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Premenstrual Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms

Here is a checklist of possible signs and symptoms of PMS:

  • Bloating and weight gain. Do your jeans feel tighter as your period approaches?
  • Tension, anxiety or crying spells. Do you find yourself overreacting to stress or setbacks? Do you have a short fuse just before your period?
  • Depression. Do you feel sad for no reason? Feeling sad or blue for a day or two can be normal, but feeling down for a longer period of time may be one symptom of clinical depression, a serious, but common mental health condition experienced by many teens, as well as adults. Depression causes other symptoms, too, such as feeling tired or sleeping all of the time, or not being able to sleep at all; over eating or not eating enough; feeling no joy in activities you used to enjoy a lot. Usually, when a person is depressed, you may experience several of these or related symptoms. If you are experiencing any one or more of these symptoms, don't wait or hesitate to speak with your parents and/or a health care professional.
  • Breast tenderness. Do your breasts hurt when touched? Does your bra feel uncomfortably tight?
  • Food cravings. Do you need chocolate, potato chips or other foods (particularly salty or sweet foods)?
  • Joint or muscle pain. Do you wake up feeling achy even though you haven't strained anything?
  • Nausea or vomiting. Does your stomach feel upset, even though you're not eating anything unusual?
  • Headache. Do you have a pattern of headaches in the premenstrual period?
  • Trouble with concentration. Is it harder to study or pay attention in class?
  • Fatigue. Do you feel tired early in the day? Do you feel exhausted when you get home?

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Things you can do to avoid or relieve PMS symptoms:

Eat right. It may take a couple of months for some effects to kick in, but you'll be surprised at the difference the following steps may make:

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  • Eat more frequently, but make your portions smaller.
  • Consume 1,200 milligrams a day of calcium, whether through diet or a supplement. (Talk to a health care professional or your parents to make sure you don't take too much.)
  • Consume 200 milligrams per day of magnesium, whether through diet or a supplement. (Talk to a health care professional or your parents to make sure you don't take too much.)
  • Eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Cut back on salt, salty foods and refined sugar, especially during the seven to 10 days before your period begins.
  • Cut out the caffeine, which can worsen irritability and breast tenderness.
  • Drink low-fat milk, eat low-fat yogurt, cheese and other calcium rich foods.

Exercise. You need to get aerobic exercise 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week in order to boost your health and well-being. (A brisk walk, a short run, a bike ride are examples of aerobic exercises.) Exercise can reduce feelings of fatigue, depression and moodiness.

Lower your stress levels. First, be sure to get adequate sleep. Most teens do not get the nine hours or more of sleep they need to feel their best. You'll be surprised how many symptoms can be lessened when you get enough sleep.

Second, no matter how busy you are with school, after-school activities or a job, be sure to take time to do something fun for yourself — see a movie, hang out with friends, read a book for fun.

A third strategy that many teens find helpful is muscle relaxation or deep-breathing exercises to reduce anxiety or improve sleep. Try breathing deeply, using your lower abdomen not your chest. Hold a deep lungful of air for five seconds, and then release it slowly. Repeat several times.

Record your symptoms. Keep a notebook of your symptoms — what they are, when they occur and for how long, when they go away and any factors you think make them worse or better. What you learn from your record keeping, such as a pattern to your symptoms and things that relieve them, may help you manage your symptoms, or will give your health care professional some clues about effective treatments.

Talk to your health care professional. If do-it-yourself strategies aren't working, describe your symptoms to your health care professional or a school nurse or pharmacist. If symptoms are severe or are interfering with your ability to do schoolwork or the activities you want to do, you need to take action. There are treatments that can make a dramatic difference in PMS symptoms: antidepressants, birth control pills or injections (these products minimize hormone fluctuations); and pain medications such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) or naproxen sodium (e.g., Aleve), which can reduce cramping and breast pain.

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