Bloating, breakouts and cramping may sound familiar, but you’d be surprised that they aren’t the only indications your monthlies are on the way. Roughly 75% of women have suffered from one or more symptoms of PMS, and up until recently, they seemed like ones we had to grin through, but surprise: there are reasons they happen and there are ways to alleviate them! These are some of the most surprising, but common, symptoms, and how to soften them.
Your breasts are hurting
That chest pain that seems to conveniently come on before or during your period isn’t a coincidence. Cyclical breast pain is caused by a fluctuation in hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone. And while estrogen peaks mid-cycle, progesterone increases the week before your period, causing inflammation in the milk glands, making your breasts sore as they prep your body for a potential pregnancy.
What you can do:
Diuretics help with water retention, swelling and tenderness and have the potential to alleviate this pain. The foods we may be reaching for when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves (see: high fat, high sugar, high caffeine) have a part to play here, so hit curb on carbs.
You’re breaking out
While you may feel personally targeted by the pustular guest on the tip of your chin, PMS acne is more common than you may think. For many, breakouts happen 1 week to 10 days prior to your period. Occurring in 50-80% of women, hormones are at play here, too! You may have gotten comfortable with the idea of estrogen, but we make testosterone, too. While estrogen levels are at their lowest 1 week to 10 days before your period, testosterone levels stay constant, making them more prevalent in your blood. Testosterone can cause increased sebum production and thickening of the skin. With progesterone still in the mix, your skin becomes more oily than usual, causing your pores to swell and close, crafting the perfect breeding ground for breakouts. For some, this means a healthy glow. For most, this means uncontrollable outbreaks.
What you can do
Talk to your doctor about trying benzoyl peroxide, topical retinoids or hormone regulator spironolactone. Don’t forget to eat a healthy diet, high in nutrients and anti-inflammatory foods.
Your gums are bleeding
Hormonal wreckage wages war on more than your skin and breasts. For some women, pre-period means swollen gums and sensitive teeth. Though these symptoms typically only last a few days, their root cause is hormonal. The increase in estrogen and progesterone increases blood flow to the gums and inhibits their plaque-fighting abilities.
What you can do
Menstruation gingivitis usually happens right before a period and clears up a few days after it’s started, so if you notice these symptoms pre-period, make sure you floss and cut back on sugars to ease the inflammation.
You’re feeling anxious
Days before your period, the production of the steroid hormone cortisol skyrockets, leading to heightened feelings of anxiety. While this is happening, your body is also short on serotonin, the hormone responsible for sleep.
What you can do
Try to find a balance by keeping an eye on sleep, cutting back on caffeine and practicing relaxation techniques like meditation and mindfulness. For an extra hand, mood-regulating supplements like 5-HTP may help, too.
You notice a change in bowel movements
Premenstrual bloating isn’t about your diet after all! Despite the extra cravings, you can credit the swelling to the spike in water-peaks right before your menses, impacting your intestinal flow. For some this means constipation, for others it means general discomfort. One particular study has shown a direct correlation between fluctuations in bowel movements and prostaglandin, a hormone-like compound that triggers cramping. People who experienced diarrhea throughout their periods are said to have higher concentrations of prostaglandin.
What you can do
While there may not be any quick solves to this, try to be prepared by wearing comfortable clothing, taking it easy on added fiber and adding an extra 15 minutes to your morning routine.
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- Geller, L., Rosen, J., Frankel, A., & Goldenberg, G. (2014). Perimenstrual flare of adult acne. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 7(8), 30–34.
- Province of Alberta, Alberta Health. Breast Pain (Mastalgia). (2018, September 23). Retrieved from https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/Pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=tm6412spec
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2018). PMDD: It's Like PMS, Except Much Worse Than Most Women Can Ever Fathom. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/find-help-for/women/pms-pmdd
- Boyes, A., Ph.D. (2017, May 02). How to Cope With Premenstrual Anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/in-practice/201705/how-cope-premenstrual-anxiety
- Premenstrual water retention: How to get relief. (2018, January 30). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/water-retention/art-20044983