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Escape From Hormone Horrors — What You Can Do

From PMS to perimenopause and on into menopause, hormonal ups and downs can wreak havoc on a woman's life. Here’s how to escape the horror hormones cause.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Hormones! From PMS to menopause, these messengers of womanhood can affect your mood, your weight, your food cravings - even your desire for sex. For many women, it's smooth sailing, but for others, it's a shipwreck at every turn of the hormonal bend.

"Women can be, and many are, greatly affected by hormone fluctuations. Sometimes it gets to the point of feeling totally overwhelmed - as if for a time they have lost control of their life," says Christiane Northrup, MD, author of The Wisdom of Menopause and Women's Bodies Women's Wisdom. Dieting, stress, anxiety, depression - even exercise -are all among the factors that can create a hormonal tailspin. So there are plenty of opportunities for things to go awry.

At the same time, Northrup tells WebMD, there are many opportunities to change the way you feel. "Sometimes, even the smallest changes can make a huge difference," she says.

To help you escape from your chamber of "hormone horrors," WebMD asked Northrup and other top women's health experts for advice on how to cope with hormones - from menstruation through menopause and beyond.

Hormone horrors: The reproductive years

For many women, the hallmark of the reproductive years is not pregnancy but PMS - in particular the mood-related symptoms.

"Medically speaking, anything that occurs right before your period - such as cramps, diarrhea, and breast tenderness - is considered pre-menstrual syndrome," says Steven R. Goldstein, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Medical Center in New York City. But for most women it's the mood issues that become the defining factor for what we know as PMS." And, says Goldstein, this can include anything from mild to moderate depression, anxiety, mood swings, melancholia, sensitivity, even full-blown anger and self-hatred.

Indeed, Northrup says women who are premenstrual are apt to perceive comments made about them as negative, even when they are not.

Experts say that mood swings and other symptoms do not necessarily indicate abnormal hormone levels. "Every study done on women with PMS shows their circulating levels of hormones are normal," says Nanette Santoro, MD. Santoro is director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "But some researchers believe that certain hormone metabolites in the brain cause the mood changes - or that some women just metabolize hormones differently. No one knows for sure."

But while doctors may not know what is causing your symptoms, there are ways to control them. "You can't change your physiology," says Northup. "But you can change your life. Very often when you do, your hormones respond in a favorable way."

PMS: What you can do

One of the first lines of defense, says Northrup, is to reduce salt intake. Limiting salt will reduce bloating - including water retention in the brain. That, in turn, may ease both physical and emotional symptoms. Northrup also advocates cutting out sugar and limiting caffeine, both of which can make PMS symptoms worse.

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