What's the Difference Between PMS and PMDD?

Mood Swings. Irritability. Anxiety. Depression. We break down what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to PMS and PMDD.

What’s PMS?

Even if you don’t know what it is, your menstruating teen has probably felt it. The mood swings. The irritability. The feeling like they might burst out in tears at any given moment.

PMS is short for premenstrual syndrome, and the symptoms usually start to occur a week or two before their menstrual cycle.

What’s fascinating is that no one really knows why it happens. Researchers believe that PMS is a result of dramatically declining estrogen and progesterone levels in the body once it realizes that it’s not pregnant, but ultimately the cause is unknown.

One thing is for certain though: 90% of people who have periods experience at least one of many premenstrual symptoms, whether that be physical symptoms, like headaches or breast tenderness, or emotional symptoms, like irritability. 

What’s PMDD?

For most people, PMS doesn’t really interfere with their daily lives. Sure, they might feel a little bit more sensitive than usual and have to keep a bottle of pain meds close by, but for the most part, they can still go to school or work or participate in extracurriculars.

Some people, however, can experience severe premenstrual syndrome that can be super aggressive and really take a hold on their lives. At least 3-5% of people with periods experience something called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a severe PMS that mimics the symptoms of major depression.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is considered a depressive disorder. People suffering from PMDD might feel extreme sadness or despair, uncontrollable anger, panic attacks or even experience suicidal thoughts in the weeks before their period.

Think of it as a severe form of PMS. There’s even less known about PMDD than PMS, but if you've noticed your teen is experiences severe symptoms or mental health symptoms that could be PMDD, then you may want to check in with a medical professional. Their doctor will be able to help diagnose the condition while also helping them manage symptoms.

How do I know if my teen has PMDD?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, PMDD is diagnosed when at least five of the following premenstrual symptoms occur seven to 10 days before their period starts, and go away within a few days after they start it. These PMDD symptoms include:

  1. Anger or irritability

  2. Anxiety and panic attacks

  3. Depression and suicidal thoughts

  4. Difficulty concentrating

  5. Fatigue and low energy

  6. Food cravings or binge eating

  7. Headaches

  8. Insomnia

  9. Mood swings

How do you know if what they're feeling is PMS, PMDD or something else, like depression, anxiety disorder, or one of many other mental disorders? Encourage them to keep a diary and assess the severity of their physical and emotional symptoms.

Their symptoms may vary month to month, but there’s most likely a trend that corresponds to their cycle if it’s PMS or PMDD. At the end of the day though, a doctor will be able to provide you with a proper diagnosis based on their mood symptoms.

Make sure they're prepared for your next period with Kt by Knix period kits.

Further reading: Does caffeine help period cramps?

While we at Kt by Knix love talking about periods, PMS, mental health, mood disorders, and more, we are not doctors.

Please talk to a medical professional for an actual diagnosis, or if you have questions or concerns about your child's period.

If you or your child is struggling with an issue and need someone to talk to, please reach out to a friend or adult, or contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

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