What Is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)?

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Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a mood disorder that affects 3% to 8% of women in the week to two weeks before their period. More severe than premenstrual syndrome (PMS), symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, depression, and fatigue that impact daily living. The exact cause of PMDD is unclear. However, it is believed to be due to an interaction between hormone fluctuations and neurotransmitters that regulate mood.

While PMDD symptoms can be debilitating, medications including hormonal birth control and antidepressants, along with therapy and lifestyle changes, can help to reduce their severity and help you have better days throughout the month.

frequent symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder Symptoms

Women with PMDD experience both physical and emotional symptoms that are more extreme than PMS and occur one to two weeks before starting menstruation and resolve two to three days after a period begins.

While there are specific diagnostic criteria that healthcare providers use to diagnose PMDD, women may experience a wide range of symptoms as a result of the condition, including:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or suicidal
  • Severe feelings of stress, tension, or anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings that include bouts of crying
  • Constant irritability or anger that affects other people
  • Loss of interest in usual daily activities and relationships
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Fatigue or loss of normal energy
  • Food cravings or binging
  • Physical symptoms, such as cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain


The cause of PMDD is not fully understood. It is believed to be an abnormal reaction to hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle. Research suggests a correlation between PMDD and low levels of serotonin, and it is suspected that changes in estrogen and progesterone levels in the two weeks prior to menstruation may alter serotonin levels.

Brain cells that use serotonin as a messenger are involved in controlling mood, attention, sleep, and pain. Therefore, chronic changes in serotonin levels can lead to PMDD symptoms.


There are no blood or imaging tests that can help to determine PMDD. The diagnosis is based on your medical history and how your self-reported symptoms align with specific diagnostic criteria.

The timing and severity of symptoms differentiate PMDD from other conditions. Keeping track of your symptoms for at least two full months before your appointment can help your healthcare provider provide an accurate diagnosis. You can use a notebook, calendar, or period tracker app such as Clue or Glow.

Symptoms must be present seven to 14 days before the start of menstruation and resolve shortly after one's period arrives for a diagnosis of PMDD to be considered.

Your healthcare provider will also need to rule out other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or generalized anxiety disorder. In addition, underlying medical and gynecological conditions such as thyroid problems, endometriosis, fibroids, menopause, and hormonal imbalances also must be ruled out.


Your healthcare provider will decide on the right course of treatment for your PMDD symptoms. Many women with PMDD take a steady dose of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) throughout the month or an increased dose for two weeks before their periods.

Hormones are also used to treat PMDD. Many women find taking medication to stop ovulation can eliminate the hormone fluctuations that lead to symptoms. Your healthcare provider may also recommend medications or creams containing progesterone or estrogen.


Living with PMDD can be challenging. In addition to medication, women with PMDD may find some relief using holistic techniques, relaxation exercises, stress relief practices, and other strategies in the week before their period. Here are some methods that are suggested for easing PMS symptoms:

  • Eat right: Follow the rules of good nutrition. Health experts recommend that women with PMDD limit their intake of salt, caffeine, refined sugar, and alcohol.
  • Take supplements: Calcium, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and magnesium are recommended for easing PMS and PMDD symptoms. 
  • Reduce stress: PMDD is cyclical, so you have a good idea of when it will resurface. When possible, lower your expectations for productivity and cut back on social commitments in the week before your period, and try to incorporate stress-relieving techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation. Book yourself a massage, pedicure, reflexology, or other types of pampering sessions during this time.
  • Get exercise: Even light exercises, like walking, yoga, or tai chi, can help to relieve symptoms.
  • Try OTC meds: Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers may help with some symptoms, such as headaches, breast tenderness, backaches, and cramping. Diuretics can help with fluid retention and bloating.
  • Seek professional mental health care: Some women suffering from the symptoms of PMDD also seek out counseling for help developing coping strategies that work best for them.
  • Find peer support: Talking with other women who understand PMDD can help. The International Association for Premenstrual Disorders offers online support groups you can consider.

Women with PMDD may be more likely to have suicidal thoughts. If you are having suicidal thoughts, dial 988 to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect with a trained counselor, or instant message with Lifeline Chat.

A Word From Verywell

PMDD can cause emotional, physical, and professional difficulties for many women. If you think you are affected by PMDD, make an appointment to speak with your healthcare provider to get proper treatment and support. They can help you to find the right medication and treatment plan for you.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.