Severity of PMS May Affect Menopausal Transition

Patient Expert

At a previous job, my female colleagues and I always used to joke about PMS (premenstrual syndrome), especially when one of us was having a bad day. In fact, one of these coworkers used to have intense mood swings each month. When she had these episodes, we really tried to avoid setting her off. If she did have a reaction, she'd always come back the next day and apologize, attributing her outburst to it being "that time of the month."

It turns out my coworker is not alone. Experts estimate that 85 percent of women have at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome, which can include mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, irritability and depression. These issues, which often peak when women are in their late 20s and early 30s, often reoccur. However, symptoms' intensity may vary, depending on the month.

All of this made me wonder - do women like my friend who have experienced regular and severe PMS symptoms when they had their menstrual period face increased menopausal symptoms when they reach that transition? A new study out of Finland looked at whether there was a link between PMS symptoms and symptoms such as hot flashes that women often face during menopause.

This study involved 120 healthy postmenopausal women who were between the ages of 48-55 and who had not taken hormones. These participants were asked to respond to a questionnaire that focused on premenstrual symptoms as well as their current overall health. The participants also were asked to keep a log of their hot flashes that reflected the quantity as well as severity of each episode.

The researchers' analysis found that nearly 90 percent of the participants described having symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Furthermore, 50 percent of these women said these symptoms interfered with their work, home or social life. Forty percent described their PMS symptoms as being moderate or severe.

While the researchers didn't find a relationship between PMS and the number and severity of hot flashes, they did identify a link between the severity of PMS and memory and concentration issues during the menopausal transition. Furthermore, women who experienced severe PMS symptoms described having more depression, sleep issues and feelings of unattractiveness while going through the menopausal transition.

Researchers still don't understand what causes PMS, although these symptoms seem to be linked to hormonal changes that happen during the menstrual cycle. Chemical changes in the brain, vitamin deficiencies, mineral deficiencies, eating a lot of salty foods and consuming caffeine and alcohol also may play a part in causing PMS. Furthermore, stress and emotional problems may make PMS symptoms worse.

PMS symptoms can include acne, swollen or tender breasts, feeling tired, difficulty sleeping, an upset stomach, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, headache, backache, change in appetite, food cravings, joint pain, muscle pain, difficulty concentrating, memory issues, tension, irritability mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and depression.

Like menopausal symptoms, PMS symptoms may be helped through lifestyle choices.   These options include:

  • Getting regular exercise, which should include aerobic activity and strength training.
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Avoiding salt, sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Getting about eight hours of sleep daily.
  • Controlling stress, whether through yoga, massage, meditation, relaxation therapy, exercise, writing in a journal or other methods.
  • Stop smoking.

Medications also can help ease PMS. Certain vitamins and minerals also may be helpful. These include folic acid, calcium with vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin B-6 and vitamin E.

If you're experiencing severe PMS as you enter perimenopause, talk to your doctor about what steps you can take to ease these symptoms. In addition, I'd encourage you to take a good look at your lifestyle and start making the changes that can ease PMS symptoms, make menopause easier to go through and help you remain healthy as you age.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Medline Plus. (2014). PMS not linked to hot flashes later, study finds.

The North American Menopause Society. (2014). PMS may spell menopause symptoms later - but not hot flashes. (2012). Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).