PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is a real medical condition that causes legitimate suffering and interferes with women’s enjoyment and productivity in their lives. However, based on how often PMS elicits snickers, raised eyebrows and dismissive comments, you could easily conclude – if you don’t suffer from PMS – that it is a kind of joke.
This is really a shame: There may not be another medical condition that is so often minimized, or even outright dismissed by family, friends, co-workers, and even medical professionals. There has been plenty of research into PMS that has shown that it deserves to be taken seriously, but somehow the broadly accepted flippant attitude continues.
Last summer, the huge industry lobby of the California Milk Processors Board created an ad campaign lampooning PMS and the suffering it causes men, proving that the problem persists. PMS causes real suffering to women; in moderate and severe cases, it interferes with their ability to be productive at work and school, and to enjoy their social and home life. PMS costs employers millions of dollar in lost productivity; and it increases healthcare costs, not least because many women report going to multiple health-care professionals before they find someone willing to take them, and their symptoms, seriously.
Roughly 85% of women will experience at least one PMS symptom during their reproductive years, while 25% of reproductive-aged women have moderate to severe PMS. This means that approximately 16 million women in the US lose part of most months to emotional and physical premenstrual symptoms.
Of that 25%, 3-8% have the particularly debilitating form of PMS called PMDD. PMDD has severe mental and emotional symptoms that can make it exceedingly difficult to function for those days and weeks every month. Many women with PMDD report that their life essentially comes to a halt for part of every month.
There are plenty of good reasons why PMS should be taken more seriously, and should be considered off limits from insensitive comments, jokes, and ad campaigns. Of course, at the top of that list is the real suffering it causes to women (and yes, to their loved ones and families, though not in the way the snide remarks and in-poor-taste ad campaigns would make you think.) We wouldn’t make rude comments about someone with a broken bone or high blood pressure: What is so different about PMS? Add to that the fact that an increased understanding of PMS would help families and couples live together more harmoniously, and we have yet another reason to take PMS seriously. Finally, because PMS often causes distracting pain, difficulty concentrating, and tense interpersonal relations, employers could encourage a more productive and happier workplace, and lower health-care expenditures, by encouraging a supportive environment for women with PMS.
There are natural health and conventional medical approaches that can work for PMS. Diet, lifestyle and stress management should be considered first-line therapy for premenstrual symptoms, even severe ones. And a compassionate attitude toward those who are suffering, through no fault of their own, could go a long way toward breaking down the social stigma that makes PMS even more difficult for so many women.