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The Making of Medicine

Study Reveals Prevalence, Impact of Premenstrual Symptoms

Premenstrual symptoms and anxiety interfere with daily life for a majority of women around the world at least some of the time, a new study from our Jennifer L. Payne, PhD, reveals.

In fact, premenstrual mood swings and anxiety are so common – affecting more than 64% of women –that they represent a “key public health issue globally,” Payne and her colleagues conclude.

Payne and her collaborators analyzed survey responses collected by the Flo menstrual-tracking app from more than 238,000 women in 140 countries. The women's ages ranged from 18 to 55.

At least 61% reported mood-related symptoms every menstrual cycle. More than 28% said their symptoms interfered with everyday life during each menstrual cycle, while an additional 34.84% said their symptoms interfered with life sometimes.

Food cravings were the most common symptoms reported, experienced by 85.28% of the women surveyed. Next up were mood swings or anxiety (64.18%) and fatigue (57.3%).

The prevalence of premenstrual mood and anxiety symptoms varied by country, from a low of 35% in Congo to a high of almost 69% in Egypt. Payne says additional research is needed to better understand why this is.

Payne hopes the survey data will make healthcare providers better appreciate how common premenstrual symptoms – especially anxiety and mood-related symptoms – really are, and how great of an effect they can have on women's lives. 

“There are a number of treatment strategies that are available to treat premenstrual symptoms that interfere with a woman’s everyday functioning,” she said. “Increasing awareness of how common these symptoms are, and that if they impact functioning that there are treatments available, will help women improve their quality of life.”

The research was a collaboration of UVA, Johns Hopkins and the Flo app, which helps women track their menstrual cycle or track their mood or physical symptoms during and after pregnancy.

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