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premenstrual syndrome

premenstrual syndrome (PMS), any of various symptoms experienced by women of childbearing age in the days immediately preceding menstruation. It is most common in women in their twenties and thirties. Some 70%–90% of menstruating women are said to have PMS on a cyclical basis. There are over 150 symptoms associated with the syndrome, including behavioral changes, eating binges, moodiness, irritability, fatigue, fluid retention, breast tenderness, and headaches. Some women have mild symptoms; others have symptoms that interfere with work or home life. A few are completely incapacitated, a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The symptoms vary from woman to woman, and each woman's symptoms may vary from month to month, making diagnosis difficult.

The exact cause is unknown. Hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, and neurotransmitter (serotonin and norepinephrine) fluctuations are being studied. PMS patients who have had hysterectomies may continue to have symptoms, but the symptoms in all patients disappear with menopause. There is no cure for PMS. In some women, dietary changes and exercise provide some relief through the loss of water weight, the alleviation of stress, and an increase in the production of endorphins. Antidepressants or antianxiety drugs are sometimes prescribed. In severe cases hormones that induce a premature menopause may be administered.

See publications of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; S. D. Bender, PMS: A Positive Program to Gain Control (1986) and PMS: Questions & Answers (1989); Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century (1998).

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