seem to happen in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, and may end a few days after your period starts. Some people with PMDD have symptoms so severe that they experience disrupted functioning, and can require medical treatment. PMDD might be linked to serotonin deficiency, and it tends to be chronic. The exact causes of PMDD are unknown, John Hopkins says.
Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk In GYN Care in NYC, tells Bustle by email that PMS symptoms and PMDD run along a spectrum. "PMDD is clinical diagnosis that covers the extreme case of PMS with extreme irritability, tension and anger." Dr. Gupta says.
5. "Anything That Goes Wrong When You're PMSing Is Just Because Of PMS"
Symptoms that happen before your period may or may not be related to your menstrual cycle or hormonal fluctuations, according to research led by University of Toronto experts in 2012. While it can be easy to dismiss pre-period discomfort or tension as 'just PMS', it's also important to rule out other possible medical conditions that might be overlapping with your pre-period symptoms, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), autoimmune disorders, uterine fibroids, and thyroid disorders, wrote Amanda Gardner for Health.
6. "PMS Is Always A Bad Thing"
Some people (gasp) actually feel good throughout their menstrual cycle. According to Frank Bures writing for Slate in 2016, in cultures where menstruation is considered a powerful and positive time, PMS symptoms might not be reported as much. This isn't to say that PMS symptoms aren't real for people who have them, but some researchers note that when a positive cultural context for the menstrual cycle exists, the process can actually be experienced in less distressing ways.
No matter how you might experience your menstrual cycle, whether you get PMS symptoms or not, we don't have to believe these outdated myths about them. While it's great to have treatment options that can help ease discomfort, depression, or premenstrual pain, it's also important not to dismiss your health or mental health concerns as 'just PMS'. Clearly, the issues at hand are a bit more complex than the PMS label sometimes suggests.