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Wait, you’re telling me PMS might not be real?!

photo: Lawrence Murray via flickr

When I heard that PMS might not actually be real, my first thought was, “hey doctors, stay out of my lady business!”

My second thought was, “I need to talk to a lady business expert myself to see what she has to say. Stat.”

What sent me on this quest for information? A recent WCCO “Good Question” with Carrie Ann Terrell, M.D., director of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the director of Women’s Health Specialists Clinic. In the WCCO segment, the host attempted to uncover whether or not PMS (gasp!) might not be as real as sitcoms and movies tell us.

It seemed the topic many men have avoided like the plague had been broached, but I still needed more answers.

To get to the bottom of the controversy, I followed up with Terrell for a deeper look at what could very well be the biggest secret we women have unknowingly shared: the truth about PMS.

Health Talk: When did the term PMS arise?

Carrie Ann Terrell: That is hard to say. It seems to have evolved as a primarily English speaking culture phenomenon within this century. It refers to a collection of symptoms generally experienced during the luteal phase of the cycle. While many may experience these “symptoms,” only a few consider them problematic.

HT: Ok, if not PMS, what is it? What is this PMDD I’ve heard about?

CT: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) consists of symptoms similar to, but more severe than, PMS, and while primarily mood-related, may include physical symptoms such as bloating. PMDD is classified as a repeating transitory cyclic disorder with similarities to unipolar depression.

HT: Do you see women calling PMDD “just PMS?”

CT: Absolutely. Women in our culture have been socialized to believe these symptoms are normal and expected and should be ridiculed. Society (and in some cases our profession) has offered little to those women really in distress.

HT: When should women complaining of PMS decide to see a doctor about PMDD?

CT: Women should seek care if they are suffering.

HT: What are treatment options for PMDD?

CT: The treatment options for PMDD are antidepressants and hormonal regulation.

HT: Is PMDD serious?

CT: It can be. It can exacerbate underlying mental illness and result in severe depressive episodes.

HT: Is there anything else you would like to add?

CT: Again, there is the medical consideration of PMS and PMDD and the social, stigmatizing contexts. I really want women to separate the two: seek care if they are suffering and work to eradicate any social stigma that says we are ‘less than’, ‘unable to’, or ‘medically inferior.’

So, ladies, there you have it. Sure, enjoy that piece of chocolate if that’s what you crave, but don’t let society blame your emotional state on a period.

The feelings you have during “that time of the month,” aren’t a figment of your imagination, but they also might not really be the stereotypical PMS many of us have grown up blaming. If you experience PMS “symptoms,” and consider them problematic, talk to your lady doctor, it could be something bigger.

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