It has been long debated, studied and its very existence even questioned but, for many women, severe PMS – or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) – is inescapably real. The sudden onset of anxiety, crashing low moods and sharp, unusually stinging emotional reactions are the regular precursor to a period each month for millions of women. Yet, the infuriating cultural implications and commentary that accompanies PMDD mean it’s not always taken as seriously as it should be.
But there is good news. Scientists now say they have found genetic evidence of the debilitating disorder – a new study found that differences in women’s genes can show definitively whether they suffer from PMDD or not. The insightful research, carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US, not only means that the validity of the condition will be subject to less scrutiny but, crucially, that there is potential for treatments to be vastly improved, and the lives of women in turn.
It means that there is a physiological reason that some women are vastly affected by their cycles. And that gives way to cultural change – in attitudes, which can, in turn, have an effect, potentially, on pay, and for better treatment
PMDD is an extreme form of PMS that is thought to affect around two to five per cent of women. While many women suffer from differences in mood, food cravings, fatigue and sore breasts before their period, sufferers of PMDD endure more intense physical and emotional symptoms – like depression, intense anger, feeling out of control or hopeless, and joint or muscle pain – which can greatly interfere with work (or school), relationships and your social life.
It occurs, says the NIH, when the body reacts abnormally to hormones. “We found dysregulated expression in a suspect gene complex, which adds to evidence that PMDD is a disorder of cellular response to oestrogen and progesterone,” Dr Peter Schmidt, of the NIH, said.
Their research studied genetic control of gene expression in cultured white blood cells, using some from women with PMDD and some without. “This is a big moment for women’s health because it establishes that women with PMDD have an intrinsic difference in their molecular apparatus for response to sex hormones,” said David Goldman, MD of NIH’s National institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He added that it debunks the myth that these behaviours are simply emotions that women could suppress: “[They are] not just emotional behaviours they should be able to voluntarily control.”
It means that there is a physiological reason that some women are vastly affected by their cycles. And that gives way to cultural change – in attitudes, which can, in turn, have an effect, potentially, on pay, and for better treatment.