Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a condition in which a woman has severe depression symptoms, irritability, and tension before menstruation. The symptoms of PMDD are more severe than those seen with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
PMS refers to a wide range of physical or emotional symptoms that typically occur about 5-11 days before a woman starts her monthly menstrual cycle. The symptoms usually stop when, or shortly after, her period begins.
The causes of PMS and PMDD have not been found.
Hormone changes that occur during a woman's menstrual cycle may play a role.
PMDD affects between 3% and 8% of women during the years when they are having menstrual periods.
The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS. However, they are generally more severe and debilitating and include a least one mood-related symptom. Symptoms occur during the week just before menstrual bleeding and usually improve within a few days after the period starts.
Five or more of the following symptoms must be present to diagnose PMDD, including one mood-related symptom:
No interest in daily activities and relationships
Fatigue or low energy
Feeling of sadness or hopelessness, possible suicidal thoughts
Feelings of tension or anxiety
Feeling out of control
Food cravings or binge eating
Mood swings with periods of crying
Irritability or anger that affects other people
Physical symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain
Exams and Tests
No physical examination or lab tests can diagnose PMDD. A complete history, physical examination (including a pelvic exam), and psychiatric evaluation should be done to rule out other conditions.
Keeping a calendar or diary of symptoms can help women identify the most troublesome symptoms and the times when they are likely to occur. This information may help the health care provider diagnose PMDD and determine the best treatment.
A healthy lifestyle is the first step to managing PMDD.
Eat healthy foods with more whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and little or no salt, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
Get regular aerobic exercise throughout the month to reduce the severity of PMS symptoms.
If you have problems sleeping, try changing your sleep habits before taking medicines for insomnia.
Keep a diary or calendar to record:
The type of symptoms you are having
How severe they are
How long they last
Antidepressants may be helpful.
The first option is usually an antidepressant known as a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). You can take SSRIs in the second part of your cycle up until your period starts, or for the whole month. Ask your doctor.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be used either with or instead of antidepressants. During CBT, you have about 10 visits with a mental health professional over several weeks.
Other treatments that may help include:
Birth control pills may decrease or increase PMS symptoms, including depression
Diuretics may be useful for women who gain a lot of weight from fluid retention
Nutritional supplements -- such as vitamin B6, calcium, and magnesium -- may be recommended
Other medicines (such as Depo-Lupron) suppress the ovaries and ovulation
Pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen may be prescribed for headache, backache, menstrual cramping and breast tenderness
After proper diagnosis and treatment, most women with PMDD find that their symptoms go away or drop to tolerable levels.
PMDD symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with a woman's daily life. Women with depression may have worse symptoms during the second half of their cycle and may need changes in their medication.
Some women with PMDD have had suicidal thoughts. Suicide in women with depression is more likely to occur during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
PMDD may be associated with eating disorders and smoking.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call 911 or a local crisis line right away if you are having thoughts of suicide.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Symptoms do not improve with self-treatment
Symptoms interfere with your daily life
Vigod SN. Understanding and treating premenstrual dysphoric disorder: an update for the women's health practitioner. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2009;36:907-924, xii.
Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.