Before you attempt to diagnose and treat yourself, it's always best to check with your own physician; symptoms you think add up to pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) might be warning signs of a different physical or psychiatric disease. And remedies that work for others may not necessarily work for you.
As a first step in diagnosis, PMS specialists will often ask you to keep a symptom calendar. The recurrent pattern of distress, month after month, will also show you when you are likely to be least able to cope with extra stress, so that you can schedule your more demanding activities on better days.
To cope better during the days when you are feeling bad, physicians and therapists suggest regular sleep, balanced meals, exercise, relaxation, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for the pain.
"It sounds a lot like 'Be good to yourself,' " says Dr. Gay Guzinski, chief of outpatient obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Dr. Guzinski advises women to come right out and say to their families, "This is my bad time; I need you to be extra helpful."
At the PMS Center, women are also advised to avoid major decisions during their PMS time, since they could be impulsive; and to avoid extra work: This is not the time to plan a dinner party, according to Linda Mogol, clinical social worker on the center team.
Because PMS may also be associated with hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar, which causes weakness, anxiety and other symptoms) Betsy Fleming-Rice, the educator on the team, tells women to have six small meals a day instead of three square.
Other nutritional manipulations that may be suggested are avoidance of salt, alcohol and caffeine; increased complex carbohydrates and decreased fats; increased calcium and magnesium, and 50 milligrams a day of vitamin B-6.
Some of these changes are more -- or less -- helpful to different women, and vitamin B-6 should be used with extreme care, since excessive doses can be toxic, according to Dr. Samuel Smith, director of reproductive endocrinology-fertility at Sinai Hospital.