You probably can't remember a time when the term PMS and the very concept of premenstrual syndrome wasn't already part of the landscape. It feels as if it has always been present. But the recognition of PMS is really quite recent: the first medical research articles on PMS were published around 1973, so PMS is "pushing forty."
Before the early 70s, there was no medical or societal recognition of PMS. Of course, there was an always an awareness that something affected women (emotionally, physically, and cognitively) at that time of the month, but before the women's liberation movement of the 70s, it would more likely have been dismissed as "hysteria."
It is very hard to appreciate how much the world has changed for women, even though there is still such a long way to go. The hit TV series "Mad Men" offers a searingly realistic view of how women were viewed and treated as second-class citizens (and appeared to have no idea that there was any other possible option available to them—because there really wasn't).
We can be fairly certain that a large percentage of valium prescriptions to women in the 60s and 70s were for PMS symptoms that were labeled something else: exhaustion, anxiety, neurasthenia (you can look that one up!).There is a reason Valium gained the nickname "Mother's Little Helper," made famous by the Rolling Stones song of the same name.
One of the first medical mentions of PMS occurs in an editorial in the British Medical Journal (March 24, 1973) in an article titled "Premenstrual Symptoms."It begins:
"Shortly before or during menstruation women and girls are more liable than usual to fail examinations, absent themselves from work, experience admission to hospital, develop acute psychiatric symptoms, commit crimes, attempt suicide, be involved in accidents, or die by accident or suicide. More than one woman in nine reports severe degrees of pain, irritability, or headache in association with her periods; one woman in 16 reports that she gets depressed or tense. Four out of five women are conscious of swelling of the body, one in 14 restricts her activities during menstruation, and one in seven has irregular periods."
I wouldn't rely on the exact numbers, since women must have under-reported their symptoms for fear of being thought crazy (a practice that isn't entirely a thing of the past). What is striking is that, not that long ago, doctors required convincing that this phenomena actually existed and should be taken seriously.
The article then goes on to make one of the first mentions of premenstrual syndrome:
"The premenstrual syndrome consists of nervous tension, irritability, anxiety, depression, bloated feelings of the abdomen and breasts, swelling of the fingers and legs, tightness and itching of the skin with or without skin eruptions, headaches, dizziness, and palpitations. Less commonly there occur hypersomnia, excessive thirst and appetite, increased sex desire, and in some women an increased tendency for asthma, migraine, vasomotor rhinitis, urticaria, and epilepsy. These symptoms may be accompanied by abdominal pain or cramps, which always begin before and usually subside with the onset of flow. Symptoms commonly begin two to 12 days before menstruation and in the majority of patients are relieved at the onset of menstruation."
Though nearly 40 years have passed, most of those symptoms are still considered the hallmarks of PMS. In fact, many attempts have been made to pare down the list of PMS symptoms that are considered part of PMS.
This reminds me of a cigarette ad from back in those days that was meant to appeal to "womens libbers" as they were called in the media at the time: "You've come a long way, baby." I think the jury is still out on that one. Although we can be grateful that women are no longer considered second-class citizens as they were during the "Mad Men" era and before, PMS is still under-recognized and not taken seriously enough. We hope to help remedy that.
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