How to Get Relief for Every Period Symptom Ever

Bloated? Crabby? Hangry? Don't let PMS run your life.

Medically reviewed in June 2022

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Do you often feel exhausted, bloated and hungry the week leading up to your period? Chances are you’re experiencing premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

PMS consists of symptoms that begin one to two weeks before a woman’s period and go away on their own after menstruating. Some women get symptoms during every menstrual period, and for others, they come and go.

Although the exact causes of PMS are still unknown, fluctuations of the hormone progesterone, genes and environmental factors are believed to contribute. Common symptoms include cravings (usually for something sweet or salty), mood swings, headaches, fatigue, menstrual cramps and bloating.

Diana Kumar, MD, an OBGYN from Rose Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, says you should see a doctor for your PMS symptoms any time they're interfering with your lifestyle. “If you are a person who exercises seven days a week and when you have your period you can't go to the gym for four or five days, that's interfering with your normal routine,” she says. If your symptoms aren't serious enough to visit a doctor, but are still painful or annoying, try one of these fixes.

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Food cravings

Many women experience food cravings before and during their periods; around 50 percent of American women have a hankering for chocolate, for example. If yours are getting to you, there are a few ways you can help control them, like journaling. “I tell my patients to keep a food diary, and sometimes when you write it down, it just makes you realize what you're eating,” says Dr. Kumar. Sometimes, it really is just mind over matter, she adds.

You can also try making small tweaks to your diet. Eating a doughnut or two can cause your blood sugar to spike, and leave you craving more sweets 20 or 30 minutes later. Try eating complex carbs which have a low glycemic index, like sweet potatoes or pasta. They can help keep your mood in check and curb cravings.

Another option: intrauterine device or birth control pills. They might stop cravings by controlling hormone fluctuations, and can help manage other symptoms, too.

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Period cramps

Period cramps, also called dysmenorrhea, are pains in the lower abdomen, just above the pubic bone. If they’re bad enough, they can keep you home from work, school or social events. They are most common during the first few years of a woman’s menstrual period.

During menstruation, chemicals called prostaglandins are formed in the inner lining of the uterus. They can cause muscle contractions, which result in the pain you feel during your period. Other symptoms associated with period cramps might include nausea or diarrhea.

Placing a heating pad on your lower abdomen or taking a warm bubble bath might help make your stomach cramps go away. Relieving stress through meditation or exercise has also been shown to reduce period symptoms by improving your mood.

Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications can be used to relieve menstrual cramps, too. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen work to reduce the prostaglandins produced in your uterus, thus easing pain. They're also useful in managing other period symptoms like joint pain, headaches and breast tenderness. Remember to take these OTC drugs at the right time—they’re most effective just as menstrual cramps begin—and use only as directed. Always check with a doctor before taking any medication.

If your cramps are consistently painful, ask your doctor about other ways to get pain relief. Birth control might be an option; it thins out the lining of the uterus where the prostaglandins build up, which means no more menstrual cramps.

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Mood swings

A change in hormones can have you red hot with rage one second, and crying during a commercial the next. But if you're someone who already has anxiety or depression, PMS can worsen it. Speak with your doctor if you have either of these issues, so she can work with you on treatment. “If you treat a woman’s underlying depression and anxiety, it gets rid of the peak that happens with their period,” says Kumar.

If your mood swings are related to PMS, these may help ease symptoms:

  • Relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Massage therapy
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day

As they do with other PMS symptoms, birth control pills can help you manage mood swings; speak to a doctor for more information.

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Menstrual bloat

Your period can leave your tummy feeling more bloated than normal. But there are ways to get rid of it. Birth control pills are one option. They can shorten your period and make it lighter, meaning you'll feel distended for half the amount of time you usually do.

Small changes in diet can help with bloat, too. Try cutting back on salty and fatty foods and those with added sugar like sodas and candies. Also avoid eating fruits like apples, pears and nectarines, which contain fermentable ingredients more likely to make you bloat. Drinking enough water can ease symptoms, too.

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It’s common for women to get headaches just before or during her period. This is because of a change in estrogen levels. If you only get headaches occasionally during menstruation, then talk to your doctor about taking ibuprofen or another OTC medicine just before your period starts. On the other hand, if you’re somebody who routinely gets serious migraine headaches, your doctor might prescribe you a medication just for treating those.

If you’re getting headaches for all seven days of your period, talk to your doctor about your options, one of which may be birth control, which can shorten your period and control the drop in estrogen.

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A little bit of everything

Exercise has some serious health benefits—and there’s some evidence to suggest it can reduce period symptoms. In one 2013 study, researchers followed 40 nonathletic women ages 18 to 25 to see if exercise could alleviate their PMS. The participants did aerobic exercise 60 minutes, three times a week for eight weeks. At the end of the study, those workouts effectively reduced the women’s physical and psychological symptoms of PMS.

Because exercise is beneficial in general, it can be recommended for PMS relief.  Try cycling, swimming, running or a fun aerobics class at the gym—anything to get your heart rate up.

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