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So, Just How Common Is the Severe Form of PMS?

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Smaller -- but still significant -- percentages of women not meeting criteria for a diagnosis of PMDD said their symptoms interfered with social activities, ability to do their work, or with relationships at work, according to the study.

Hartlage says the figures raise the concern that females who experience difficulty with premenstrual functioning may not receive needed treatment because they do not meet stringent criteria for the disorder.

Soares tells WebMD the studies lend credence to two points: PMDD is real, and it can be highly disruptive in women's lives. And he suggests that the true prevalence probably falls somewhere in the middle of the two estimates.

"I think the true prevalence is probably in the 3-to-5% range," Soares says.

So, what should women do if they think they have PMDD?

"Women should have their doctors follow their symptoms using a daily diary," Soares says. "The daily diary of symptoms can help women and their doctors determine if the symptoms are long-lasting symptoms of a chronic underlying depression or anxiety, or if they are really unique to the premenstrual period."

If they do meet criteria for the disorder, they should consult their doctor about the possibility of being treated with antidepressant medication for the 14-day period prior to their period, for two or three cycles.

Response to such treatment is another way to distinguish PMDD from depression, Soares says, because people who have an underlying depression usually require at least two weeks of antidepressant therapy to feel better. But women with PMDD have been shown to improve with intermittent treatment in 14-day periods, he says.

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