How do I deal with PMS?

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
25 January 2024
Next review due January 2027

Most people who have periods have some premenstrual symptoms before their monthly period. It’s called premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and can affect your day-to-day life. Read on to find out more about PMS and get some self-help tips to help you manage it.

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What are common symptoms of PMS?

There are many PMS symptoms that can vary each month, and everyone’s experience is different. If you have PMS, your symptoms can be both emotional and physical.

Common emotional and behavioural symptoms of PMS include:

  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • feeling low
  • tiredness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • anxiety
  • forgetfulness and poor concentration
  • change in desire for sex (in libido)

Common physical symptoms of PMS include:

  • tender breasts
  • feeling bloated
  • headaches
  • backache
  • general aches and pains
  • weight change
  • spots
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • feeling or being sick
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • food cravings

The timing and severity of your symptoms will help you to know if you have PMS. If you do have PMS, your symptoms will appear shortly before your menstrual period. They will also get better when you start your period.

How do I reduce PMS symptoms naturally?

There’s a lot you can do yourself to help your PMS symptoms, especially if they’re mild. It may take a while to find what works best for you. Here are some self-help tips and recommendations.

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. It might help to have small, regular (every 2 to 3 hours), balanced meals rich in complex carbohydrates. These include wholemeal bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. Foods that include omega 3 (a type of essential fatty acid), such as oily fish, may also help to reduce mild period pain symptoms because it acts as a natural anti-inflammatory.
  • Be more active. Regular exercise may help to improve your symptoms.
  • Get enough good quality sleep.
  • Try to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Mindfulness activities may help.
  • Avoid alcohol and don’t smoke as they can make your symptoms worse.
  • Wearing loose clothing and a supportive bra day and night may help with breast tenderness.
  • Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help to ease headaches or other aches, pains and tenderness. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine.

What other self-help measures can help with PMS?

If you have moderate to severe PMS, you could try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of talking therapy. It can help you to change the way you feel and behave in response to your PMS.

Some people have found that acupuncture and acupressure can help to ease some of their symptoms. But the evidence for this is limited.

You might find that certain food supplements, including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B6 and magnesium, or herbal remedies, such as evening primrose, can help to manage your PMS symptoms. But it’s still not clear how well any of these work.

If you’re thinking about taking supplements or herbal remedies for PMS symptoms, talk to your pharmacist. They can give you advice about safe doses and whether taking supplements might affect any other medicines you’re taking.

When should I see a doctor for premenstrual syndrome?

If your day-to-day life is being affected by PMS, it may be helpful to see your GP.

They may ask you to keep a diary of your symptoms. This will help you to see what works to improve them. The doctor can also use the diary to see if your symptoms are linked to your period, or something else.

If self-help measures don’t work to reduce your PMS symptoms and they are affecting your quality of life, other treatments are available. Your doctor may recommend certain types of contraceptive treatment, or medicines such as antidepressants, to help to ease your symptoms. Or they may refer you to a doctor who specialises in PMS. They can also refer you to a suitable therapist for CBT.

The good news is that there are things you can do to help yourself naturally, and support is also available from healthcare providers.

If you have heavy, painful, or irregular periods, you’ll know just how disruptive they can be, both physically and mentally. With our Period Plan, you don’t have to face these problems alone.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP



Marcella McEvoy, Senior Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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