For some women, PMS is a major disruption to their lives. The symptoms can be severe and limiting — yet so often, women are socialized to believe that's just part of the deal and not to think about it any further. Now, new research shows that there may be something underlying intense PMS symptoms — for some women, at least. Research from the University of Oxford found the undiagnosed STIs can increase PMS symptoms. That doesn't mean that if you have bad period symptoms you should assume you have an STI — it's not about scaremongering. But these findings are not only fascinating, but they also might make you pay closer attention to your body.
Researchers looked at data from 865 users of the CLUE app, which you can use to track your health, fertility, and cycle. And what they found is a fascinating link, not just between women's sexual and menstrual health, but also between their menstrual health and overall physical health and wellbeing. When looking at the data from the app, they found that women with undiagnosed STIs were twice as likely to report negative PMS effects including headaches, sadness, and cramps.
"I was surprised by the size of the effect," Dr. Alexandra Alvergne, lead-author and associate professor of Anthropology at Oxford University, tells Bustle. "That women diagnosed with a STI were twice as likely to experience some negative premenstrual symptoms."
"PMS is not a disease in itself, or the outcome of women’s raging hormones, but rather the cue that something else in our ecology is not quite right."
Despite these findings being incredibly significant, the researchers also warned that often study in this area is not given the respect it deserves. "The link between STIs and PMS has not really been realized in the scientific community (only by a few researchers like Caroline Doyle and Paul Ewald)," Alvergne says. "We know that PMS is linked to inflammation due to falling progesterone levels, but the link between PMS and infection has deserved very little attention... In our paper we test the possibility that PMS is not a disease in itself, or the outcome of women’s raging hormones, but rather the cue that something else in our ecology is not quite right."
It seems insulting that women's health would ever be minimized or dismissed — especially in the case of findings like these. These findings are so crucial in part because many STIs are asymptomatic — you don't have any symptoms of them even when you're carrying the infection. In fact, the researchers point to the fact that 70 percent of people diagnosed with Chlamydia are unaware that they might have it. So if there are other ways we can recognize the presence of STIs in the body, that could potentially help slow down the spread of them — which is especially important when STI rates are at an all-time high.
PMS can range from annoying to devastating, but you shouldn't just assume that being in pain is normal. If you feel like your symptoms are unusual or severe, research like this shows it's crucial to talk to your doctor — and begin to see your menstrual health as an important part of your overall health.