Applied Evidence

Evidence-based tools for premenstrual disorders

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Magnesium. Many small studies have evaluated the role of other herbal and nutritional supplements for the treatment of PMS/PMDD. A systematic review of studies on the effect of magnesium supplementation on anxiety and stress showed that magnesium may have a potential role in the treatment of the premenstrual symptom of anxiety.29 Other studies have demonstrated a potential role in the treatment of premenstrual migraine.30,31

Vitamin E has demonstrated benefit in the treatment of cyclic mastalgia; however, evidence for using vitamin E for mood and depressive symptoms associated with PMS and PMDD is inconsistent.32-34 Other studies involving vitamin D, St. John’s wort, black cohosh, evening primrose oil, saffron, and ginkgo biloba either showed these agents to be nonefficacious in relieving PMS/PMDD symptoms or to require more data before they can be recommended for use.34,46

Patient doesn’t respond? Start an SSRI

Pharmacotherapy with antidepressants is typically reserved for those who do not respond to nonpharmacologic therapies and are experiencing more moderate to severe symptoms of PMS or PMDD. Reduced levels of serotonin and serotonergic activity in the brain may be linked to symptoms of PMS and PMDD.47 Studies have shown SSRIs to be effective in reducing many psychological symptoms (eg, depression, anxiety, lethargy, irritability) and some physical symptoms (eg, headache, breast tenderness, muscle or joint pain) associated with PMS and PMDD.

A Cochrane review of 31 RCTs compared various SSRIs to placebo. When taken either continuously or intermittently (administration during luteal phase), SSRIs were similarly effective in relieving symptoms when compared with placebo.35 Psychological symptoms are more likely to improve with both low and moderate doses of SSRIs, while physical symptoms may only improve with moderate or higher doses. A direct comparison of the various SSRIs for the treatment of PMS or PMDD is lacking; therefore, the selection of SSRI may be based on patient characteristics and preference.

The benefits of SSRIs are noted much earlier in the treatment of PMS/PMDD than they are observed in their use for depression or anxiety.36 This suggests that the mechanism by which SSRIs relieve PMS/PMDD symptoms is different than that for depression or anxiety. Intermittent dosing capitalizes upon the rapid effect seen with these medications and the cyclical nature of these disorders. In most studies, the benefit of intermittent dosing is similar to continuous dosing; however, one meta-analysis did note that continuous dosing had a larger effect.37

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