Period cramps are predominantly caused by the contractions of the uterus expelling its lining. PMS can also be painful: abdominal cramps, back pain and sensitive breasts. Plus of course mood swings and bloating. But what causes these premenstrual symptoms that affect 80% of women and how can they be best treated? That’s what researchers of the University of California Davis (USA) have found out. Long story short: PMS is caused by inflammation.
During the study, scientists surveyed a racially diverse group of 3,302 American midlife women. In nearly all of the participants, PMS symptoms were positively linked to the presence of C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a blood test marker of inflammation, meaning that its levels will rise in response to it. As the researchers explained: ‘In our cross-sectional study, elevated hs-CRP (>3 mg/L), an acute phase biomarker of inflammation, was significantly related to a 26%–41% increased odds of reporting of premenstrual mood symptoms, abdominal cramps/back pain, appetite cravings/weight gain/bloating, and breast pain, but not headache, after adjusting for confounding variables.’
The study, called The association of inflammation with premenstrual symptoms recently appeared in the Journal of Women’s Health. Authors Ellen B. Gold, Craig Wells and Marianne O’Neill Rasor of the Department of Public Health Sciences, School of Medicine, University of California Davis (USA) stated that factors associated with each premenstrual symptom are complex and that further study is needed. Remarkable is that one of the five researched PMS symptoms, premenstrual headaches, didn’t seem to be related to high CRP levels.
Remarkable: premenstrual headaches didn’t seem to be related to high CRP levels
Despite the fact that about 80% of women suffers from PMS and about 50% takes medication or visits a doctor because of the monthly symptoms, there haven’t been many studies into this subject. This could be because of social taboos about menstruation. Most previous studies about the possible relation between inflammation and premenstrual symptoms have included a relatively small sample group of only young white women.
The recent findings have consequences for the way women could deal with PMS in the future. Factors that are associated with inflammation, such as smoking and being overweight, should be avoided in order to prevent psychological or physical premenstrual symptoms. The results also affect possible treatment options. Next time you’re suffering from PMS-related cramps or pain, go for specific anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen instead of a paracetamol which isn’t anti-inflammatory.