For some women, the 10 days to two weeks before their period starts has a Jekyll and Hyde effect. One day you're feeling fine, and the next you're emotional, bloated, and can hardly resist chocolate and potato chips. Many women think that PMS is something they have to learn to live with. But doctors and, more important, women themselves have found natural, easy ways to make the time before their period less difficult.
Doctors and researchers have been investigating PMS for more than 70 years, but nobody has been able to devise a test or agree on a cause. PMS is difficult to study because every woman has a different chemical makeup.
More than 150 physical and mental symptoms, from breast tenderness and bloating to panic attacks and irritability, can suggest PMS. The one thing the experts agree on is that PMS is real. "Reassurance and understanding that this isn't all in your head goes a long way to help relieve PMS," says Dr. Steven R. Goldstein, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University. "There is a physiological reason you feel the way you do. It's not just a fluffy diagnosis."
PMS is most likely caused by one, two, or a combination of three things -- a hormone, chemical, or nutritional imbalance. Although studies of PMS remedies aren't conclusive, anecdotal evidence from women suggests that changes in diet, exercise, and relaxation can greatly reduce symptoms. But remember: Every woman has a different hormonal system, so what works for your friend may not make you feel better at all.
Continued on page 2: Chart Your Symptoms