Is It a Myth?

Because PMS is poorly understood, it may be easy to write it off as a myth. Not every woman gets PMS symptoms, and the symptoms themselves come and go in cycles. The range of symptoms is also broad. For every woman who is irritable or anxious, there is another who is bloated, suffers headaches or backaches, is depressed, or has trouble sleeping. The intensity of symptoms can vary from woman to woman or from month to month. This variety and complexity can make self-diagnosis difficult.

It is also true that many women don't understand their bodies or their menstrual cycles very well and so have difficulty recognizing and understanding that they may have PMS. Additionally, many women insist they don't have PMS, while their husbands, boyfriends, or partners insist they do.

A woman who is feeling irritable may be genuinely upset or affected by something; she may be stressed by work, school, or her home life; or she simply may have had a hard day. She may also be experiencing PMS. It’s difficult for her to pinpoint what is going on unless she actively pays regular attention to her body and her emotional state; she needs to have a reference point that enables her to distinguish when she is feeling normal or “off.”

PMS symptoms can also be confused with symptoms of other physical illnesses and mental disorders. As a result, those women seeking treatment may be misdiagnosed, treated for conditions they don’t have, or not treated for conditions they do have.

Sometimes what appears to be PMS is actually a different illness or condition. Depending on the particular constellation of symptoms, the condition could be one of the following:

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

  • Depression

  • Pelvic inflammation

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

  • Seasonal affective disorder

  • Dysmenorrhea

Types of Myths

There are persistent cultural misconceptions about PMS. One myth is that PMS makes women overly emotional, even deranged. These types of portrayals, so common in popular culture, rarely include the physical symptoms of PMS, such as joint pain, breast tenderness and swelling, or backache. Women who are “PMS-ing” are just more intensely emotional than women who are not, the myth suggests.

Another misconception is that women use PMS as an excuse to behave badly: to feel angry, to be upset, or even to go off their diets! In this view, PMS is seen as a convenient excuse that allows women to “get away” with something.

There’s even an argument that PMS is, itself, a myth. For example, Australian scholar Jane Ussher believes that PMS is used by medical professionals to cover up the unhappiness women experience from modern-day life and the pressure to be superwomen. “PMS [is] essentially a form of repressed rage women feel rather than a medical illness,” she writes in her 2006 book, Managing the Monstrous Feminine: Regulating the Reproductive Body.

Another myth about PMS is that there is nothing a woman can do about it; she must suffer through it as best she can. This idea is damaging because it prevents women from seeking and getting genuine relief from PMS symptoms. It is even more damaging to the percentage of women whose very severe symptoms interfere with their everyday lives. The truth is, there are a number of strategies and medications that can help alleviate PMS symptoms.

Common PMS myths include the following:

  • PMS turns women into emotional wrecks.

  • PMS is an excuse to behave badly.

  • PMS is not real.

  • PMS is normal for all women.

  • A woman can’t do anything about PMS.

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