Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie
PMS vs PMDD: Similarities, Differences & Mental Health Effects
Published Jun 2nd, 2021 & updated on Jun 2nd, 2021
Periods suck at the best of times, so when your mind and body feel attacked by your hormones before you even START your period, it makes the whole menstruating experience even shittier! PMS usually kicks in about two weeks before your period begins, but sometimes, what you think is just really bad PMS can turn out to be more than you bargained for.
What gave this monster the cheek? The nerve? The gall? The audacity? The GUMPTION to set up camp in your uterus and make life extra poopy? It’s like your body said, “Nah, regular PMS isn’t enough for you. You have to have something WORSE!” Say hello to your new worst enemy — PMDD.
‘But isn’t it all just the same thing?’
Good question! We’re going for a deep dive into PMS vs PMDD to help you, or your loved one, better understand the differences, similarities and mental health effects of both.
PMS: Premenstrual Syndrome
Okay, let’s start at the beginning — PMS. What exactly is PMS? Well, it’s the common acronym for Premenstrual Syndrome. Most people with uteruses (before menopause) have PMS or will experience it as their period approaches (dun, dun, DUNNNN). Sorry, we’re making this scarier than it needs to be. It’s actually not the worst! It’s usually pretty manageable and those who experience PMS symptoms have them withdraw after some typical period TLC. But, before we tell you how to care for yourself while you’re PMSing, let’s break down what PMS REALLY is!
If you have a uterus and get your period, you might experience these super common physical PMS symptoms. If you don’t have a uterus and are just curious about what PMS is, this list is also for you. Time to learn, everyone!
- Tender breasts
- Trouble sleeping
- Abdominal pain
- Food cravings
Mental Health Symptoms
If you’ve experienced PMS before, you’re probably well aware that there aren’t only physical symptoms that appear. Yep — PMS affects your poor baby brain too. It can make you feel so many different things (omg soooo many) but here are a few common ones:
Hopefully, these don’t all hit at once, but some people do experience this full list of symptoms simultaneously.
Treatment For PMS
It can feel super hard trying to care for your body in this strange state. You likely have a routine down to help you get through the roughest part of your PMS, but if you’re new here, or if you don’t experience PMS and just want to help out a loved one as much as possible, here are some things we recommend!
- Drinking fluids to help with bloating
- Asking the doctor about vitamins to take
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Heating pad and hot water bottle for pain and bloating
Not fun, not comfortable, but not too bad overall, right? Now let’s look at PMS vs PMDD — and the severity of the latter.
PMDD: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Remember when we talked about your new worst enemy? Well, we think it’s time that you officially meet. PMDD is sooooo crappy to have to experience. You may or may not have heard of PMDD before, so let us give you a proper introduction to it.
PMDD is often called a severe version of PMS, but it’s actually a type of depression. It’s characterized by large premenstrual mood swings and episodes of extreme mental health difficulties. These symptoms can come at any point in the menstrual cycle but mostly present 2 weeks before a period, then resolve once your period starts.
This condition affects more people than you might think! PMDD impacts between 3-8% of people who menstruate. That’s a-whole-heckin-lot of people! Symptoms usually pop up in your 20’s and worsen with time.
Just like with PMS, PMDD comes along with quite a few physical symptoms. Ugh, how horrible, right? Many of them overlap with each other, so don’t be alarmed when you see repeats! The physical symptoms aren’t easy to manage, so major props to you if you experience these every month:
- Change in appetite
- Excessive sleep or insomnia
- Breast tenderness
- Joint or muscle pain
- Abdominal pain
It’s legitimately not a good time.
Mental Health Symptoms
Now, let us put on our serious hat for a second. *Puts on hat* PMDD should be taken very seriously. The mental health and behavioural changes that happen to a person when experiencing PMDD are so drastic that some people attempt to end their own lives.
The chronic and cyclical nature of PMDD makes the person experiencing it feel trapped and like they’ll never get better. When talking about PMS vs PMDD, this is a BIG difference. The severity of the mood swings, depression and other mental health struggles related to PMDD are also life-threatening. Recent studies have found that as many as 30% of people with PMDD have attempted suicide. That’s a MASSIVE statistic!
PMDD affects the brain soooooo much more than you’d probably ever expect. Here are more of the ways that it shows up:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Extreme anxiety
- Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
- Hating, and being uninterested, in life
- No longer caring about things and people that made you happy
- Severe mood swings
As we said, this is serious — sometimes very scary — stuff.
What Causes PMDD?
Over the years, the “official” reason someone may have PMDD has changed. For a while, professionals thought it was because someone had an excess of hormones, but now, recent research suggests that PMDD is associated with increased sensitivity to the normal hormonal changes that occur during your monthly menstrual cycle (rather than an excess of hormones).
Some research also suggests that this sensitivity to hormone level changes is possibly linked to genetics. So, if you have PMDD, call your parents and blame them! Jk. Well, kinda jk…
The exact cause of PMDD isn’t totally known. Some say that the hormone changes each month cause a serotonin deficiency, making the person with PMDD more susceptible to the super severe symptoms. And, for someone who already has mental health conditions, they can become exacerbated by PMDD as well. Greaaaaat…
It’s important that you see your doctor if you think that you have PMDD. Treatment for it is prescribed through your family doctor or your gynecologist. Write down a list of your symptoms that you believe are PMS vs PMDD and bring it to your appointment.
PMDD doesn’t just affect the body. Yes, it is an endocrine disorder (this means that it’s a hormone-related condition), but it comes along with a wide range of mental health symptoms as well. Because of this, PMDD has recently been included as a mental health problem in the DSM-5!
Everyone is different. Different things work for different people, so the best thing to do is talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your options. You can try everything from changing your diet to SSRIs. Your doctor will likely recommend one, or a combination, of the following:
- Hormone patches
- Lifestyle changes
- Increased vitamins and supplements
It might take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you, so be patient and don’t be afraid to give things a try (with guidance from your doc of course)!
How To Help Someone With PMDD
If you’re not the one experiencing PMDD and you just want to learn how to help a loved one, we’re here for you! So, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
The good news is that you can continue to support your loved one by asking them how you can help and what they need. Meeting them with kindness and understanding is also soooo important and helpful. People with PMDD experience a wide range of emotions on any given day, so make sure that you don’t take what they say too personally. They’re struggling and likely trying to not lash out, so if they sound crankier than normal, don’t be alarmed! But, the most important thing to remember when supporting someone with PMDD is that they need love, patience, kindness and as much understanding as you can give them.
Okay, now comes the bad news — all you can do is love them and encourage them to seek medical treatment. There’s no magical cure that you can give them — only love.
Living With PMDD
PMS vs PMDD might be hard to understand if you haven’t heard a first-hand account of what PMDD is like. One of our writers, Olivia, is diagnosed with this condition and she was kind enough to let us use her story in this article.
“I had always wondered what was wrong with me. I cry, feel hopeless and literally want to die. Then a day or two after my period starts, I’m fine again. I used to hate admitting that something is wrong and that it’s related to my period. You don’t want to fall into the stereotype of a ‘woman who’s just PMSing,’ you know? I want to be able to stand on my own and power through it but I’m completely and utterly debilitated by it. PMDD makes me shift into a deep and dark emotional place that feels like something I’ll never get out of.
It’s like it gaslights me about my own mental health because I’m left thinking ‘oh it’s just my PMDD,’ when the reality is that I need professional medical help. When my anxiety and depression are bad when I’m not experiencing PMDD, I wonder if my feelings are valid. Then, when I do struggle with my PMDD, I try to downplay it. It’s like I don’t know what’s real. But the reality is that it’s all VERY real.
To help me with my PMDD, I’m on the highest dose of my anti-depressant medication possible. I also have a hormonal patch that I have to stick to my body twice a month in order to curb my reaction to the decrease in hormones. That way I don’t react as severely as I otherwise would.”
And there you have it! This is literally everything about PMS vs PMDD that we can tell you without you actually going to medical school. If you want to learn more, we super encourage you to do more research on it. Get into the science of it all if you really want to! We won’t stick around for that, so excuse us as we leave you to your studying! 😉