PMDD Can Be Mistaken For Bipolar Disorder, & It’s Hugely Misunderstood

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) could be described as an extremely severe form of PMS, but that doesn’t really paint a proper picture of life with PMDD. While it’s true that PMS and PMDD share many of the same symptoms — moodiness, increased appetite, cravings, fatigue, cramps, pain, brain fog, and depression — the two conditions vary in many ways. Although a whopping 85 percent of menstruating women deal with PMS, only about 5 percent of menstruating women suffer from PMDD. Further, while I’ll be the first to say that PMS sucks super hard, PMDD interferes with women’s lives in much bigger ways. PMDD is deeply misunderstood, and there are plenty of things that you've probably never heard about PMDD that you need to know.

Not only does PMDD come with mood swings that are severe enough to mimic those of bipolar disorder, it appears that all of the symptoms of PMDD are severe enough to mimic those of other major mental disorders — such as borderline personality disorder and PTSD. And like those who experience major depression, people with PMDD often experience thoughts of suicide, which means PMDD can literally be life-threatening. What’s more is, recent research from the National Institutes of Health suggests that PMDD might be genetic — which is actually a good thing, because now physicians will have to start taking the condition more seriously.

Here are just a few things you probably didn't know about PMDD.

PMDD Could Be Genetic

Although PMDD is caused by menstruation, and can only truly be stopped when menstruation stops, it appears PMDD could also be genetic. Last January, researchers at the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that PMDD is a disorder of cellular response to estrogen and progesterone, which means women suffering from PMDD have a different molecular makeup than women who don't suffer from the disorder. Basically, it's genetic.

While this might sound like the worst news ever, it really isn't. Now that we know there's a definite link between PMDD and sex hormone-sensitivity, it should be easier to get everyone in the medical field to take the condition more seriously. As NIH researcher Dr. David Goldman put it, “This is a big moment for women’s health, because it establishes that women with PMDD have an intrinsic difference in their molecular apparatus for response to sex hormones — not just emotional behaviors they should be able to voluntarily control.”

PMDD Is Sometimes Misdiagnosed As Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by many of the same symptoms that PMDD is known for (mood swings, major depression, irritability, fatigue, etc.) and this often leads physicians and mental health professionals misdiagnosing women with PMDD as bipolar. The two disorders are inherently different though, because PMDD symptoms are directly linked to a woman's menstrual cycle, whereas symptoms of bipolar disorder aren't tightly linked to any regular body cycle.

Of course, sometimes PMDD and bipolar disorder can co-exist, so it is possible to be diagnosed with both. PMDD and bipolar disorder are often treated with different approaches and medications, though, so knowing the difference between these two disorders is important.

PMDD Symptoms Can Mimic Those Of Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, And Other Disorders

As you can see, the symptoms of PMDD are no joke. In fact, almost all PMDD symptoms are identical to those experienced by people with anxiety disorders, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and a few others.

In a sense, this isn't all that surprising. Since PMDD is caused by a hormonal imbalance, and hormones are made up of chemicals, PMDD is technically caused by a chemical imbalance — just like any other mood disorder. Still, a mental health misdiagnoses isn't something to take lightly, because both depression and severe PMDD can be life-threatening.

The Bottom Line

PMDD isn't just miserable; it can be as dangerous and debilitating as severe anxiety and depression. So if you're showcasing signs of PMDD, go get it checked out with your primary care physician. Or, if you don't have health insurance (me neither), consider stopping by your neighborhood Planned Parenthood for a consultation. There might not be a cure for PMDD right now, but hormones are nothing to mess with.