This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
2002 Second Paper
One issue that has been raised a lot in class and in the online forum in the last couple of weeks is the question of emotions; why they happen, what affects them, and what exactly controls them. No one in the class was able to answer these questions to the complete satisfaction of every one else, so I thought I would try to pursue this topic a little further. Specifically, I would like to explore the effect that premenstrual symptoms have on women's emotions during their twenty-eight day cycle.
Premenstrual symptoms, or PMS for short, cause all sorts of problems, as any woman can tell you. The British National Association of Premenstrual Syndrome's website (http://www.pms.org.uk) briefly describes the symptoms that one may experience over the four-week cycle. Some of the more common physical characteristics of PMS include bloating and cramping in the stomach, backaches, weight gain due to fluid retainment, skin problems and headaches. The more emotional symptoms include aggression, fatigue, anxiousness, a feeling of being misunderstood, intense sensitivity, mood swings, depression and, most common (for me, anyway), a feeling that one simply doesn't want to get out of bed. In fact, there are more than 150 symptoms that have been attributed to PMS.
While at least one of the many symptoms of PMS is experienced by nearly all women, about 20% of women experience these symptoms in a much more severe manner which affect one's ability to go through simple every-day tasks. Women who experience this form of extreme PMS could possibly suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which was recently added to the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental illnesses. This illness can be described as "PMS intensified by about a thousand", according to a friend who suffers. A more complete explanation of the differences between these two can be found at www.conquerpms.com.
Although it is not entirely clear exactly what causes premenstrual symptoms, the reigning theory is that they are caused by the rise and fall of estrogen levels within a woman's body over the course of a month. Estrogen levels begin to rise slowly just after menstruation ends, reaches its peak two weeks later in the middle of the cycle. The estrogen then falls sharply, only to rise slowly and fall again just before menstruating begins. Because estrogen holds fluid, higher amounts of estrogen carry with them fluid retention. It also increases brain chemicals and activity, both of which fall again as estrogen lessens. This flux can affect mood, causing the emotional symptoms described above. Estrogen also carries with it a sense of vulnerability that is lost again when estrogen falls, leaving women to feel more alert and aggressive.
Endorphins, which are released in the body through exercise, are also commonly believed to affect PMS by relieving some of the physical pain. One can also relieve the intensity of symptoms by changing one's diet to include less sugar, caffeine or alcohol and more fruits and vegetables. Starch especially is thought to lessen the intensity of cramps. A longer list of causes can be found at the website for the Women's Health Channel (http://www.womenshealthchannel.com).
Many women opt for medical treatment of PMS, and with a slew of drugs available, from over-the-counter to prescription medicines, this is typically the most common response. The most common over-the-counter drugs are Pamprin and Midol, which are available in any drug store. Treatments prescribed by doctors usually depend on the age and maturity of the patient's body. For women in their early 20's or younger, a strong pain reliever is usually the more common response unless the woman in question is sexually active, in which case birth control is prescribed in order to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. Birth control is also prescribed by doctors for women whose ages range from the early 20's until the mid-30's As women begin to exhibit symptoms of menopause, hormone therapy is usually prescribed to make the transition easier and estrogen levels more even over the menstrual cycle.
The most difficult thing to deal with about PMS is the emotional distress that it puts one through. Besides the physical pain that makes one wish that they distributed hysterectomies at birth, the emotional pain can cause relationships to suffer and have long-lasting effects such as depression. On a more short-term basis, irritability and acute sensitivity can blow any harmless comment out of proportion. When left untreated, even by over-the-counter medicines, this emotional roller coaster can affect personal relationships with friends, family and co-workers. These symptoms are especially noticeable during menopause. Hormone therapy can help these emotional trials and make the cycle of one's menstrual period or the menopause phase a little easier, not only for the sufferer but also for all those in close contact with her
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