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What is PMS?

What is PMS?

by Dr. Daniel J. Heller
Dr. Daniel J. Heller Dr. Daniel J. Heller

Dr. Heller is a family practitioner who specializes in helping patients with hormonal conditions like PMS & PMDD; diabetes and prediabetes; and other chronic diseases. He is the founder, formulator, and clinical director of PMS Comfort. [more]


Many women who ask themselves "What is PMS" and "Do I have PMS?" may end up getting different answers from different sources: doctors, friends, and medical web sites, for instance. PMS (or premenstrual syndrome) is a condition that tends to be defined differently by ordinary people, including women who suffer from PMS, than by medical professionals. It is also defined differently in the United States and Europe, while in Traditional Chinese Medicine PMS has been acknowledged and treated naturally for centuries. This article is meant to help you understand what PMS is. We also have a more complete review of PMS symptoms.

Premenstrual Symptoms and PMS

Most women experience some PMS symptoms during their lifetime. In the majority of women, however, these symptoms are mild and don’t interfere with fulfilling responsibilities and enjoying life. While the exact numbers are controversial, it is believed that at least 40% of women have premenstrual syndrome symptoms that are moderate to severe; that recur on a regular basis; and that interfere to a significant degree with life.

These last two factors are the most important in distinguishing between the simple existence of occasional PMS symptoms, and actually having premenstrual syndrome. Diagnostically, PMS means the symptoms occur regularly, and resolve within four days after the period begins. Thus, while PMS can cause aches and pains, if those aches and pains occur as frequently in the few days before the period as they do ten days after the period, in the latter case those aches and pains are probably not a symptom of PMS. Similarly, many women's moods take a dip before their period, but if an unhappy or sad mood is a persistent problem throughout the month and regularly interferes with work, school, family, and relationships, then PMS is not the primary cause of that problem. Most medical doctors and researchers subscribe to a definition of PMS that states symptoms must occur at least three months in a row (and sometimes even more consistently than that) to qualify as PMS. Thus, a single cramping episode premenstrually—while it is a symptom of PMS—would not be defined by a doctor as PMS.

In addition to the timing and persistence of PMS symptoms—meaning they occur before the period; are relieved soon after the period begins; and recur for a few months in a row rather than one single occurrence, or two occurrences several months apart—there are other differences between mild PMS symptoms, which are merely an annoyance or inconvenience, and moderate-to-severe PMS.

Moderate-to-severe PMS has three signature effects:

  • cuts back on workplace productivity (women with no PMS or mild PMS lose about 1.2 days a month due to health reasons, compared with about 2.7 days a month for women with moderate-to-severe PMS)
  • interferes with relationships at school, home, work, and beyond
  • impacts one's ability to simply enjoy what life has to offer

The Medical Definition of PMS

Medical definitions of premenstrual syndrome tend to go even further and spell out exactly which symptoms must be present to identify the existence of PMS. Since there are so many possible symptoms that occur with PMS, or that are made worse by PMS, medical definitions can be so restrictive that a woman with real premenstrual suffering might not fit "in the box" of a PMS diagnosis.

Another possible problem with strict definitions: we've met women who experience PMS symptoms three weeks out of the month. A conventional medical view of PMS would declare that those symptoms cannot be attributed to PMS because they are not limited to the period between ovulation and the menses, but the fact that these women feel better almost immediately with the onset of menstrual bleeding demonstrates that PMS can begin before ovulation.

Despite all that, there is a standard definition of PMS, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. As of the year 2000, according to the ACOG definition, you must have any one of the following symptoms, prior to your period, for three consecutive cycles:

As mentioned earlier, these symptoms are relieved with the onset of your period, and interfere with relationships and/or responsibilities. Although the ACOG's list contains several of the most common symptoms, it is by no means complete. Our symptoms article provides a more comprehensive list of the many possible PMS symptoms.

The Most Common Symptoms of PMS

The fact that over 150 different symptoms have been identified with premenstrual syndrome can make it quite confusing to understand which symptoms are the most important for defining PMS. One researcher decided to try to find out which are the core symptoms of PMS. In theory, women who cyclically experience these symptoms premenstrually have PMS, while women with other symptoms don't necessarily have PMS.

Those symptoms are:

  • Anxiety/tension
  • Mood swings
  • Aches
  • Changes in appetite/food cravings
  • Cramps
  • Decreased interest in usual activities

If you have these symptoms before your period most months, they're relieved when you get your period, and they interfere with your life, you very likely have moderate-to-severe PMS.


PMDD is the more severe, but less common form of PMS. Our complete review of PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) can tell you more about this condition. Briefly, though, the main factor that distinguishes PMDD from PMS is not that the symptoms are different, but rather that the emotional and mood symptoms are much more severe and debilitating.

Real, Natural Relief—So You Can Feel Great All Month Long

PMS and PMDD misery aren't always taken seriously enough by doctors, family, and friends. At PMS Comfort, our whole purpose is to empower and educate you about premenstrual symptoms, and to provide real, natural relief so that you can feel great all month long. Our all-natural doctor-designed programs are based on decades of experience helping thousands of women recover from what you've been going through. Our Herbal Relief formula, when combined with our diet and lifestyle guidance, addresses more than just your symptoms—it can help bring your body and mind back into balance, and help you get and stay healthy. Plus, we're here to support you, every step of the way.

To learn more about your PMS and PMDD symptoms, take the PMS Comfort quiz. Or, start feeling better today, for as little as 89 cents per day.

We want to help. Give us a call at 1-800-731-6327, drop us an e-mail, or send us your question.

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Principal Author: Daniel J. Heller, N.D.

Last Modified: April 3, 2014

What is PMS?—Reference Documents and Further Reading


The information and contents contained in this Web site has not been evaluated by the FDA. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, intend to become pregnant, or nursing, please consult a physician before taking any dietary supplement. If taking prescription drugs, consult your healthcare practitioner prior to use. You must be 18 years or older to purchase products. Individual results do vary.

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