My Struggles With Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – Signs, Symptoms & Treatments of this little known condition
While everyone has heard of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and either experienced it or witnessed it first hand, many do not know of a more severe form of PMS known as PMDD. I am one of the unlucky 3 % – 8% of women who suffer from this silent life destroyer and the symptoms of PMDD can be debilitating.
Statistics say 75% of women have experienced the symptoms of PMS at some point in their life; the cramps, the mood swings, the tender breasts and so forth. This is unfortunate, but a normal part of a woman’s life during her child-bearing years.
I knew, however, that something was different about me. I soon came to be diagnosed with “severe PMS” or PMDD. PMDD means that for at least 2 weeks out of every month, I suffer terrible symptoms including :
- Agonising cramps
- Acne breakouts
- Horrible and uncontrollable mood swings
- Severe anxiety
- Tender breasts
- Weight gain
- Sleep disturbances
- Headaches and/or migraines
- Chronic IBS
In recent years, my PMDD has become so bad that I am now permanently on anti-anxiety medication. This is simply to control my mood swings for the second half of my cycle. If I am not on this medication, I am literally out of control.
For women who have never experienced PMDD, it is simply put like this: once the second half of my cycle hits, anything and everything is like waving a red flag to a bull. The slightest thing can send me into an uncontrollable rage. One minute I can be laughing and joking, the next I am crying or yelling, for no good reason at all and it is usually the ones we love the most that cop the brunt of these unpredictable mood swings.
I know now the day the switch is flicked and my hormones start to drop. That is the day I struggle to keep it together during the day. I am extremely irritable and impatient and usually either in the car on the way home from work, or just as I walk in the door, I break down and cry uncontrollably. Every day after this day is a slippery slope, where I feel worse and worse with more and more symptoms piling on daily.
I suffer debilitating cramps, extreme fatigue, insomnia and iron deficiency due to heavy menstruation. I am forgetful and find it extremely difficult to concentrate. Which makes simple tasks very frustrating. The side effects are so severe that they interfere with my day to day life, making being a good wife and mother very difficult.
This is perhaps the hardest side of the condition. My tolerance level for my children is at an all-time low during these times, I have no energy to play with them, I cringe when they come running up for a hug knowing my stomach and breasts are so tender that any form of contact from them is going to hurt. I am so easily irritated that I generally avoid activities with them as I know I’ll lose my temper.
Lately, the break-in symptoms that I get after my period ends and I am completely symptom-free has dwindled from 2 weeks down to just 2 – 3 days. My ever-suffering husband has to tolerate my moods now for most of the month and while I try my best to control them, there are often times that they get the better of me.
And herein lies one of the biggest hurdles with PMDD. Being overly hormonal and moody means the sufferer needs to have a heightened sense of self-awareness. At times, it is hard to determine if you really are irritated at events that are occurring or are just currently being overly sensitive. Doubt begins to creep in when people say “seriously you are over-reacting.” Your mind truly does deceive you and you find that those around you will use the hormonal/overly emotional line often, making it very difficult to ever justify being truly upset again.
There are times when I do realise that I am being overly-sensitive. At these times, the only way to describe it is like an out of body experience. I know that I am over-reacting and that I need to calm down. I have an internal dialogue reminding me that I am in my PMDD sphere and I should just keep quiet: but I can’t. The compulsion to keep going is uncontrollable.
But perhaps the most frustrating thing about PMDD is that doctors do not know how to fix it. There are band-aid fixes, such as anti-anxiety medication however these, to me, are just temporary solutions. There is no real fix, everything is an experiment to see if it works and unfortunately for me, for a long time, not much did.
IS IT PMS OR DO I HAVE PMDD?
If you are feeling like your symptoms are perhaps more severe than regular PMS, it might be worth heading to the doctor.
The following symptoms are characteristic of PMDD:
- Lasting irritability or anger that may affect other people
- Feelings of sadness or despair, or even thoughts of suicide
- Feelings of tension or anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Mood swings or crying often
- Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
- Trouble thinking or focusing
- Tiredness, low energy or severe fatigue
- Food cravings or binge eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling out of control
- Decreased libido
- Painful menses
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Paranoia and issues with self-image
- Hot flashes
- Physical symptoms, such as cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain
I can safely say that I have experienced every symptom from the above list, most I suffer with now for the best part of the month – whether it be one or two symptoms in a day or a large combination, making my day fairly miserable at times.
TREATMENT FOR PMDD
The first choice of doctors in treating this condition is the birth control pill. Yaz is said to be one of the most effective in helping relieve symptoms by stopping mestration. Unfortunately for me, Yaz only made my symptoms worse along with every other pill I tried.
While doctors will go straight to the pill as a means of controlling the symptoms of PMDD, the feelings behind whether this actually works are very mixed. As it is a case of trial and error to see what helps, the pill is worth trying but shouldn’t be continued if it is exacerbating your symptoms as it did in my case.
Another treatment used is anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. This medication has helped me in managing my irritability and anger but doesn’t work to help anything else, leaving a large number of symptoms untreated.
I have lately, however, found that taking a low dose anti-anxiety tablet (such as Lexapro – I take only 5mg) for the entire month has assisted in minimising my symptoms of PMDD overall.
NATURAL TREATMENTS FOR PMDD
Lately, I have worked hard at trying to figure out ways to minimise my symptoms. While the anti-anxiety tablets have some benefits, it didn’t stop my symptoms completely.
After extensive research, I discovered that perhaps I needed to increase my daily dose of magnesium. This powerful mineral assists in levelling out hormones, so I increased my dose to 400 mg daily. After only a week, I felt like a different person. My moods improved, my anxiety decreased and I felt as though I had some control over my horrendous mood swings. (See my article on Why Magnesium Is So Important for more information.)
Further to this, I began taking another hormonal balancing supplement to help control the vicious mood swings.
While I may not have found a cure, I have found a solution that works for me and allows me to be the best mother and wife I can be.
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