Partners and friends of women with PMS say the condition leads to more fights, more unhappiness in the relationship, and less time spent together. Men say PMS has a negative effect on their sex lives, too.
The survey, conducted by the women's Web site known as iVillage.com and the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health, asked 1,538 men with a romantic partner with PMS and 1,562 women who had either a relative or friend with the condition to describe the impact on their lives.Women are more aware of their friend or relative having PMS than men are of their partner, the survey found. Ninety-seven percent of the women observed PMS symptoms in friends or relatives, while 52 percent of the men noticed.
More than two thirds of the men and three quarters of the women said their relationship was negatively affected in some way by PMS -- more fighting, increased tension, or other problems.
Up to 85 percent of menstruating women report one or more symptoms of PMS, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), with about 10 percent experiencing symptoms severe enough to be debilitating. The condition, which occurs before the menstrual period, can include moodiness, irritability, mood swings, headache, weight gain, fatigue, food cravings and other complaints.
The survey had some expected responses and some unexpected, says Susan Wysocki, a nurse practitioner and president of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health. "I expected that it is not only the women who are affected by PMS, but the people around them," she says.
"The most surprising finding, for me, was these men are more interested in helping their partners than I thought," she says. More men reported concern about their partner's unhappiness than their own, she says, with 46 percent reporting their partner with PMS had decreased happiness and 34 percent saying they, too, had decreased happiness.
Both men and women reported increased tension in relationships -- 41 percent of the men and 32 percent of the women. Fighting was more common during PMS time, with 30 percent of men and 22 percent of women reporting an increase.
Spending less time together was also common, with 27 percent of male partners and 31 percent of women friends and relatives reporting that consequence.
While both women and men were highly aware of treatments, they reported little use of such treatments. Only 35 percent of the women polled said the person with PMS uses medicine on a regular basis to deal with symptoms, and only 16 percent of the men said their partners used such treatments.
The survey results seem to bear out what gynecologists hear in their practices.
"The survey findings are not a surprise to me at all," says Dr. William Parker, a gynecologist on staff at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. He often listens to women patients who say they feel badly about their behavior toward partners when they are experiencing PMS symptoms.
"They admit to it," Parker says. "They say, 'I treat my husband badly a week a month.' A few patients even tell me their partners stay away for a few days every month."
Adds Parker: "The actual cause of PMS is not clearly known, but clearly it's a real thing."
However, he advises women to check out their symptoms with their health-care provider, especially if they have very severe ones. "If the symptoms are very severe, it might be something else, such as clinical depression," he explains.
For PMS, the ACOG guidelines suggest lifestyle changes such as getting aerobic exercise, eating a healthful diet of complex carbohydrates, and, perhaps, medication.
In some cases, serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) antidepressants can help, according to the guidelines. Parker agrees, and says the medicines can be prescribed in very low doses and can even be given cyclically during the month rather than every day.
What To Do
For information on guidelines on PMS treatment, go to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. For information on nurse practitioners, see the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health.