Beyond PMS: A poorly understood disorder means periods of despair for some women

By Lauren Peace, Tampa Bay Times | KFF Health News (TNS)

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing or texting “988.”


For the most part, Cori Lint was happy.

She worked days as a software engineer and nights as a part-time cellist, filling her free hours with inline skating and gardening and long talks with friends. But a few days a month, Lint’s mood would tank. Panic attacks came on suddenly. Suicidal thoughts did, too.

She had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but Lint, 34, who splits her time between St. Petersburg, Florida, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, struggled to understand her experience, a rift so extreme she felt like two different people.

“When I felt better, it was like I was looking back at the experience of someone else, and that was incredibly confusing,” Lint said.

Then, in 2022, clarity pierced through. Her symptoms, she realized, were cyclical. Lint recognized a pattern in something her doctors hadn’t considered: her period.

For decades, a lack of investment in women’s health has created gaps in medicine. The problem is so prevalent that, this year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to advance women’s health research and innovation.

Women are less likely than men to get early diagnoses for conditions from heart disease to cancer, studies have found, and they are more likely to have their medical concerns dismissed or misdiagnosed. Because disorders specifically affecting women have long been understudied, much remains unknown about causes and treatments.

That’s especially true when it comes to the effects of menstruation on mental health.

When Lint turned to the internet for answers, she learned about a debilitating condition at the intersection of mental and reproductive health.

Sounds like me, she thought.

What Is PMDD?

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, is a negative reaction in the brain to natural hormonal changes in the week or two before a menstrual period. Symptoms are severe and can include irritability, anxiety, depression, and sudden mood swings. Others include fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and changes to appetite and sleep patterns, with symptoms improving once bleeding begins.

Unlike the mild discomfort of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, the effects of premenstrual dysphoric disorder are life-altering. Those afflicted, according to one estimate, can endure almost four years of disability, cumulatively, over their lives.

Though researchers estimate that the dysphoric disorder affects around 5% of people who menstruate — about the same percentage of women with diabetes — the condition remains relatively unknown, even among health care providers.

In a 2022 survey of PMDD patients published in the Journal of Women’s Health, more than a third of participants said their family doctors had little knowledge of the premenstrual disorder or how to treat it. About 40% said the same was true of their mental health therapists.

Reproductive mental health has been sidelined as a specialty, said Jaclyn Ross, a clinical psychologist who researches premenstrual disorders as associate director of the CLEAR Lab at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Only some health care providers get training or even become aware …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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