Women are fed a lot of platitudes during their Time Of The Month — your period is a natural sign of your womanhood, it's a beautiful reminder that you can bring life into this world, and so on. And though it's true that in some ways your period is pretty rad, there are plenty of things you probably wouldn't miss if they mysteriously disappeared — namely, all of your PMS symptoms.
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is a common phenomenon: roughly 15 out of every 20 women who menstruate experience at least some of the many signs of it, per the National Library of Medicine. So you're not alone if, among other things, your breasts hurt, your head hurts, you feel extra emotional, or your stomach feels like it's revolting against you in the seven to 10 days leading up to your "special time."
For the majority of women, PMS symptoms are minor. In fact, some women report feeling their best and most clearheaded during the premenstrual phase of their cycles. But for others, PMS is frustrating, and for still others, it's severe enough to interfere with activities.
While experts think cycling hormones probably have something to do with PMS, they're not sure exactly what's behind it. For example, studies show that women who experience it don't necessarily have abnormal levels of hormones. "We don’t really know what causes PMS as a general thing, so all of the theories are just that — they’re theories," Raquel B. Dardik, MD, clinical associate professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at NYU Langone’s Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, tells Refinery29. Various other factors, like stress levels, other medical conditions, even cultural influences seem to play a role. Women born into Western cultures like the U.S. tend to experience more mood swings, for example, suggesting that there's something specific to our pressures at play.
You should never hesitate to talk to a doctor if your periods have recently become especially severe or suddenly irregular. Hiccups happen, but major shifts can be a sign of a medical issue like a pregnancy, an infection, or something else. Dr. Dardik explains that "the most important thing is for people to actually track their symptoms along with their cycle." Doing so will help you differentiate something that is premenstrual syndrome [from] something that’s a lot more chronic and should be evaluated."
But if you're wondering how to ride out those less troublesome, but still nagging, PMS symptoms, look no further. Here are some tips for solving symptoms, and more info on why they're happening to you in the first place.