Prob’ly Makin’ ‘Scuses (PMS). Or Is It?

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“You change your mind like a girl changes clothes.
Yeah, you, PMS like a b*tch, I would know”

I’ve sung along with Katy Perry’s ‘Hot and Cold’ numerous times without really caring about the real significance of these lines. Actually, when I started singing this, I did not even know what PMS meant. Now, after being asked numerous times, “What’s up with the mood swings? Are you PMS-ing?”, I finally got to understand how offensive Katy Perry’s lines were.

Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, or PMS, is a very well known problem among women. It refers to the abrupt changes in a person’s behaviour, like mood swings, which happen before the onset of the menstrual flow. The social stigma about about PMS is a bigger deal than the actual thing, according to me. In ‘Modern Family’, in the Dunphy household, Phil tells his son Luke about what kind of monsters women become when they are on their periods. By the end of the episode, he is made to apologize for his insensitivity by his wife and daughters but only after he reveals that he is experiencing the same discomfort that women experience during PMS. There are numerous jabs made at the women for showing PMS-like symptoms in various TV shows. When a friend exasperatedly says “I’m feeling depressed and irritated all the time for no reason!”, we immediately ask them, “PMS?” But as someone who has never experienced anything like this, I wanted to delve a bit deeper into this mystery- does PMS actually exist?

Okay, biology books tell us that PMS is a reality. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a collection of emotional symptoms, with or without physical symptoms, related to a woman’s menstrual cycle. The symptoms may vary from person to person but each woman has a predictable set of symptoms which appear within ten days prior to the menses and vanish shortly after or before the start of the menstrual flow.

Though numerous symptoms are related to PMS, the most important of these are- irritability, tension, and dysphoria. The other non-specific emotional symptoms are stress, anxiety, difficulty in falling asleep (insomnia), headache, fatigue, mood swings, increased emotional sensitivity, and changes in libido. Physical symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle include bloating, abdominal cramps, constipation, swelling or tenderness in the breasts, cyclic acne, and joint or muscle pain.

Though abdominal cramps are a definite reality for me, I’ve never experienced any kind of mood swings based on my periodic menstrual cycles. Few of my friends claim to get through the entire month without even those horrible abdominal cramps. Till date, I’ve seen no one throwing a tantrum because of PMS. But then, these are my personal opinions, here’s what I found out when I studied about this a bit more:

These are the statistical reports that have been provided by a recent study:

1. Only 15% of the women have classic PMS symptoms like mood swings and depression which stop after the menstrual flow starts.
2. 38% of the women, who have these symptoms, experience these symptoms well into their menses and even after the next cycle starts.
3. Another 38% of the women found no association between their mood swings and particular phases of the cycle.
4. The rest 9% said that the worst mood swings happened well outside the time span of their pre-menstrual phase.

Hence, in 85% of the population no clear pattern between these emotional symptoms and menstruation has been spotted.

But this study had been conducted on women with normal menstrual cycles and hence the women with Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) had not been chosen for the study. There is no debate on the subject that PMDD exists and around 1%- 9% of the women do suffer from extreme mood problems related to the menstrual cycle.

But a lot of factors affect out mood and emotional stability, not only hormonal changes. So it is difficult to pinpoint the extent to which the hormones affect our emotions. Progesterone, which is the main hormone working behind the scenes, reduces anxiety and when its level drops, as it does during menstruation, it may cause depression according to studies conducted on animals. Thus, we cannot completely deny the existence of PMS.

We can merely come to the conclusion that varying levels of hormones causes different types of effects in the moods of different women. This is a very unsatisfactory and incomplete conclusion but it’s the only one that accommodates all possibilities.

Another interesting piece of information is that men may experience the same fluctuations in their moods due to the varying level of testosterone but it is the women who are always portrayed as victims of changing hormones because their monthly menstruation cycles can be easily tracked and provides a non-invasive window into their fluctuations.

All this talk about PMS did not really enable us to reach a clear conclusion. But then after reading a bit about this subject, I came across a comment of this man who claimed that he did not care about breast cancer but according to him, PMS needed to be cured because this would prevent a lot of divorces from happening. This brought me back to what I had originally started with. Some women use PMS as an excuse while some men like to pretend that the only reason a woman is being horrid to them is PMS. Well, that’s not true. These opinions are as wrong as Katy Perry’s lyrics.

If you think a woman is being mean to you, the reason being PMS, it probably implies that you deserve her meanness.