Women who suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety, sadness, and irritability in the days leading up to their periods.
In a recent study, researchers found that these sudden mood shifts may be caused by a cellular disorder that creates a behavioral sensitivity to estrogen and progesterone.
PMDD is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that follows an anticipated, cyclic pattern. Symptoms become apparent in the late luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which occurs after ovulation, and ends shortly after menstruation begins. Many women with PMDD experience symptoms usually associated with PMS but on a heightened level. Some women have reported feeling as though they are losing control of their body or that their self- esteem has declined.
While women commonly experience PMS, only 2%-5% of women who are of reproductive age are affected by PMDD. PMDD is known to be extremely draining and uncomfortable for women of any age.
According to Dr. Peter Schmidt of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, Behavioral Endocrinology Branch, women with PMDD are more sensitive to the effects of sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, because of a molecular mechanism in their genes.
“We found dysregulated expression in a suspect gene complex which adds to evidence that PMDD is a disorder of cellular response to estrogen and progesterone,” Schmidt explained in a press release put forth by NIH. “Learning more about the role of this gene complex holds hope for improved treatment of such prevalent reproductive endocrine-related mood disorders.”
The study that Schmidt worked on was published in the journal ‘Molecular Psychiatry’ and indicated that cutting off estrogen and progesterone stopped symptoms of PMDD in women who had the condition. When the hormones were re-introduced, the PMDD symptoms reappeared.
By comparing white blood cells in women with PMDD and then in those without, researchers were able to confirm that PMDD impacts a woman’s cellular response to sex hormones.
In the late 90’s, the NIMH team confirmed that women who regularly experience mood disorder symptoms just before their periods were abnormally sensitive to what is considered to be “normal changes” in sex hormones – even though their hormone levels remained normal. But until this year, the cause had always remained a mystery.
“This is a big moment for women’s health,” said Dr. David Goldman, who worked alongside Schmidt on the study. “It establishes that women with PMDD have an intrinsic difference in their molecular apparatus for response to sex hormones – not just emotional behaviors they should be able to voluntarily control.”