A new pill to combat PMS could be on the horizon, as scientists find a genetic factor for the condition.
Words by Rosie Benson
It’s an illness that hardly needs an introduction, but PMS, PMT, or Premenstrual Syndrome, to give it its full title, is a debilitating and often underappreciated condition that affects an estimated one in twenty women.
Over 150 symptoms of PMS have been identified, with some of the most common including mood swings, depression, anxiety, bloating and headaches. It has even been used as a legal defence or a mitigating factor in court, for offences ranging from shoplifting to murder.
The National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS) states that PMS is characterized by ‘distressing physical, behavioural and psychological symptoms’ that regularly occur from the time of ovulation until the onset of a woman’s period.
However, PMS has also been the subject of many a joke or eye roll – an attitude which is extremely frustrating for sufferers who know that their symptoms are all too real.
So the discovery of a genetic factor is big news – it’s basically a middle finger to anyone who has ever scoffed at the realities that face women living with PMS. As Dr. David Goldman, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told the Daily Telegraph:
‘This is a big moment for women’s health, because it establishes that women have an intrinsic difference in their molecular response to sex hormones – not just emotional behaviours they should be able to voluntarily control.’
Researchers from the NIH discovered that in women who suffer PMS, the change in hormones before their period radically alters how their genes function, meaning they are much more sensitive to hormonal changes that occur throughout the menstrual cycle.
Severe PMS is thought to affect 5% of women, so if you don’t suffer from it yourself, it’s likely a close friend, colleague or family member will. Emily Ekong, who works for dating app Once, told Marie Claire about the affect PMS has on her life:
‘PMS happens to me every month and somehow still takes me by surprise. Surprise because the pain is so debilitating, sweats break out, and the day on which PMS occurs isn’t always as according to my Clue app predictions (great monitoring app by the way), so the timing is as inconvenient as can be. I feel big, bloated, and blobby – baggy jeans feel like spray-on leggings – and I struggle to attend to anything in the world on that day. I wish I was a drama-queen, I wish I was just imagining the dark cloud above my head but PMS is real and needs to be understood and attended to.’
The NHS currently advises PMS sufferers to make changes to their diet and live a healthy non-smoking, exercise-filled life. But Emily says that traditional methods haven’t been much help:
‘I up my vitamin B6, maca root powder capsules, vitamin C, and magnesium pre-period, but PMS seems to leak through anyway. Why can’t a miracle pill be produced for those like me who can’t take painkillers (I’m hyper allergic), have an office job in a tech start-up (primarily guys and long hours, so no sympathy or empathy), and frankly don’t have time for this.’
Luckily thanks to this new research, hope is on the horizon. Dr. Peter Schmidt, also of the NIH, told Marie Claire the their research has already suggested ‘several strategies’ towards developing ‘a range of therapeutic options,’ and that the development of a pill, or similar, within the next 5-10 years is ‘very’ likely.
This is great news for women like Emily, who have so far had to struggle in silence: ‘Development of a PMS pill would make me fully functional all through the month, as well as any other woman who suffers behind her desk.’ Here’s hoping that soon we can wave goodbye to PMS once and for all.
For more information about PMS visit www.pms.org.uk