What Is the Difference Between PMS and PMDD?

Women's Healthcare Services in Rochester, NY

There are a lot of things a woman should know about her menstrual cycle. One of the very first things you realize soon after you get your first period in adolescence? Just how annoying the whole process is.

An average period lasts anywhere between two and seven days. But a large majority of women will attest that the unpleasant effects of menstruation begin several days before your period even starts. That’s thanks to one of two possible conditions: PMS or PMDD. You’ve most likely heard of PMS before, but PMDD is something many women aren’t as familiar with.

Let’s compare PMS and PMDD to help you determine which one, if either, you might be dealing with each month—and more importantly, how to manage it.

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms that occur in pattern with your menstrual cycle each month. Symptoms usually begin within the five days before your period (hence the premenstrual) and end within four days after your period starts. PMS is a very common condition, with three in four women reporting that they do experience symptoms or have at some point.

What are the symptoms of PMS?

There are a wide variety of symptoms associated with PMS. Most women only experience a few. The most common reported PMS symptoms include:

OBGYN Services in Rochester, NY
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Bloating
  • Tender breasts
  • Cramping (pelvic/abdominal)
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Acne breakouts
  • Feelings of anxiety and/or depression
  • Irritability
  • Food cravings
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Libido changes

What is PMDD?

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form of PMS. Women with PMDD experience similar cyclical behavioral, physical, and emotional symptoms, but at a level that is debilitating or otherwise interferes with their ability to live their everyday life. PMDD is less common than PMS, affecting closer to 1 in 20 women, although many cases likely go unreported due to the fear of being stigmatized.

What are the symptoms of PMDD?

Again, the symptoms of PMDD are very similar to those of PMS, but more severe. PMDD symptoms are often so intense, women cannot go to work, school, or participate in normal daily activities. Physical symptoms are similar for both disorders, while differences in severity typically manifest in emotional symptoms. Indications that you’re suffering from PMDD, rather than PMS, might include:

  • Exaggerated mood swings
  • Severe depression (sometimes including feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts)
  • High anxiety levels
  • Apathy
  • Extreme anger/irritability

How are PMS and PMDD treated?


Mild to moderate PMS can usually be managed with conservative treatments that involve lifestyle changes. Your doctor will probably recommend trying to get regular, quality sleep, routine exercise, a well-balanced diet, and practicing relaxation methods (massage therapy, breathing techniques, aromatherapy, etc.).

Certain vitamin supplements can sometimes help as well. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and aspirin can be effective at managing physical symptoms. Hormonal birth control may also relieve some symptoms of PMS.


Conservative PMS treatment methods may provide some relief for women with PMDD, but they are often not enough to manage symptoms entirely. Many doctors approach PMDD as a type of depressive disorder. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), a class of antidepressants, have proven very effective treatments in many cases of PMDD.

Other types of antidepressants, antianxiety medications, and, in some cases, hormone suppressants, can be effective medications as well. Your doctor may also recommend cognitive behavioral therapy to help learn how to cope with and relieve symptoms.

If you’re suffering from symptoms of PMS or PMDD that are impacting your quality of life, schedule an appointment with the medical professionals at South Avenue Women’s Services. Not only are we one of Western NY’s leading abortion providers, but we also offer confidential and compassionate OBGYN services for women throughout the area. We can help you better understand and manage your PMS, PMDD, or other gynecological issues that may be affecting your health and happiness.

Contact our team today to schedule a visit!