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– How to talk about and deal with PMS

As women, we are taught to be stoic about our monthly dose of cramps, bleeding and bloating. Even shrugging off our mood swings as PMS or Pre-menstrual Syndrome is frowned upon. Most often the censure or criticism is not even external but self-generated. As strong women advocating equal opportunity and equal rights, it’s hard for most women to plead for special treatment simply because of our biological functions.

Women may frown on framing our monthly emotional rollercoaster rides as PMS but the fact is that doesn’t make it any less daunting. First let’s put this in perspective because so few men understand exactly how much pain or discomfort it causes.

These symptoms of acne, tenderness, bloating, tiredness, irritability and mood swings which may or may not be accompanied by stomach cramps usually start anywhere from one to two weeks before the actual period.

Then, during a regular period a women has several low pressure contractions of 50-80mm Hg which last 15-30 seconds with up to 4 contractions every 10 minutes. The average volume of blood loss during a period can be between 10 to 80 millilitres or upto 6 table spoons of menstrual blood.

It is actually painful and hard enough that several countries like Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan offer menstrual leave and recently a Bristol based company called Co-Exist became the first in the UK to allow menstrual leave – i.e. women are allowed to take leave around their periods.

So perhaps it’s high time we stopped talking about our periods in euphemistic terms as flow or ‘that time of the month’ or stopped apologizing for or feeling bad for excusing our behavior as PMS. The fact is in terms of pain, mood swings and vulnerability, we are completely justified in asking for some downtime when we are bleeding up to 6 table spoons a month!

The fact is the more we talk about it, the greater the awareness about a health issue that plagues half the population for most of their adult and productive life. And the greater the awareness, the less it is covered in shame or used to belittle women’s hormonal fluctuations / mood swings.

So how can you deal with it if you do struggle with this problem each month? The basic tenets of good health apply here as well. Contrary to old wives tales, the more you exercise, the better it is for your body as it produces endorphins that help with pain management. Eating more fiber, more fresh fruits and vegetables and less of processed food, fats, salt, sugar and caffeine can also help with abdominal pain. Eating smaller meals can help reduce the pressure on your stomach. Needless to add, doing away with alcohol or nicotine also helps with the pain. Getting 8 hours of sleep or using a hot water bag over your stomach also relieves pain.

If you need supplements to manage PMS, you could take calcium, vitamin E, magnesium and B-6 that also replace the nutrients the body loses during periods. You could also try herbal medicines to counter the pain and mood swings. Ayurveda also has several remedies for the same.

Finally if your syndrome consists of excruciating pain or uncommonly frequent mood swings, it is best to see a doctor rather than self-medicate or use supplements. Exceedingly high levels of pain before periods have been linked to endometriosis and cysts in the ovary so it’s better to get that checked rather than simply endure.

With that warning, remember there is no need to apologize for a normal body function and no need to deny its effects on the body either.

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