3 Approaches to PMS

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Throughout my 40 years in private psychiatric practice, I have found some treatments for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that were not mentioned in “Etiology of premenstrual dysphoric disorder: 5 interwoven pieces” (Evidence-Based Reviews, Current Psychiatry. September 2017, p. 20-28).

This started in 1972 when I was serving in the Army in Oklahoma. A 28-year-old woman with severe PMS had been treated by internal medicine, an OB/GYN, and endocrinology, all to no avail. Three days before her menses began, she would start driving north. When menses commenced, she would find herself in Nebraska and have to call her husband so he could wire her money to come back.

Through my evaluation, I found that she would gain 10 lb before her menses. I prescribed a diuretic and instructed her to start taking it when she began swelling and to stop taking it after her menses began. This alleviated all of her symptoms. If a woman gains more than 3 to 5 lb, her brain also will swell, along with everything else. Because the brain is encapsulated in the skull, the swelling puts pressure on the brain, which might have been the cause of these brief psychotic episodes.

If a woman who develops PMS does not experience significant weight gain, the first thing I try is vitamin B6, 100 mg/d, prior to menses. Vitamin B6 is a cofactor in the production of numerous neurotransmitters. I found that prescribing vitamin B6 would alleviate about 20% of PMS symptoms. If the patient has a personal or family history of affective disorder, I often try antidepressants prior to menses, which alleviate approximately another 20% of her symptoms. If none of the previous 3 factors are present, I often add a low dose of progesterone, which appears to help. If all else fails, I will try a low dose of lithium, 300 mg/d, before menses. This also seems to have some positive effect.

I have not written an article about these approaches to PMS, although I have discussed them with OB/GYNs, who never seem to follow these recommendations. Because I am not university-based, I have not been able to put these treatments to scientific scrutiny. It would be helpful to conduct clinical trials to attempt to substantiate my clinical findings.

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