What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder? (PMDD)

What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder? (PMDD)

Did you know that every April is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) awareness month? It’s a campaign to raise global awareness and advocate positive change for those experiencing this challenging and debilitating condition.

Two of our Mooncup advisors were lucky enough to attend the first annual PMDD & Me conference in Bournemouth, UK. The day brought together experts in the field of premenstrual disorders and PMDD sufferers themselves to share knowledge, support and community around this serious but widely under-reported condition. Here’s some of what our advisors learned:

What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)?

PMDD is a condition that causes an extreme sensitivity to the normal rise and fall of hormones experienced during a menstrual cycle. PMDD sufferers experience a range of symptoms, some of which are similar to the symptoms of PMS (or premenstrual syndrome), however the two conditions are not the same.

It’s also important to note that Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is not caused by a hormonal imbalance, but is a response to the normal hormonal changes that occur in the body.

Below we will outline some of the major symptoms of PMDD but first, let’s explain how PMS and PMDD differ from one another.

What is the difference between PMS and PMDD?

PMS is very common and will affect most of us who menstruate over the course of our lives to some degree. Whilst PMS can have some impact on our quality of life, it is generally managed fairly easily and does not require prescription medication to manage mood-based symptoms.

In contrast those with PMDD will generally experience a greater number of symptoms of a more severe nature; this will always include at least one mood related symptom. PMDD can have a wide-ranging impact on individuals’ lives; with it affecting their ability to work, maintain relationships and carry out the activities of daily life. Additionally, unlike PMS, PMDD is classified as a mental illness in the US reflecting the severity and potential impact of the condition.

For more information about the differences between PMS and PMDD visit IAPMD: About PMDD

What are the symptoms of PMDD?

PMDD is characterised by the onset of symptoms between the time of ovulation and the start of your period – with symptoms normally ebbing away once your period starts. PMDD can vary in severity and everyone’s experience of the condition will be different.

PMDD is a long term and life-altering condition. The symptoms of PMDD can often become more significant as we age and can be affected by life events such as pregnancy, birth and menopause. Some people have also reported finding that their symptoms were significantly affected by certain types of hormonal contraception.

Emotional symptoms can include sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, severe mood swings, anger or rage, loss of interest in activities or relationships, difficulty focusing, and in some cases thoughts of suicide and self-harm.

Physical experiences can include exhaustion, muscle or joint pain, appetite changes, breast tenderness, migraine, bloating and sleep problems.

For more information about the symptoms of PMDD visit the Mind Charity website.

What causes PMDD and how common is it?

PMDD is estimated to affect around 2-8% of women and people who menstruate, that are of reproductive age – around 1 in 20. Yet it is little talked about and still frequently misdiagnosed.

At present the exact causes of PMDD are not fully understood. However, new research is emerging which suggests that it may be linked to an individual’s genetic makeup and in some cases may be inherited. It is thought that this then affects how the body responds to the normal changes in reproductive hormone levels that occur during the menstrual cycle and around events such as childbirth and menopause. There is still a long way to go in understanding the complexities of why some people may develop PMDD but the momentum of research in this field is increasing.


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I think I have PMDD. What can I do?

PMDD is still not a widely understood condition so getting a formal diagnosis can sometimes take time. If you think you may be affected by PMDD then the first step is to speak to your doctor. They will be able to discuss your symptoms in view of your medical history and may also suggest keeping a diary or log of your symptoms over a few months. Charting this alongside your menstrual cycle can then help to show whether there is a similar pattern emerging over time (though this pattern may already seem obvious to you). Your doctor may also suggest having some blood tests to rule out any other medical issues.

How is PMDD treated?

As PMDD is a mood disorder that occurs in response to changes in reproductive hormones, there are a range of treatment options available. Initially these may include a combination of hormonal and psychological approaches alongside healthy lifestyle changes to help manage the symptoms. Everyone is unique, so finding the right treatment option will be unique to you.

Need help? Where can I find out more?

There are some fantastic organisations working hard to increase awareness, improve care and support those with PMDD so there is no need to feel alone. If you think you or someone you know may have PMDD or would simply like to know more then please visit the following sites for more information:

Resources for finding out more about PMDD

Mind Charity
International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD)
Vicious Cycle


If you’ve enjoyed this blog post you might like to check out some of our other body and wellbeing posts on the Mooncup blog.


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