Although April draws special attention to stress during National Stress Awareness Month, stress is something I address with my patients throughout the year. Frequently women come into the office and complain of feeling stressed. This can mean many different things to different women, so figuring out exactly how stress feels to you is an important part of the process.
Do you feel anxious? Sad? Tearful? Argumentative? Unable to sleep? Angry at the world? Unable to concentrate? Does it involve physical symptoms like fatigue, bloating or jitteriness? Once we understand the specifics of how stress feels to you, we evaluate if there is a pattern, or trigger, to these feelings. This is often where I identify a unique form of stress in many of my patients: premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
How PMS and PMDD May Be Affecting You
PMS and PMDD are hallmarked by cyclical episodes of feeling stressed that usually start about seven to 10 days before a woman’s period starts. These may last through the first few days of the period and then be followed by a spontaneous decrease, or resolution, of the symptoms. If your periods are irregular it may be harder to recognize this pattern.
In many ways, PMDD is a severe form of PMS that disrupts one’s ability to live normally during this time. Symptoms may include bloating, sleep changes, breast tenderness, irritability, sadness, anger, tearfulness, moodiness, anxiety and a variety of other unpleasant feelings and symptoms.
Treating PMS and PMDD
The good news is PMS and PMDD are often very treatable! Sadly, I find many women have suffered from these disorders for many years without being properly addressed, or even being labeled incorrectly as something else. Often when we identify the real disorder and target treatment to it, women feel tremendously better. I have even had patients’ partners thank me for helping their wives determine the source of the stress and how to treat it. Proper treatment can not only improve a woman’s happiness and decrease her stress, but also improve interactions with her family, friends and work colleagues during these times of the month.
Not all stress is the same and not all stress in women is from PMS or PMDD. Other causes must be ruled out first, but if you feel as if your feelings of stress are cyclical, start to chart these symptoms and feelings relative to your period. Also, ask your OBGYN about the possibility of PMS or PMDD and what treatments might help you feel better!
Helping women understand why they feel poorly and then helping them feel better is one my favorite parts of my job!
Rosanna Gray-Swain, MD, is a board-certified physician at West End Ob/Gyn. She can be reached at 314.286.2620.