Is PMS a Myth?

The latest research says yes, it is a myth

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For many women, premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a familiar preamble to their monthly cycle. But a new review of the data suggests that mood changes aren’t as closely tied to menses as many have assumed.

A team led by Dr. Sarah Romans of the University of Otago in New Zealand reviewed 47 studies that followed women’s moods across the menstrual cycle. Only 15% of the studies found that women tended to have “classic” PMS: moods that worsened as the menstrual period approached and lifted when menstruation occurred. An additional 38% found PMS that lasted into menstruation or another cycle phase.

(MORE: Stress Leads to Worse PMS Symptoms)

However, a further 38% of the studies found no association between mood and any particular phase of the cycle. And 9% found that the worst moods actually occurred outside of the premenstrual phase. That means that little more than half of the studies (53%) found any link between menstruation and bad mood, and 85% didn’t find classic PMS.

“The major finding of this review was that clear evidence for a specific premenstrual-phase-related mood occurring in the general population is lacking,” the authors conclude.

Nonetheless, the idea of moodiness occurring cyclically in women has a long-standing history. The authors cite a “long-established tendency to label women’s behavior as overly emotional and to attribute this to female reproductive function.”

(MORE: Got PMS? Milk Marketers Launch an Audacious, Funny New Ad Campaign)

So is the concept of PMS just a remnant of sexist ideas about women’s changing moods from a time when most physicians were male? The new study unfortunately isn’t designed to provide an answer. For one thing, because they wanted to look at healthy women, the authors excluded data on women seeking help for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a syndrome they do not dispute, in which 1% to 9% of women experience extreme mood problems related to the menstrual cycle.

Second, given the wide range of factors that affect mood, it’s difficult to distinguish the effects of changing hormone levels. Some of the studies, for example, found mood changes related to the day of the week (in one, Fridays were happy, Tuesdays not so much), and others found, not surprisingly, that stressful events had a greater impact on mood than the cycle did.

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“It makes sense to me that they would find little to no effect of PMS on mood when looking at the big picture,” says Kathryn Clancy, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois who studies reproductive behavior but was not associated with the research. “Overall, PMS is not only physiologically dependent but culturally dependent. There are studies that show women have different PMS symptoms depending on their country of origin.”

In fact, she says, citing a classic feminist text that describes menstruation, some women even use the idea to subvert culturally restricting concepts about femininity and feminine behavior. “It’s almost as if, given cultural expectations that they will behave badly, they decide to go along with it in order to behave in the ways normally inaccessible to them, [like] being bossy, irritable [or] bold,” she says.

(MORE: Beyond Premenstrual Syndrome)

Still, this doesn’t mean sex hormones have no effect. The hormone that dominates the second half of the cycle, progesterone, has a powerful influence. Some studies show that progesterone can reduce anxiety, and in animal studies, when levels drop — as they do around menstruation — symptoms of depression can occur.

Since many women in the data showed cycle-related mood changes, the most likely explanation is that varying hormone levels have different effects on mood in different women — a sensible, if not very satisfying, conclusion.

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And as for the tradition of portraying women as victims of their changing hormones, it’s possible that men experience the same fluctuations in testosterone, with similar ups and downs in mood and emotional stability. It’s just that it may be easier to attribute the mood swings in women to reproductive hormones because tracking the menstrual cycle provides a noninvasive window into their fluctuations.

So while the new review suggests that most women don’t have a predictable pattern of low moods preceding their periods, it doesn’t exonerate reproductive hormones from having any role in how people feel. And new technology may soon provide far better data for both men and women to find any correlations that exist in their own lives: smart-phone apps that help track changing moods, for example, may soon give researchers deeper insight into individual patterns that may or may not be linked to sex hormones.

The study was published in Gender Medicine.

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72 comments
adamwyson
adamwyson

I find it amazing how many women here are angry about the study.  PMS isn't some make believe thing, it's proven, it exists...Any man that has EVER been married, can tell you that he could time when she is about to start her period.  I secretly keep a tally of how many times I have guessed exactly when my wife's period would start.  Of course I would never tell her because women refuse to acknowledge that their chemicals might be the cause of their "feelings".  


I seriously do not care about breast cancer and I get annoyed by all the charities, I want PMS solved before that.  Think of the drastic decline in divorces we would have if we wiped PMS off the map...

KateMaclean
KateMaclean

I have atypical Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, paired with some other endocrine issues, and get my periods anywhere from once to four times a year. They can happen any time, with any amount of time in between. In other words, they are utterly random. Although I use condoms (I can't use the pill, because it messes me up pretty horribly), I need to always have a pregnancy test near by, as even if I was pregnant - I would have no way of telling if I was late.

The ONLY way I can tell if I am getting my period, is I will be extremely teary for a few days beforehand. Unfortunately, at times I have failed to make the connection and my wonderful boyfriend cops it. I am a very very calm person and never cry unless it is related to my period/something really awful has happened. 

In my case at least, emotional disturbance preceding a period does absolutely exist.

ToeHead
ToeHead

I think a lot of it can be in a person's head. To echo what some others are saying, I do get the occasional bad moods but I am usually not feeling great so it can stem from that.  I do often wonder why we research this so much when I know just as many moody men as moody women if not more.  What hormone levels and/or chemical imbalances cause men to be moody?  Or is it just not worth researching because we wouldn't want to find any sort of weakness/vulnerability in men? I do wonder sometimes...

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

“Overall, PMS is not only physiologically dependent but culturally dependent. There are studies that show women have different PMS symptoms depending on their country of origin."

It's called "Food" folks.  Also environmental exposure.  Hormone effects on moods, and physiology are not entirely well understood. People are also unique with individual levels of health, stress, lifestyle and other factors.  Cultures dictate styles of dress, for example, that could lead to different sun-exposure levels that affect vitamin levels that impact hormone levels that influence the symptoms women have because they tend to have more regular hormone fluctuations.  The same can be said of climate where sun exposure varies - different cultures in different climates.  I'd like to see if those differences hold up in women who adopt a new culture and why they change (if at all).

While moods may not be entirely tied to the cycle, the fact is the headline for this article is pure BS.  PMS isn't JUST about mood swings, nor did the study imply that the other symptoms of PMS weren't linked to the cycle.  Only moods, and moods can happen to anyone, any time for a variety if reasons - even PMS.  

The person responsible for the title should be severely beaten about the head and shoulders with a keyboard.

sararewers
sararewers

Could it be that the bad mood might be correlated with the extreme pain some women have when menstruating?!! I personally feel rather provoked by this article since I feel these mood swings while being pre-menstrual - and believe me it is just as difficult for the person having these mood swings and not to be able to control themswelves, as it may be for the people around them! Pregnant women experiences mood swings as well due to hormonal changes, so why should menstruating women, that experiences hormonal changes during their period not have mood swings as well?

sweetlittlerosi
sweetlittlerosi

The only reasonable sentence in the article: Since many women in the data showed cycle-related mood changes, the mostlikely explanation is that varying hormone levels have differenteffects on mood in different women — a sensible, if not very satisfying,conclusion.

ava5050
ava5050

I'm 50 and have been having a menstrual cycle for many years now, and I've never had a PMS mood swing.  I grew up living in the same house with a mom and an older sister, and I never detected a monthly mood swing with either of them nor heard either of them ever mention having one.  The first time I heard of PMS - way back in my younger days - I figured it was a crock, and I still do.  I went to school with lots of girls and never knew one who had noticeable monthly mood swings. Some were unpleasant and cranky, but that was the norm for those girls, not a mood swing.  I never knew a pleasant girl to become unpleasant and cranky for a couple of days each month.  The same holds true for the many females I have worked with over the years.  The women I've known here and there who claimed to have PMS were bossy, cranky, rude, moody and annoying OFTEN, not just once per cycle.  I'm a female and from my own personal observation, without doing any scientific study, I'd say that some women use PMS as an excuse for bad moods and bad behavior around family, close friends, and people they consider their inferiors (like cashiers or maids).  Although a few may be so bold, most women who claim to suffer from PMS do not have outbursts of moodiness around bosses or people they feel they need to impress.

BarbButterick
BarbButterick

I usually have bad cramps, feel dizzy (when I've forgotten to get more vitamins and run out), extremely tired, and about the middle of my period I'm a little down. Other than that, I don't really have the "usual" mood swings associated with PMS. I wouldn't say I get depressed, just a little blue, and that's in the middle of the whole thing. When I was pregnant, I just had horrible heartburn and leg cramps. Guess I'm one of the lucky ones.

lou
lou

In the past doctors actually said it was a myth. They also thought painful menstrual cramps was a psychological issue.  I wouldn't classify it as a 'mood', because PMS also affects women physically: bloating, headaches, fatigue, cramps. But for many women emotional disturbance is another symptom. A friend on once told me that PMS makes her feel suicidal. Not all women experience it to the same extent.

cmw1968
cmw1968

CLEARLY, they studied the wrong women.  I guess the next thing we'll hear is that hormonal changes during pregnancy have no effect on a woman's mood either!

I would be interested in knowing if anyone has done a study that measures hormone levels and/or related/effected biochemistry in  a study group of women on a daily basis throughout a 28-35 day cycle...

what0413
what0413

I'm calling bulls@*t on this one.  However, I do agree that men have mood changes  as well...maybe worse than women.  

eva68
eva68

Before all you women fall to pieces (I am a woman and I was..lol). Fight idiot-ism with factConsider this. This article is an  interpretation of an article by Gender. Not surprising you can only read a snippet of the one published on Gender without paying 31.50. Beyond that, the original article was actually taken from OTHER articles. Further still and this article doesn't even give you the broader base of the interpretation of the 2nd hand article.At best you are getting third generation representation of the so-called data. I will never read another Time article, even if it did translate it in to 15% actually had problems. This second hand reporting is going to hurt women. I know who I am and I don't need Time declaring any condition I might have a "Myth".  The second generation, at least said they were examining the data from other studies.

blckwdow
blckwdow

If you are posting in regards to this article and you have p e n i s you have no idea what you're talking about so STFU and go back to itching and scratching!

DonSteiner
DonSteiner

Funniest thing I here from many woman is "You just think everything is my period" LMAO

DonSteiner
DonSteiner

I always knew PMS was just an excuse for woman to act out. My ex became a total Jeckle and Hyde,Then she would have her monthly and get worse. 

PalmDos
PalmDos

If:

A. Women get crazy emotional before their menses

-and-

B. Women who work or live together pair up their menses

-then-

Wouldn't lesbians (not that their is anything wrong with that) be extinct?

PalmDos
PalmDos

If a physical change/ailment caused you to be "moody" then every amputee would run around (or hobble as it were) like a crazed maniac! Time to take the training wheels off the bike....

WillardJohnson
WillardJohnson

Mood can control you or you can control your mood. My guess is 38% of the women in the study know that and have just gotten used to not being b i t c h e s and using PMS as an excuse for their actions, which have nothing to do with mood. It does seem like an inflated number, regardless.

AlexandraHaas
AlexandraHaas

Hormone changes effect mood, this study is BS.

markmarkmark
markmarkmark

"Yeah, PMS doesn't exist...." said the terrified scientist to his enraged female colleague. As he pushed the bottle of Midol deeper into his pocket he continued: "You were right....I'll publish it right away! In fact, you can be the lead author."

katzpjz
katzpjz

Long time ago I was suffering from what is now called PMDD.   I was also suffering from endometrosis, & infertility.  My Husband & i would keep track each month of my period, because we knew how my moods got worse.  because of what I was going through emotionally 7 physically I became depressed.  I started taking Prozac.  Within 1 week my Husband went to the calender and said "do you realize your period is only 4 days away?"  I said Huh...and went back to what I was doing.  I told my Doctor about this and he thought nothing about it.  About 2 years later news came out about how there was scientific  proof that Prozac help with PMDD.   Later I then had Peri-menopause, Hot flashes, & Mirgraines before each period...

Kind of hard to imagine hot flashes, Mirgranies and how Prozac helped me each month.

vanessas
vanessas

The intent and veracity of these studies are both highly questionable. I have never met a woman who had no PMS symptoms. This study hints that psychology and culture influence symptoms that are medical in nature. Naturally, hormonal shifts will result in a variety of noticeable effects, including an apparent lack of symptoms. Far more useful studies would involve natural remedies for the vast array of premenstrual discomforts that most women suffer from. 15% is the only myth here.

JohnGibson
JohnGibson

My wife ,a week prior to her period goes on a meat eating rampage,she changes curtains,plans home improvements,she buys new blanket sets ,this is each and every month like clockwork.I have been married for 19 years.I know when to go fishing and so does my eight year old.We get out of dodge.Also every argument between now and when the first bush was president gets brought up.So I vote it is a real condition

kaethy
kaethy

"Only 15% of the studies found that women tended to have “classic” PMS: moods that worsened as the menstrual period approached and lifted when menstruation occurred. "

Then they have defined classic PMS incorrectly. YOU IDIOTS!!!

nessstark
nessstark

I get terrible, eye-blurring migraines the day before my period. I can't eat- I throw up- and I've noticed that the week before (even though my cycles are kind of irregular- so I wouldn't KNOW it was the week before)- I tend to cry a lot. Over dumb shit. And I don't realize until I get my period that I was crying over dumb shit. Anyone- crying a lot and having headaches does kinda make me pissy, to say the least.... I mean, do you guys realize that it feels like someone is trying to pry out my insides with a rusty spoon? Yeah it makes me irritable. 

cm6096
cm6096

PMS is a left over from the old days when doctors thought female hysteria came their reproductive organs... Women have latched on to it and embrassed it because its also a convient excuse for bad behavior. Frankly, I don't care if there is PMS or not... its no excuse what so ever for the way they treat people while they're having a mood swing. Abusive is abusive, regardless if your having a good day or not. You're either a responsible adult accountable for your actions or your not... there is no in between.

micahheartz
micahheartz

@ava5050 People who have not experienced something will never understand it. I experience PMS and I don't know anyone else who does either but that doesn't mean that I will totally dismiss what I'm going through and pretend to be okay. Not because it doesn't happen to you means it doesn't exist.

lllIIIlll
lllIIIlll

@blckwdow telling people to STFU just on the basis that they are male clearly shows that you are ignorant.  Just because it's an issue of the female body doesn't mean that because you are a female, you are some type of expert.  The article states it was a study done by a woman.  So before you go around telling people to shut their mouth, why don't you put one of those male genitals in your mouth and shut yourself up... or you can come settle down and try giving a intelligent response to the article.

micahheartz
micahheartz

@DonSteiner Go kill yourself. Why would you abandon a woman for something like that. Why not help her?

katzpjz
katzpjz

@DonSteiner  I met a man who divorced his wife & mother of his kids, because of her menopause symptoms.  He said that while he was hitting on me.  I told him how uncaring he was over something she had no control over.

You both must lead lonely lives...

DonSteiner
DonSteiner

@WillardJohnson I am in agreement I think Willard J is a genius and ahead of his time. THANK YOU finally some clarity

PalmDos
PalmDos

 You should change "I have never met a woman who had no PMS symptoms" to "while complaining abbout PMS symptoms I have never met a woman who had no PMS symptoms"

PalmDos
PalmDos

@kaethy Right...Classic PMS should be defined as: A person acting outside the acceptable norms of society while citing their menses as an excuse.

PalmDos
PalmDos

@nessstark I would cry about my impending migraine!  That is terrible.  I honestly feel for you.  I hope you find some relief.

bluedove
bluedove

I completely agree.  Actually, I'm a woman, and I don't want to deny that other women have symptoms, but the interesting thing is that I've never even heard of PMS until I came to the US. 

hlong69
hlong69

@cm6096 , being male I obviously can't relate directly to what ladies go through during their menstruation cycle.  However, I can state with certainty that as I grow hungry my mood worsens significantly - and the physiology of hunger involves hormonal changes within the body (though, admittedly, of a somewhat different nature than menstruation).

You are right that a certain amount of self-control in our interactions with others is every person's responsibility, but I think your statement that PMS is nothing more than a "convenient excuse" is a gross, unjust oversimplification.

katzpjz
katzpjz

@cm6096 Let me guess, either you are single or divorced...real compassion & insight you have there...

blckwdow
blckwdow

@lllIIIlll @blckwdow Ummmmmmmm... you're not even worthy of a response.  So STFU and again I say happy itching and scratching!

katzpjz
katzpjz

@DonSteiner @katzpjz  It would be disgusting if I told you about how heavy my flow was,  or how many tampons & pads I used.  Shall I describe my vomit when I had Mirgranies also???

lauriemann57
lauriemann57

@DonSteiner @katzpjz Yes, we all know how some boys find women's bodies disgusting.  Why are you reading this area if you didn't want to learn about PMS?

rnfrancis22
rnfrancis22

@DonSteiner Where are you from if that kind of information is disgusting?  In the comments section of a piece about PMS?

emmathepineapple
emmathepineapple

@bluedove That is interesting. I am a woman and experience inarguable PMS symptoms, which lessen in severity when I'm on birth control. I have wondered in the past if our hormone-heavy diet in the US contributes to PMS symptoms. 

SusanDorrisMiles
SusanDorrisMiles

@emmathepineapple @bluedove  I don't experience symptoms at all since I started taking birth control 15 years ago.  Birth control is like magic pills that maintain horomone levels and prevent unwanted pregnancies.  All women should take it when they are not planning a pregnancy.