Health Team

UNC Research May Lead to Answers for Severe PMS

Health experts say most women deal with the effects of pre-menstrual syndrome, but for some, the mood swings can go to extremes.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Health experts said mood changes are a product of normal hormonal levels that occur with pre-menstrual syndrome. Researchers are now looking at why some women experience severe PMS with symptoms that interfere with their daily lives?

About 8 percent of women have severe PMS or pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), according to health officials.

"There was an obvious time before and during when the symptoms were very severe, almost like a depression at times," said Cherra Barth, who was diagnosed with PMDD.

"It's not the same as major depression, but one of the common symptoms of it is certainly sadness and inability to experience pleasure," said Dr. David Rubinow, chair of the UNC Department of Psychiatry. "Irritability can also be a very prominent component of it."

"That time of the month was just very uncomfortable for everyone around me," Barth said.

Barth said she keeps a journal of her moods and can now predict when the PMDD begins and when it will end. She said it lasts about a week.

Barth said the problem could be a family trait.

"I see symptoms in my mother and my sister," she said.

Rubinow, along with researchers with the National Institutes of Health, looked for genetic markers for PMDD and found them. They found receptor proteins for steroid hormones like estrogen and found variations in different women that may account for part of PMDD.

"These genetic variations also give us potential targets that we can use for drug development and also that we can use to try to understand exactly what's going on in the brain," Rubinow said.

Barth said she is not surprised that there's a genetic link, but she's glad it's been identified.

"I think it's wonderful if there's a cause and effect and a possible treatment," she said.

Rubinow said those who believe they have PMDD should see a gynecologist who can prescribe medication like anti-depressants or medication to suppress menstrual cycles.

Rubinow said the genetic link that's been uncovered may not account for all of PMDD. He said all behavioral disorders are complex and may involve multiple factors. He said the exciting part is that research is beginning to map out the circuitry that may be involved in producing these steroid related mood changes.