As I sit to write this, memories from the last few decades of my life flood my mind. I choose to write this first and foremost as a woman and as a physician second, in hopes that someone who has had similar symptoms may seek help.
I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my periods. Studying about menstrual cycles in medical school, I assumed whatever I was experiencing was ‘normal’ and maybe I was just too sensitive or weak, which was why I felt my period symptoms to be much worse than other women I knew. How much more, exactly? Severe menstrual cramps causing vomiting, often times almost passing out, fluid retention causing shortness of breath, and horrible mood swings. The thought of the next period would paralyze me because I wouldn’t know what to expect.
When I finally sought help, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I came to this conclusion after hearing a spectrum of responses from medical specialists such as “this is just your period” to “you might have appendicitis or an ectopic pregnancy because this CAN’T be due to your period” to, my personal favorite, “take warm baths” to alleviate the debilitating cramps.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD is a severe extension of premenstrual syndrome. It can cause psychological symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, decreased concentration, insomnia, depression. It can cause fluid retention (often severe and rapid), nausea, vomiting, bloating, severe cramps, dizziness, and fainting spells, just to name a handful of symptoms. Other conditions to consider and/or rule out if the above symptoms are present are endometriosis and uterine fibroids. About six million women worldwide have been diagnosed with PMDD, but there is concern we are not diagnosing this often due to stigma or fear that women may feel in discussing their symptoms or the fact that women’s health is still understudied and PMDD is not necessarily clearly understood, even in the medical community.
If you have embarked on this journey before reading this article, please don’t lose hope. Keep trying until you find a physician who can understand your concerns because your health matters. If you have experienced the above symptoms but have not sought help, know that there are others out there who live with this condition and doctors that can help. We have come a long way in women’s health, we can’t stop now.
Harveen Sodhi, MD practices family medicine at The UAB Medical West Hoover Health Center.
By Harveen Sodhi, MD
Family Medicine - UAB Medical West Hoover Health Center