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A doctor explains what PMDD is, and why it's something women shouldn't ignore

PopSugar logo PopSugar 12/9/2017 Gina Florio
What Is PMDD? © POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryna Hancock What Is PMDD?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a woman who hasn't dealt with PMS at least once in her lifetime. We've become accustomed to the menstrual cramps, mood swings, and weird food cravings. You may have heard of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which sounds a lot like PMS, but in reality it's an entirely different beast. Alyssa Dweck, MD, gynecologist in New York and author of The Complete A to Z For Your V: A Woman's Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina, chatted with POPSUGAR about the difference between PMS and PMDD - and why it matters so much. 

Dr. Dweck describes PMDD as "PMS on steroids" because many of the symptoms you would experience with PMS show up with PMDD, only they're much more extreme and often significantly affect your everyday life. "These are physical and/or emotional symptoms that occur at a specific time in the cycle, right from ovulation until the period comes on," Dr. Dweck told POPSUGAR. They "literally take over day-to-day quality of life," she explained. 

In other words: your menstrual cramps are so severe that you can't go to work or meet up with your friends, or your mood swings are so wild that you end up having multiple (and likely memorable) fights with your loved ones right before you menstruate. You might experience emotional instability so out of control that you feel like you can't leave the house; you may even experience suicidal thoughts.

Also read: Menopause - the truth and the surprise ending

This may sound like it's all part of your normal PMS routine (and things that we may joke about when we PMS), but Dr. Dweck says PMDD is "not typical PMS." In order for it to be considered PMDD, "it has to impair functioning in some way or another." Once you see your relationships or your overall life being affected by your period, that's when it's time to speak up and find out what's going on beneath the surface.

Dr. Dweck also says that PMDD symptoms stop when your period ends, so if you find that you're still having your issues after you're done menstruating, there is something else going on that you should ask your doctor about. Additionally, you have to experience these symptoms for several months in a row in order for it to be considered PMDD.

These are the most common physical symptoms of PMDD:

  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Breast pain

These are the emotional side effects you would see from PMDD:

  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Frequent crying
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you feel like any of this sounds familiar, speak with your doctor immediately. About eight percent of menstruating women live with PMDD. Although there is no cure for it, there are certainly treatments for it, and there's no reason for you to suffer when there is help out there.

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