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Understanding Premenstrual Syndrome (P.M.S.).

Understanding Premenstrual Syndrome (P.M.S.).

No, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is not trivial. This period preceding menstruation can be experienced in a more or less painful way depending on each woman, at different times in their lives. Nonetheless, between physical discomfort and sometimes psychological difficulties, the problems associated with PMS are important to recognize and identify. We'll explain how.

Published July 18, 2021, updated on February 6, 2024, by Stéphanie, Doctorate in Life and Health Sciences — 1 min read

What is premenstrual syndrome?

Premenstrual syndrome is an often unpleasant period that precedes menstruation and affects approximately 80% of women of childbearing age. This period occurs during the third phase of the menstrual cycle and is characterized by an accumulation of mild physical and psychological symptoms, which are nonetheless bothersome. During this time of the month, affected individuals are more likely to suffer from headaches, breast pain, bloating, and acne, for example. Some also notice an effect on their mood, making them more irritable. Premenstrual syndrome is a known but unpredictable phenomenon, which depends on each individual and can be felt more or less intensely from one month to the next.

What are the causes?

The causes of premenstrual syndrome are not well understood. Some studies suggest that it could be closely linked to hormonal fluctuations. The estrogen/progesterone ratio during this period of the cycle would act as a signal at the level of target tissues, causing the various symptoms. However, other studies show that women diagnosed with premenstrual disorder do not have higher levels of estrogen or progesterone than the general population. Thus, explanations as to why some women might be more sensitive to these sexual hormone fluctuations are lacking.

Similarly, menopausal women who had previously been diagnosed with PMS exhibited recurring psychiatric and physical symptoms when they were given hormone replacement therapy. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the suppression of estrogen significantly improved PMS symptoms.

Mood changes can be attributed to the effect of estrogen and progesterone on the serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and dopamine systems (neurotransmitters). They can also alter the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), which could explain the bloating and swelling that occur during the luteal phase.

However, levels of sex hormones alone cannot fully explain premenstrual disorders. Indeed, studies on monozygotic twins suggest a possible genetic component to premenstrual disorders. On the other hand, no gene has been identified.


  • HALBREICH U. The etiology, biology, and evolving pathology of premenstrual syndromes. Psychoneuroendocrinology (2003).

  • BODDEN S. & al. Premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. American Family Physician (2016).


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