Is PMS normal?

Is PMS normal?

If you’ve ever felt as though you’re not quite your usual self just before you menstruate, the chances are you’re suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Approximately 9 out of 10 women have PMS around the time of menstruation,1,2 so it’s certainly a problem for many females. If you do have PMS there are lots of things you can do to help you take control and feel better.

What happens in PMS?

PMS is the name that’s been given to a group of symptoms that affect your body (physical symptoms) and your emotions (see table).3 If you are a PMS sufferer, you may notice these changes for a couple of weeks before you menstruate and that you start to feel better once your period begins.3

Although there are more than 100 different symptoms of PMS, you’ll probably just experience a couple.4 Some girls and women who have PMS find that their symptoms are different every month,3 while others find their symptoms are the same, but for everyone there may be some months where the symptoms seem worse than others.4 Over time, you’ll start to recognize which of these symptoms is normal for you. In fact, you might find it helpful to keep a diary for a few months to track your symptoms.

Common PMS symptoms3,4, 5  

Physical PMS symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping, or more tired than normal
  • Clumsiness
  • Changes to skin or hair
  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Retaining fluid/feeling bloated
  • Changes to appetite (food cravings)
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Back ache
  • Stomach problems

Emotional PMS symptoms

  • Irritable, bad-tempered
  • Upset, tearful, anxious
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion and forgetfulness
  • Low self-esteem

It’s not really understood why most women and girls get PMS, but it is connected to the hormone changes that happen during the menstrual cycle.3 If you are overweight, or don’t exercise much, or eat a lot of salty foods, or drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks, then you may be more likely to have PMS.3

Getting to grips with PMS

Although it might seem hard to control your emotions when you have PMS, there are a lot of things that you can do to help you feel better:3,5

  • do more exercise – even if you don’t feel like it, it can really help. Regular aerobic exercise can not only ease PMS, but can also make you feel less tired5
  • eat a healthy diet – reduce the amount of salt, caffeine, sugar and alcohol you consume. Instead, switch to healthy foods, like fish, chicken, nuts, seeds, pasta, fruit, vegetables and whole grains
  • eat smaller meals more often – this can help with bloating4, 5
  • eat calcium-rich foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt4
  • manage any stress, as this can make PMS worse;3 relaxation therapies, such as yoga and massage can help5
  • try a complementary remedy: calcium and vitamin D3, 5 can help reduce the both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS;5 magnesium may help reduce bloating, breast tenderness and mood symptoms5; while some women find their breast tenderness is eased by evening primrose oil.3

Finding the right approach to help you manage your PMS may take some time. If you try making these changes for a few months and still don’t feel any better, it might be worth talking to your doctor. There are some medicines that may help.


  1. Parker MA, et al. The menstrual disorder of teenagers (MDOT) study: determining the typical menstrual patterns and menstrual disturbance in a large population-based study of Australian teenagers. BJOG. 2010: 11: 186-192.
  2. Tschudin S, et al. Prevalence and predictors of premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder in a population-based sample. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2010; May 7 [Epub ahead of print].
  3. UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Managing premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Available at: Accessed July 2010.
  4. UK Clinical Knowledge Summaries. Premenstrual syndrome. Available at: Accessed July 2010.
  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Premenstrual Syndrome. Available at: Accessed July 2010.