By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
Reading the results of a pioneering study on the menstrual cycle and its associated emotions is like taking a trip back to the early 1990s. Indeed, it was as recent as the last decade of the 20th century that research dollars were going largely to study heart attacks that plagued males, leaving females who were dying from breast cancer well behind the curve.
|Thoughts On Women and Depression Adapted From The National Institute of Mental Health|
Women experience depression at twice the rate of men
Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities which were once enjoyable, including sex
Restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
Call your doctor if you notice these symptoms persisting for two weeks or more.
Perhaps because of the resounding success women have had attracting dollars to the field of breast cancer research – and enabling thousands of patients to now don pink ribbons and declare themselves breast cancer survivors – those interested in the field of women’s health have more recently changed their focus to the subject of hormones associated with menstruation and how these bio-chemicals can wreck havoc on women’s emotional lives.
While some women do not experience distress, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) affected 19 percent of the 11,648 women participating in the ongoing National Health Interview Survey, according to lead author Tara W. Strine, MPH. Strine and colleagues – at the Division of Adult and Community Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta – published their results in a November 2005 issue of the Journal of Women’s Health.
“These symptoms can encompass distressing behaviors such as fatigue, insomnia, or decreased sexual interest; psychological symptoms such as irritability, impaired concentration, or restlessness; and physical symptoms such as headaches, back pain, water retention, and muscle or joint pain,” the authors write. They add that women with PMDD also suffer from “anger outbursts, depressed mood, anxiety, affective liability, and disturbances functioning at home and work.”
Once Strine’s team identified these problems and documented percentages of women reporting symptoms in each category, they went looking for similar research on the subject. What they found was a basket that was more than half empty. “A relationship between affect and menstruation appears likely,” Strine et al write. Still, “much less research has been conducted examining the relationship among menses, mood, and behavior.”
Carol Francis of Seattle, Washington, who is a grandmother in her early 50s, says: “When I was a young woman, there wasn’t even a discussion. Instead, females were just branded as moody and worse with all kinds of crude labels.
“Even now that my daughter has come of age and PMS is part of the discussion, from what I’ve seen, the condition is still marginalized. Even women themselves joke about PMS as though it’s some silly girl thing not worth taking seriously.”
With that, Francis says she is cautiously optimistic that researchers from the CDC have completed this preliminary study. “Now that they have some initial findings, perhaps someone will keep things moving. When I look back on my life – as well as my daughter’s – I think we both might have had more self-confidence in the longer run if society had supported us. If it had validated that our moodiness and anger and outright depression was related to our cycles. Myself, I don’t need anyone to tell me that, since now that I’m through menopause I can see the transformation in myself. It’s amazing how much better I feel now and how much more my own person I am.
“I’d love to see my granddaughter grow up in more enlightened times so that she doesn’t think she has some inherent character defect when her hormones start racing like we did when we were young,” Francis added. “But whether or not the dollars will be there for further research is the question. Women had to make a pretty loud cry to get any attention for breast cancer, and so far I’ve not heard that around this issue.”
Strine’s team agrees with Francis. “Despite the potential adverse effects of premenstrual and menstrual symptoms of the health and function of women of childbearing age,” the authors write, “the public health impact and burden of these conditions are largely unrecognized.”
Join us for Part Two of this series, where we will look more closely at the CDC researchers’ results and how they think these results might empower women in their child-bearing years as society moves into the 21st century.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in the following:
Menopause and Depression – Jury Still Out on the Connection
Got PMS, Get Milk
PMS May Predict Symptoms Later in Life
Education Center entry on menstruation