November 8, 2005

Med School Study Explains PMS

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It’s that time of the month again, but now womenfolk have science on their side. According to a study published last month by a research team from the Weill Medical College, even women who do not experience mood swings undergo changes in the brain during the premenstrual period.

The study, performed by Xenia Protopopescu grad under the direction of Drs. David Silbersweig and Emily Stern, monitored 12 women who experienced no apparent symptoms before and after their periods. Even in these outwardly asymptomatic women, the research team detected increased activity in the frontal brain regions, according to Silbersweig.

“Even in women who do not report mood swings, there are changes in the brain,” Silbersweig said, who, along with his team, used a functional MRI imaging index to “develop a paradigm that looks at emotional responses in the brain, and also behavioral responses, and the intersection of the two.”

In comparing brain activity before and after the menstrual cycle, the new paradigm found “greater activity in the frontal brain modulating emotional behavior pre vs. postmenstrual,” Silbersweig said.

Over 75 percent of women complain of premenstrual symptoms, 20-40 percent report difficulties with the symptoms, and between 2-10 percent have sufficiently severe symptoms and are diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), “a condition associated with severe emotional and physical problems that are closely linked to the menstrual cycle,” according to the Madison Institute of Medicine website.

As a follow-up to this research, Silbersweig’s team has monitored women afflicted with PMDD who report severe emotional symptoms with the same paradigm used in the first study.

“What may be the case is that women who do experience emotional changes may not modulate as well,” Silbersweig said. The second study is currently under review for publication.

The finding that PMDD symptoms stem from changes in the brain, if true, would be consistent with other studies that have shown a relationship between the menstrual cycle and physical or emotional activity.

“There certainly are changes in performance in various tasks. There are changes in detection of odors; the odor thresholds change throughout the menstrual cycle. They tend to be most sensitive right around ovulation,” said Prof. Robert E. Johnston, psychology.

A better understanding of the neurobiology behind PMDD, according to Silbersweig, will help to mitigate the symptoms associated with the premenstrual period. Whether or not they yield “drugs or other forms of therapy,” the studies will “provide a foundation for addressing [the disorder],” Silbersweig said.

Despite the severe symptoms experienced by women suffering from PMDD, some have argued that females might not be the primary victims.

“Whereas girls can find sanctuary from PMS in Midol, sweat pants and a DVD of Dirty Dancing, guys can only screen calls and drink until it’s over,” said Amit Rind ’06.

Archived article by Rob Fishman
Sun Staff Writer