PMS Is Pushing Forty

by Dr. Daniel J. Heller July 19, 2011

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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About The PMS Comfort Blog

The PMS Comfort Blog is our informal way of keeping you up to date on women’s health issues that we think are important; timely; underappreciated; useful; or just interesting. And, we’ll admit, sometimes we can’t resist poking some good-natured fun at the way the mainstream media portrays health, natural health, and women’s health issues. As always, we’d love to hear from you and are interested in knowing what you think and feel about these or other topics. Leave a comment for us, we’ll always respond. And, if there’s a women’s health topic that’s of interest to you, or that you find confusing, let us know! We want this blog to be helpful to you.


Dr. Daniel Heller is the primary author of this blog, the developer of our PMS Natural Relief Programs, and the founder of He is a holistic naturopathic doctor in Northern California with over 16 years experience helping thousands of women recover from PMS, PMDD, as well as helping women, children, and families find natural answers to all manner of health challenges.


PMS Comfort is here to support you with detailed, practical knowledge presented in a balanced manner you can trust. We are committed to educating, informing, and empowering womenregarding PMS, PMDD, and women’s health, and to providing natural relief for premenstrual symptoms.



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