Out of those experiencing periods every month, a significant number will be all too familiar with the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. PMS brings discomfort. It inflates bellies around the world with the bloat, plagues skin with pimples and interferes with moods left and right. However, while PMS can be bothersome, there is another condition 8% of women experience, with such intense symptoms many of them aren’t able to function. It is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and it is considered a severe form of PMS.

PMDD symptoms are intense. Symptoms include depression and feelings of hopelessness, intense anger, anxiety and lack of energy. Sure, PMS can make women feel lousy and can affect mood. However, PMDD is different in that it considerably interferes with women’s daily lives, stopping them from performing their usual activities at home and at work. PMDD also invades relationships and makes them difficult to manage, with conflict being a common problem. And instead of just feeling more sensitive or a little out of sorts, women with PMDD can struggle with suicidal feelings. Due to the severity of their symptoms, a sufferer may even attempt. Symptoms of PMDD can arise at any point during the luteal phase i.e. the two weeks preceding menstruation. That’s right; a woman with PMDD can find themselves suffering for HALF of the month with these intense and difficult symptoms.

Unfortunately, not all doctors take PMDD seriously or believe it should be classified as a real condition. Because of these attitudes, receiving a diagnosis can be difficult. However, the denial of PMDD isn’t surprising, since some doctors still refuse to believe PMS is real (and we know many women would fervently challenge that belief). Women’s conditions and pain aren’t always taken seriously due to gender-based prejudices and discrimination within healthcare (not convinced? Check out this article). As a result, many women aren’t even aware of PMDD nor the serious ways it can impact a life. There are women out there, desperately trying to understand why they undergo a Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde transformation every month.   

Being a sufferer myself, it took me a while to find out about PMDD. I thought I was struggling with depression and anxiety. However, I soon noticed I was ok for two weeks of the month, then completely out of control for the remainder of the month. It became clear to me that these symptoms were strongest during the ten days leading up to my period and they’d stick around until my period began. During PMDD, I don’t feel like myself. I feel perpetually angry and on the verge of either screaming or crying. I throw fits of rage over the smallest things and say things I don’t mean. My mind is busier and chaotic, with thoughts of suicide flitting about like a swarm of flies. I feel so exhausted and so tender as a person – like a tortoise without a shell. Suddenly, everything upsets me and emotions are too intense. It’s hard to describe.  

To give you a better idea of how PMDD can affect a person, I spoke to three women dealing with it and asked them to briefly describe what they go through. Here is what they had to say.

Mar, age 33 – “To me, living with PMDD is like having a depressed twin inside my mind. She fights her way out into the light every few weeks and makes me miserable while the real me just sits in the backseat observing, unable to do anything.”

Bree, age 29 – “It’s like a hurricane that you know is coming every month. You can do what you can to prevent damage but you never know when it is going to come and destroy everything you love and care about.”

Vanessa, age 31 – “I feel like it’s a rollercoaster ride ruling and ruining my life. Every two weeks I hit a low that lasts for two weeks. How is anyone ever supposed to actually live this way?”

We don’t know what causes PMDD. Some researchers believe PMDD is tied to an abnormal response to fluctuating hormones. Antidepressants are usually used to help treat PMDD, with the birth control pill sometimes offered as an option. The purpose of this article is to inform women that this condition exists. Yes, a woman may be more emotional just before her period, but if she is experiencing extreme emotions, she may be suffering from PMDD.

Unfortunately, since society likes to paint women as overemotional and prone to hysteria, PMDD is often missed and the seriousness of the condition undermined. On a whole, we need better education surrounding the issues that affect women and more belief in women reporting these symptoms to better help them.  If your PMS is severe and is leaving you overwhelmed, depressed and unable to cope, it may be more than just PMS.