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What is premenstrual magnification?

If you haven't heard of ‘premenstrual magnification’, you're not alone. Also known as PMM, this little known condition may be the reason for your pre-period flare-ups. It turns out that periods can actually exacerbate certain chronic health issues. Yep, that's on top of the bleeding, cramping, bloating, aches, mood changes, and plethora of other menstrual-related side-effects.

From PMDD to PMS, menstruating people are often left in the dark about their hormonal health and ignored by health professionals when they flag abnormalities. A government survey found that less than 1 in 5 women feel they have enough information on menstrual wellbeing (17%).

The Female Body Bible: A Revolution in Women’s Health and Fitness, by Dr Emma Ross, Baz Moffat and Dr Bella Smith, says: “Some symptoms aren’t actually symptoms of the cycle at all, but a worsening of symptoms that are due to another underlying cause and generally experienced at the end of the cycle.” Migraines, they found, are particularly linked to PMM: “Headaches, particularly migraines, have been linked to this phase of the cycle, with 50% of female migraine sufferers experiencing a worsening of these types of headaches just before their period.”

The authors added that “this premenstrual worsening of symptoms that you tend to experience all the time – such as irritable bowel syn­drome (IBS), mood disturbance or acne, as well as headaches – is called premenstrual magnification. Rather than treat them as PMS symptoms, you need to get to the underlying conditions and treat those.”

Dr Emma Ross, one of the authors, put a testimonial in the chapter ‘Mastering Your Menstrual Cycle’:

“I have first-hand experience of premenstrual magnifification. As an IBS sufferer, I am used to its symptoms, but have never understood their inconsistency. I was forever trying to find things that triggered the painful spasms and unbearable bloating, so I could eliminate them from my diet. When I started tracking my cycle, things suddenly fell into place. There were certain times of my cycle, the premenstrual phase in particular, where my IBS was indeed very irritable, and triggered further by lots of things that usually didn’t cause me a problem. With that knowledge, I knew to be especially diligent about not doing anything at that time that would risk bringing on my IBS symptoms, like going too long without eating or having too much caffeine.”

Reading this for the first time, it made me feel less alone. Three or so days before my period, I tend to get an IBS flare-up; friends have referred to it as ‘period poops’ but maybe it's more than that? Maybe it's PMM.

Speaking with GLAMOUR, Dr. Emma Ross said “Symptoms of anxiety, depression, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and other mental and physical health conditions may be exacerbated during the premenstrual phase. They can often be confused with menstrual cycle symptoms, but are actually the symptoms of an existing condition that have ‘flared up’ or been amplified by the changing hormones at this time of the cycle (it’s at this time when both oestrogen and progesterone are steeply dropping).”

Currently, the NHS does not have any information on premenstrual magnification. Dr. Ross explains that is because premenstrual magnification of existing disorders and conditions is still hugely under-researched, “There is evidence to demonstrate the premenstrual amplification of all of these conditions in the research [epilepsy, IBS, asthma] but it hasn’t translated through to become conventional wisdom in medicine yet. This lag is in part due to underfunding of research into women's health, and because medical training defaults to the male body (some medical textbooks have no pictures of female bodies to describe any of our biological systems, except the female reproductive system).” She added that “some charities are trying to get the message out to those who suffer from certain conditions – raising awareness in this way helps women become better advocates for their own health, and more likely to get the right treatment, more quickly.”

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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