Unraveling the Mystery of PMDD: A Condition Affecting Mental and Women’s Health

Many working professionals like Cori Lint lead seemingly content lives, splashed with hobbies, friends, and rewarding careers. But, suddenly without warning, they’re ambushed by panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. Health professionals had diagnosed Cori, a software engineer and part-time cellist, with anxiety and depression. But she felt there was something more lurking beneath these diagnosis labels.

Finding the Missing Link

It wasn’t until 2022 that Cori discovered a cyclical pattern to her recurring dark bouts. Each time, they coincided with her menstrual period. This prompted her further research where she stumbled upon what appeared to be an accurate description of her experiences. It was premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD. Suddenly, everything made sense.

What is PMDD?

PMDD is our body’s severe adverse reaction toward the natural hormonal fluctuations experienced in the week or two leading up to the menstrual cycle. The symptoms are anything but mild, encompassing irritability, anxiety, depression, and sudden mood changes. Physical discomforts like fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns can also accompany these mental disturbances.

The Debilitating Effect of PMDD

Unlike premenstrual syndrome (PMS), PMDD is life-altering. Reports suggest those affected could face nearly four years of disability throughout their lifetimes. Despite researchers estimating PMDD to affect about 5% of menstruating individuals, equivalent to the percentage of women with diabetes, this disorder remains relatively unknown, even among healthcare providers.

A 2022 survey published in the Journal of Women’s Health unveiled that over a third of PMDD patients claimed their family doctors had little knowledge about the disorder or its treatment. About 40% echoed the same for their mental health therapists.

The Push for Attention

Reproductive mental health has taken a backstage too often in health studies and discussions, says Jaclyn Ross, a clinical psychologist specializing in premenstrual disorders. The chances of misdiagnosis are high when menstrual cycles aren’t taken into account. The story stands testament to this argument, with multiple women, like Jenna Tingum, a med student from Florida, only realizing they might have PMDD after learning about it online.

PMDD’s Enigma and Treatment Options

Despite health professionals recognizing PMDD relatively recently, the causes are still largely unknown, and treatment options remain limited. It wasn’t until 2013 that PMDD made its way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible for medical professionals diagnosing psychiatric conditions. The World Health Organization officially acknowledged it only in 2019.

Moreover, PMDD has serious implications. One study disclosed that 72% of PMDD respondents confessed to having harbored suicidal thoughts, with 34% having attempted suicide. In contrast, these numbers stand at 3% for the general population.

There are three main treatment choices for PMDD, according to Rachel Carpenter, medical director of reproductive psychiatry at the University of Florida–Jacksonville College of Medicine. These include antidepressants, hormonal birth control, and a mix of talk therapy and cycle awareness.

The Need for More Conversations

The lack of conversations around periods has often delayed diagnosis for women. Most of them, like Cori Lint and Jenna Tingum, discovered they had PMDD through personal research and not through professional medical intervention.

While battling PMDD can be challenging, individuals affected have found comfort in tracking their cycle, creating personal resilience strategies, and reading about other people’s experiences. These techniques help them accept their condition and reassure them they aren’t alone.

The hope is that society can create more awareness about PMDD and stimulate more open conversations about issues related to periods and women’s health. With more studies, we can move toward better understanding and treating this mysterious condition. It’s time we step up and shine a light on PMDD, helping millions who silently suffer and struggle to understand what’s happening to them.

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