Saturday 29 November 2014

Don't let dreaded PMS rule your life

Differnt Experiences: Ruth McCormack worked in L.A.
Anne O'Brien

New research has shown that more than half of all women are affected daily by pre-menstrual syndrome, but there are ways to recognise and offset the severity, writes Tanya Sweeney

When asked how they thought men would cope, 77pc of women felt that their man would treat it similarly to getting "man flu", and look for sympathy

I T'S NO mean feat, but I managed to fall out with five people in the space of an afternoon recently.

One face-to-face encounter, a Skype session, an email exchange and two google chats and I was running the risk of halving my circle of close friends in one fell swoop. It was only afterwards that the fog began to lift and I could see the afternoon for what it was – I was tetchy, aggressive and itching for a fight, and all because of PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome.

PMS may have once seemed like the sole preserve of hysterical, overly dramatic women, but recent research tells a different story. Conducted by Cleanmarine Krill Oil for Women, it shows that more than half of all women's daily lives are affected due to suffering from PMS. The study of more than 500 women from throughout the island of Ireland revealed some shocking statistics, including the fact that more than two-thirds (68pc) say their personality changes for the worse, while more than one in 10 (16pc) say they don't recognise themselves sometimes when suffering from PMS symptoms. Those who said they suffer the most from PMS symptoms are aged between 25 and 34.

Almost 90pc of women believe PMS is a normal part of the monthly cycle. Experts also reckon that 5pc are blighted with more acute symptoms, leading to a diagnosis of PMDD (premenstrual dysmorphia disorder).

Adding insult to injury, almost half (46pc) of respondents feel their boyfriend or husband doesn't understand. When asked how they thought men would cope, 77pc of women said they felt their man would treat it similarly to getting 'man flu' once a month and would look for constant sympathy. Perhaps not surprisingly, the legal systems in several countries recognise PMS as a form of legal insanity, and PMS has been used as a "diminished capacity" defence in many legal cases.

The exact causes of PMS are not fully understood, and it is unknown what makes one woman more susceptible to those teary/tetchy pre-period episodes. However, scientists claim that the sudden drop in levels of hormones – specifically oestrogen – plays a part. This hormone drop is thought to be linked to activity of serotonin (the feel-good chemical) in the brain.

"Hormones affect different people in different ways, although it's not clear why some women get more acute PMS than others," says Bernadette Carr, medical director at VHI ( "It can be related to changes in levels of progesterone and oestrogen that happen right before a period. Variations of the pill are known to regulate hormones.

"We've long known that hormones impact how we feel – a rise of testosterone in the system is linked with levels of aggression, while a surge in oestrogen in the body means that one is more placid."

Hormones aside, genetics are thought to play a part (be sure to ring your mum and say thanks during your next 'episode'). Stress, caffeine intake, age and diet – in particular a lack of magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and manganese – are also factors that affect levels of PMS severity.

As for the notion that the pill also reduces users to quivering emotional wrecks, Bernadette counters: "The pill has often been prescribed as a treatment for PMS, but if people have a pre-conceived idea that they are going to become more emotional on the pill, then it's very likely this will happen."

After spending a year in Los Angeles working as a sex blogger, Mullingar native Ruth McCormack (22) returned to Dublin last year having noticed that Americans were far more accepting of PMS than were the Irish.

"In LA everyone is so much more open about their bodies and sex," she says. "My boss would have no problem saying, 'God, I'm so hormonal right now'. I'm not sure how that would go down in an office in Ireland.

"Sometimes I couldn't go into work. And I hate to be a big cliche, but when I'm coming up to that time of the month, I'm like, 'Just hand me the chocolate'!"

Anne O'Brien (36), who works for the Peter McVerry trust, was a late starter when it came to her periods, even though the PMS was straight out of the traps.

"I suffered so badly that I was put on the pill at a young age for my periods," she says. "I'd go through phases where they would feel even worse than normal. After I had my son at 30 they got even worse. I'd have breast tenderness and be quite weepy and moody up to two weeks prior.

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