Opinion

OPINION: PMDD – the mystery killer

By Tashnah T. Dixon

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’re really cranky today. You MUST be on your period!”

Well, why some may blow this off as women overreacting during their cycle, and while some women may be overreacting, there is a disorder that supports sayings like these. April is recognized as PMDD Awareness Month. PMDD stands for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and is an extreme form of premenstrual symptoms. It is classified as a psychophysiological disorder because of its direct effects on both a woman’s body and mind. PMDD is recognized by the DSM-5 as a mental disorder. While premenstrual symptoms (PMS) affects about 85 percent of women, only 3-8 percent of menstruating women suffer from PMDD.

Symptoms include crippling cramps before menstruation that may prevent mobility, extreme bloating that may resemble early pregnancy, nausea, vomiting, swollen feet, hands, faces, etc. High levels of mania, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, anger, and overall mood instability are also symptoms of this disorder. Some women may experience a loss of appetite, self-critical thoughts, lack of concentration and excessive sleepiness or insomnia.

Now that I hopefully have your attention, I would love to inform you on the severity of all these symptoms in relation to the lives of the women suffering from this disorder. Though it is recognized by the DSM-5 as a mental disorder, many people, and even some physicians and psychologists, disregard this condition as something serious.

That same “it’s not that bad. It’s just your period” attitude is sadly the stance that most people hold on this issue. However, if you take the time to do the research, or you or someone you know know suffer from this disorder, you probably know the damage that neglectful attitude can cause.

PMDD is one of the most under-diagnosed, misdiagnosed and overlooked disorders in the healthcare system. Because symptoms are both physical and mental, it often resembles disorders like bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, or just regular PMS. However, it can be life-threatening and damaging to relationships and one’s livelihood as it makes daily life activities like going to work, school and taking care of one’s family or self more difficult.

One of the reasons that this disorder isn’t taken very seriously is because it is cyclical.  Women living with it can track when their symptoms will begin and end with almost 100 percent accuracy. The onset is usually around the time of ovulation and usually ends when menstruation begins. This “predictability” causes much suspicion for critics who tend to view mental disorders as things that have triggers or “sneak up” on an individual.

The fact that PMS is also a natural part of almost every woman’s life because of our reproductive mechanisms also play into the idea that PMDD is just an exaggerated case of PMS.

PMDD, which is often described as “PMS on steroid,” however, is a real issue that affects real women all across the globe.

One woman diagnosed with PMDD describes her experience by saying, “I had anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings—early on, I thought I was bipolar. For me, my coping mechanism during those two weeks of hell was to press my self-destruct button and let everything fall apart. Then the two weeks are over and you’re left to pick up the pieces of not bothering, not caring and not being able to do anything. This is why PMDD is so debilitating.”

These thoughts and feelings are common in women with PMDD, and 15 percent of these women often report suicidal thoughts.

To make matters worse, scientific researchers are still unable to identify what exactly causes PMDD. Because of this, treatment is a little tricky. On top of that, PMDD presents itself differently in every individual, so a generalized treatment of symptoms tends to be challenging without knowing the source of the problem. Currently, Prozac and Zoloft, which are both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are the medications used to treat this disorder. By increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, mood stability is increased.

Though the percentage of women around the world who suffer from PMDD is up to 8 percent, which is around the same percentage of those living with diabetes, very little is known about this disorder, and it still is being passed off as merely a figment of the female imagination.

If you or anyone you know have these severe symptoms, do some research (or encourage them to) and seek out professional help. You are not alone. There are a few support groups and discussions led by women all over the world who suffer from this but are trying to encourage each other. I know of three women on our own campus, including myself, who are living with this.

It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem.

Tashnah Dixon is a senior psychology and sociology double major. This review reflects the opinion of the author only. 

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