Most women have signs alerting them to an upcoming menstrual period, including symptoms of mood changes, behavior changes and physical discomfort. These signs and symptoms may occur up to 10 days prior to a period. When these symptoms are unpleasant enough to interfere with day-to-day life, and persist month after month, it is considered premenstrual syndrome, or PMS.
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According to an article published in the April 2003 issue of "American Family Physician," up to 85 percent of menstruating women experience at least one symptom of PMS. In some women, these symptoms are disabling or even incapacitating. Physical symptoms that may occur prior to a period include abdominal pain and bloating, tender breasts, headaches, swelling of the hands or feet, nausea and weight gain. Pain in the joints or back can also occur before a period begins. Cramps, which can be painful, signifies that menstrual bleeding is imminent.
Mood and Behavioral Changes
Premenstrual symptoms often also include mood changes. For instance, a woman may commonly become more irritable, edgy, depressed or anxious. Prior to the start of a period, women may also be more likely to cry, have poor self-esteem, get angry or have mood swings. Interest in sex may also wane during this time. Poor concentration, forgetfulness or even loneliness may also occur. Prior to the start of a menstrual period, food cravings may kick in, and appetite may increase. Sleep may also be disturbed, and a woman may feel more tired than usual.
Precautions and Next Steps
While some women have few symptoms of an impending period, others may be heralded by a cluster of uncomfortable or bothersome symptoms. Up to 10 percent of women have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) -- a form of PMS with symptoms severe enough to interfere with work, relationships and social activities. If you experience uncomfortable or troublesome symptoms before your period, or if you think you have severe PMS or PMDD, talk to your doctor.