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Being obese as a teenage girl raises the risk of severe PMS as an adult, study finds

Being obese as a teenage girl raises the risk of developing severe PMS by your 20s, study finds

  • Karolinska Institute in Stockholm researchers tracked 6,524 women from the US
  • Women who had higher BMIs in childhood were more likely to have PMDD 
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is the most severe form of PMS 


Girls who stay slim as teens could be spared from severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in their 20s, a study suggests.

Researchers found girls who were overweight or obese at 13 were 10 per cent more likely to suffer debilitating symptoms before their period by their mid-20s.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) — the worst form of PMS, which can stop women from living normal lives — causes mood swings, anxiety, bloating, headaches and a lack of libido in the weeks before a period. 

Swedish researchers looked at 6,500 women for roughly 17 years. Results showed the fatter they were as a child, the higher their risk of PMDD as a young adult.  

Obese children are more likely to get their first period at a younger age, which has been associated with PMDD in the past, the researchers said.

PMDD affects around 800,000 women in the UK, preventing them from day-to-day tasks including going to work. Up to 30 per cent of all women have milder PMS, which causes similar but less severe symptoms. 

Overweight teenagers are more likely to suffer from the worst form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a study claimed today

What is premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and what are the symptoms? 

While most women with PMS find their symptoms uncomfortable, a small percentage have symptoms severe enough to stop them living their normal lives.

This is the result of a more intense type of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS, but are more exaggerated and often have more psychological symptoms than physical ones.

Symptoms can include:

  • feelings of hopelessness
  • persistent sadness or depression
  • extreme anger and anxiety
  • decreased interest in usual activities
  • sleeping much more or less than usual
  • very low self-esteem
  • extreme tension and irritability

As depression is a common symptom of PMDD, it’s possible that a woman with PMDD may have thoughts about suicide.

PMDD can be particularly difficult to deal with as it can have a negative effect on your daily life and relationships.

Source: NHS choices

The study, led by experts at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, were published in the journal JAMA Network Open. 

Researchers analysed Growing Up Today Study data of 6,524 women from the US, with an average age of 26 from February 2020 to June 2021. 

A follow-up questionnaire was then sent to the women — some of whom had been tracked since 1996 — to ask whether they had suffered PMDD over the course of their lives.

Researchers used a scale endorsed by the NHS to assess the participants for PMDD, asking them to rank their experiences of 27 different symptoms in the weeks before their menstrual cycles begin. 

They ranked how severe each symptom was on a scale of one to four, and also at what age their symptoms started.

Women who experienced at least two symptoms 14 days before their period — with one or more symptom classified as severe — were counted as having PMDD.

Researchers also used participants’  self-reported height and weight at different ages through adolescence to calculate their BMIs to see if there was a correlation with PMDD symptoms.

The participants were then split into four groups based on their BMIs — thin, normal weight, overweight and obese.

After adjusting for other factors known to affect PMDD — including activity level, race and vitamin intake — researchers found 15.4 per cent of all participants met the criteria for the condition.

They found those with higher BMIs in childhood were more likely to experience PMDD symptoms at some point in their lives, even after other risk factors were accounted for.

A higher BMI saw a 17 per cent increased risk for PMDD.

The link was significant in early-onset PMDD — before the age of 20 — but not for those experiencing it later in life.

Writing in the study, the authors said: ‘Childhood obesity is an alarming public health crisis that has a profound effect on physical and psychosocial well-being.’

The authors continued: ‘The findings of this cohort study suggest that childhood [obesity] is associated with higher risk of PMDs and higher burden of premenstrual symptoms in young adulthood. 

‘If this association is confirmed in independent populations, maintaining a normal body mass in childhood may be considered for preventing the development of a range of future health hazards in young adults, including PMDs.’

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