What is PMS? Part One: PMS and Menstrual Irregularities

Estimated read time... 4 minutes

This is Part One of a series that I’m going to be doing on women’s health issues, specifically relating to PMS.  I would have loved to fit this into one blog post, but the thing is… PMS’s role within healthy menstruation is a big topic.  Even bigger is discussing other menstrual irregularities.  I hope that this series of posts helps you, or someone you know, to find some answers to questions you may be having, and ultimately find some relief. Lavender "Munstead"


I grew up believing that debilitating menstrual cramps and insufferable PMS were totally normal.  I felt that every woman experienced horrendous cramps, that I just had to live with it.  As “that time of the month” rolled around, I felt like I was cursed, I dreaded my period.  During my period, I was incapable of going to school, or work, and if I did I could barely function.  For me, taking birth control pills to change the levels of hormones in my body was not the answer. Taking anti-depressants, OTC pain killers, topical OTC hormones, arthritis medication, or prescription painkillers were also not the answer.  I tried different diets, exercises, “take this for that” style herbalism – you name it. None of these methods truly addressed the issue at hand for me – I knew there was another way, there had to be another way. I felt like my body was trying to teach me a lesson, but I wasn’t hearing or learning from the lesson it was trying to teach.  All I could think was, “what is wrong with me?”  My doctors couldn’t help me in a way that felt nourishing and satisfying; they offered me what they could and said that there was nothing else they could do.  (Note: I am glad that I went to the doctor, it brought to light that I did not have a more serious condition.) It was “just PMS” as my doctors said, “just deal with it.” In short, I had spent nearly half of my life dreading my period, and feeling ashamed for needing more than I and my doctors were capable of providing for me. One day, I had had enough. So much of what I had been told, believed and did was wrong. There was nothing wrong with me, just my approach and information.  Becoming an herbalist was an eye opening experience for me – so many things that seemed disparate began making sense and connections. I’ve spoken with other women about their experiences, and I have to say, there are a lot of ladies out there with problems at “that time of the month!”  A number of them confessed to also feeling the way that I used to feel about my menstrual cycle.  All of this is unsurprising considering the Mayo Clinic estimates that 75% of women experience PMS. In short: PMS is not just PMS. As the name implies, pre-menstrual syndrome’s symptoms occur prior to menstruation. For some women, PMS starts three days prior to menses, for other women it is two weeks (or more.) PMS is an indication that something is out of balance in the body, that something deeper needs to be addressed.

What is PMS?

  • bloating
  • water retention
  • changes in bowel movements (constipation, diarrhea, alternating constipation and diarrhea)
  • breast tenderness
  • insomnia
  • low back pain
  • irritability/moodiness
  • anger
  • moodiness
  • weepiness/tendency to cry
  • frustration
  • depression
  • fatigue/lethargy
  • weight gain
  • acne
  • herpes outbreaks
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • food cravings

  Signs and Symptoms of Menstrual Imbalances include:

  • clots in menstrual blood
  • cramping
  • lower back pain
  • endometriosis
  • infertility
  • irregular cycles (late, early, a different time every month)
  • ammenorhea, skipped periods or lack of periods
  • “flooding” or a heavy flow (heavy flow means: changing your pad or tampon every 1-2 hours, regular flow is changing your pad or tampon every 4 hours.)
  • light flow
  • bleeding between periods
  • fibroids and cysts
  • “unhealthy” colored menses – brown, pale/light pink, purple, dark, black

 Garden Sage

What does a healthy menstrual cycle, according to TCM and other holistic systems look like?

  • minimal to no PMS symptoms
  • “healthy” menses color – color that is rich and fresh looking (in other words – not brown, black, purple or pale pink) – the color changes from dark red to deep red in the middle of menses, to a pinkish color at the end of menses.
  • menses that do not contain clots of any size, are not coagulated, dilute or thin
  • painless – no cramping
  • a fixed/regular cycle that lasts between 26-35 days, typically a 28 day cycle is considered ideal. As long as the cycle is consistently the same number of days (barring travel, emotional stress, etc) it is considered healthy and normal
  • menstruation that lasts from 3-5 days
  • Amount of bleeding: 2-5.5TB/30-80mL
  • menses arrive and leave without much notice aside from the bleeding

The above is not what most women I know and have interviewed experience or have experienced on a month-to-month basis.  It is sad that women suffer in this way, it doesn’t have to be like this.  You can minimize, and even move past, this suffering through diet, lifestyle, exercise, herbs, and other modalities, into a place of menstrual health. Do you have a healthy cycle according to TCM and holistic practices? If not, what do you experience on a month-to-month basis? Write down what you experience and how you feel about your experience with PMS and your period.  Write down any feelings you may have, positive or negative, regarding your periods, PMS, anything related to your menstrual cycle. In part two we will explore some of the main causes of PMS.



5 replies
  1. Tammy webber
    Tammy webber says:

    Looking forward up the next installment. I have suffered from Those symptoms and more since I was 13 years ild.

  2. Diana Law
    Diana Law says:

    Most of my life I’ve had symptom free menses, although looking at some of the non-normal indications of PMS, I definitely had some imbalances, just not uncomfortable ones…..I always thought women were exaggerating….. I’m so sorry to all of those who suffer each month; since hitting peri-menopause, I now know what others go through. Luckily herbalism is helping me sort it out. Thanks for addressing this, as most of my life I’ve had no one to talk to about what’s normal or what’s not. Women need this kind of dialogue about their particular issues.

    • pamelacshaw
      pamelacshaw says:

      Thank you Diana, it is my pleasure and honor to be starting a dialogue about what is healthy and what is not in terms of menstruation. I hope you find something of value in the posts and are able to make changes that positively affect your life.

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