What Is PMS?

Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on January 20, 2021

You probably get some signs that your period is coming. For most women, it’s no big deal -- maybe tender breasts or a taste for sweets. But for others, the days before their period are harder. If it messes with your daily life, you might have premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Your period is a natural part of your life. And you can do anything you would do any other time of the month. If PMS is a problem for you, there are ways to manage it.

PMS is a group of changes that can affect you on many levels. They can be physical, emotional, or behavioral. The changes come 1 to 2 weeks before your period. Once your period starts or soon after it starts, they'll go away.


Most women have at least one sign of PMS each month. But it’s not the same for everyone. It can change as you get older. It can be hard to know if you just have a few symptoms before your period, or if it’s really PMS.


One way to think about it is to ask the question: “Do these changes get in the way of my regular life? Do they cause trouble at work or with family and friends?” If you answer yes, it might be PMS. Another way to know is if you have symptoms on the 5 days before your period, for 3 months in a row.

Women with PMS deal with it in lots of ways. You can make changes to improve your diet, sleep, and exercise. You can also learn ways to relax their mind and body. If what you try doesn’t seem to work, you could talk to your doctor.

What It’s Like

PMS shows up in many different ways. Everything in this list could be a sign of PMS. But most women get just a few of these, not all of them.

Physical signs


Emotional signs

  • Tense or anxious
  • Depressed
  • Crying
  • Mood swings
  • Can’t sleep
  • Don’t want to be with people
  • Feel overwhelmed or out of control
  • Angry outbursts

Behavioral signs

  • Forget things
  • Loss of mental focus
  • Tired

Girls and women who still get their period can get PMS. But it’s most common in women who:


Even though PMS is common, doctors don’t know exactly what causes it. It probably has to do with changes in your body chemistry around the time of your period.

Some conditions affect PMS, but don’t cause it. PMS can be brought on, or can get worse if you:

  • Smoke
  • Are under lots of stress
  • Don’t exercise
  • Don’t sleep enough
  • Drink too much alcohol or eat too much salt, red meat, or sugar
  • Are depressed

Women with other health problems may find that those problems get worse before their period. Some of those are migraine headaches, asthma, and allergies.

What You Can Do

There are lots of ways to manage PMS. Even if you can’t totally fix it, it’s nice to know you have the power to help yourself. These ideas might help:

  • Exercise about 30 minutes a day.
  • Eat healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Try to get enough calcium from foods (think dairy, green leafy vegetables, and canned salmon).
  • Avoid salt, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Work to lower stress.
  • Track your moods and symptoms in a journal.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen. Be sure to follow the dosing instructions exactly as it says on the label.

Some women take vitamins and minerals like folic acid, magnesium, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, and calcium with vitamin D. Others find that herbal remedies help. If you take any vitamins or supplements, check with your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you.

What Your Doctor Can Do

If you’ve tried different things, but still have bad PMS, it’s probably time to get help. Make an appointment with your doctor or gynecologist. They’ll ask about your symptoms, your health, and medicines you take. They may take some blood tests to make sure the problem is PMS and not something else.


Your doctor may prescribe medicine. Birth control pills sometimes help with headache and cramps. Antidepressants (medicines that help treat depression) may be an option. Some women take medicine to get rid of extra fluid that makes them feel bloated. Doctors call these diuretics (water pills).

Your doctor might suggest talk therapy. It’s a way to feel better and learn new skills to overcome challenges by talking with a mental health counselor.

If you have notes about your symptoms, bring it to the appointment. Plan ahead about the questions you want to ask. That way you’ll get the best help from your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference



Massachusetts General Hospital, MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health: “PMS & PMDD.”

Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Premenstrual syndrome.”

Harvard Medical School, Patient Education Center: “Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).”

Mayo Clinic, Diseases and Conditions: “Premenstrual syndrome.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “FAQ, Premenstrual Syndrome.”

Mayo Clinic, Diseases and Conditions: “Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), Symptoms.”


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