A retired pharmacist with over 40 years of experience in treating women’s health issues, Marla Ahlgrimm is intimately familiar with the pain and discomfort of premenstrual syndrome. Here, Ahlgrimm touches on a few of the most common pharmaceutical treatments for PMS.
Q: My doctor recently diagnosed me with PMDD and has prescribed an antidepressant. Why don’t I have to take it daily the entire month?
Marla Ahlgrimm: When antidepressants are prescribed for depression, they are taken every day. However, women with severe PMS and PMDD may not need medication during the time when their hormones are least active. It is common for doctors to prescribe antidepressants only to be taken the two weeks prior to menstruation, at which time symptoms typically subside on their own.
Q: What are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs?
Marla Ahlgrimm: NSAIDs are over-the-counter medicines such as Aleve and ibuprofen. They are taken to ease cramping and reduce breast discomfort and back pain in women with mild to moderate PMS symptoms.
Q: I limit my salt intake and exercise daily but I still can’t get rid of bloating and swelling just before my period. Should I take a diuretic?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Diuretics, which are also known as water pills, can help push excess fluid through your kidneys. They may relieve temporary weight gain and bloating relating to water retention. Although they are available over-the-counter, it is a good idea to speak with your doctor before taking a diuretic as they may interfere with other prescription medications.
Q: I’ve heard that birth control can be used to stop PMS completely. Is that true?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Oral contraceptives have been used for many years to mitigate the symptoms of PMS. Birth control is prescribed in 28 day courses – 21 days on and seven days off. During the off days, a woman will still take a pill, although it will not contain any active medication. When oral contraceptives have been prescribed to treat PMS, your doctor may suggest that you skip the off pills and move straight to a new pack. Talk to your doctor about using your birth control in this way before skipping any pills.