New Drug Therapies Help Women Cope with PMS

04/02/99    Portland, Ore.

Fluoxetine, paroxetine and sertraline--as well as non-prescription remedies--provide scientifically supported relief.

New research has shown that prescription antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft) can help alleviate the mood swings and physical symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome, according to Jane Harrison-Hohner, director of the Menstrual Disorder Program at Oregon Health Sciences University. These findings, as well as other treatment approaches to PMS, will be discussed at the Fourth Annual OHSU Women's Health Conference on Saturday, April 17 at the Oregon Convention Center.

"As many as eight out of 10 women in America have symptoms of PMS, like tension, irritability, anxiety and depression," said Harrison-Hohner, a nurse practitioner and assistant professor of primary care at the OHSU School of Nursing. "For many of these women, the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with their daily activities. But help is on the way."

Harrison-Hohner cited commonly prescribed antidepressants as the latest option for PMS sufferers who have not seen improvement through natural remedies like proper diet and exercise. "For example, fluoxetine in small doses has been shown to help women get control of their moods, impulses and appetites," she said.

Harrison-Hohner will present the latest research on PMS at the Women's Health Conference in a session titled "The Dark Side of the Moon: Update on PMS." She will cover theories surrounding the cause of PMS; prescription treatment options, including antidepressants and progesterone; and nonprescription options, including calcium supplements, acupuncture, gingko biloba and stress reduction. "Even without a prescription, there are certain tried and true ways to reduce PMS symptoms," said Harrison-Hohner. These approaches include:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals that emphasize whole grains, beans, nuts and fresh fruits and vegetables. Carbohydrates like these increase the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that prompts better moods.
  • Eliminating sugar, salty foods, cigarettes and alcohol. Sugars cause the body to release insulin that can precipitate a "rebound" effect of fatigue and irritability. Salt can contribute to painful retention of fluids. Alcohol a depressant, and caffeine, a stimulant, have both been shown to magnify PMS symptoms.
  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. Aerobic exercise helps lower anxiety and muscle tension and produces chemicals that increase one's tolerance for stress.
  • Limiting stress during premenstrual time. Since stress compounds PMS symptoms, women should schedule demanding tasks during non-PPMS times and find ways to relieve stress--whether it's sharing personal struggles with a friend or visualizing success instead of failure.
  • Taking nutritional supplements. Vitamin B6 and calcium help reduce irritability, fatigue and sugar cravings. Magnesium keeps blood sugar levels consistent, which in turn modulates mood swings. The amino acid tryptophan forms the building blocks for the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps prevent insomnia, anxiety and depression.

"For years women had been coping with PMS without knowing why they felt so out of control," said Harrison-Hohner. "Now, science has a good idea of what PMS is, and new remedies are being discovered all the time. Our conference provides the perfect opportunity for women to benefit from these exciting discoveries."

In addition to PMS, nationally recognized experts at the Women's Health Conference will explore the latest treatment approaches to fibromyalgia, breast cancer, stress, menopause, osteoporosis and other health issues that affect women. To register for the conference, or to receive a conference brochure, call the OHSU Center for Women's Health at 503 494-5309.