By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 31 August 2008)
Also known as late luteal phase dysphoric disorder, premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, afflicts up to 40% of women during their reproductive years (Pray, n.d.). For the majority of sufferers, it’s a minor inconvenience, but for some it can be debilitating.
Some women report that PMS symptoms have an adverse effect on their lives and particularly, their relationships. PMS sufferers who have at least five PMS symptoms, including a mood disorder, may be diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a far more serious condition. Common PMS symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Wildly fluctuating mood
- A worsening of the symptoms of other conditions such as asthma
Some women also experience positive PMS symptoms, such as increased creativity, energy, industriousness, and sexual interest.
Conventional treatments for negative PMS symptoms may include medication, lifestyle changes, or both. Common treatments include:
- Psychosocial – reassurance, support, and education about the disorder
- Obtaining sufficient sleep
- Getting more exercise
- Ovulation suppressants
- Medications to decrease fluid retention
- Antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medications
- Non-prescription pain killers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen for joint and muscle pain
Light Therapy for PMS
Light therapy is administered via a light box or smaller portable “light book” that emits 10,000 lux light. Light therapy users sit 12-24 inches away from the light source (distance may vary based on the device used) with their eyes open. The light is used for 30 minutes per day on average, though duration may be adjusted downward or upward as needed because individual responses to bright light vary.
There is evidence that light therapy may provide benefits for certain PMS sufferers who experience negative symptoms. Some PMS sufferers say that their symptoms worsen during certain times of the year, particularly the darker fall and winter months. This is a similar pattern to that of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), which is characterized by a winter depression that lifts during the lighter months of spring and summer. Also, many PMS sufferers manifest circadian rhythm abnormalities similar to those who are depressed.
Light therapy, which is effective in treating S.A.D. and non-seasonal depression, also shows promise for treating PMS. Overall, there have been only a few controlled studies of light therapy’s efficacy in treating PMS or the more severe PMDD, but many subjects in these trials achieved a significant reduction in symptoms.
Safety of Light Therapy
Side effects of light therapy, if they occur, tend to be mild. They may include headache, eyestrain, or jitteriness. Some people experience insomnia, though this is less likely if the light is used early in the day rather than later at night. Mania or hypomania may occur in susceptible individuals, but this side effect is not common.
Given that it is relatively safe for most people, light therapy may be worth exploring if other PMS treatments don’t work. However, consulting a doctor before beginning light therapy is recommended, particularly for those who take medication or have skin conditions or retinal problems. Also, herbs such as St. John’s Wort can have a photosensitizing effect – there have been reports of adverse health consequences when combining St. John’s Wort with bright sunlight.
For more health and fitness articles, see the main Mind/Body Health page.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Those who have mental or physical health concerns should consult a medical professional.
- Brennan, C. (2 January 2000). “St. John’s Wort – A Natural Remedy for Depression?” NetDoctor.co.uk.
- Golden, R.N. et al. (2005). “The Efficacy of LightTherapy in the Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Review and Meta-Analysis of the Evidence.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(4), 656-662.
- Krasnic, C.; Montori, V.; Guyatt, G.H.; Heels-Ansdell, D.; & Busee, J.W. (2005). “The Effect of Bright Light Therapy on Depression Associated with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Part 1, 193(3), 658-661.
- Leary, W.E. (2008). “Clue Seen to Depression in Premenstrual Women.” New York Times online.
- Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia. (26 February 2007). “Dark Days of Seasonal Disorder: SAD Has Been Recognized Since the 1980s, but Medical Experts Still Haven’t Figured Out the Cause.” The Vancouver Sun.
- Pray, S.W., PhD, RPh. (n.d.). “PMS: A Disorder That Is Diagnosable.” USPharmacist.com.
- Shafii, M., & Shafii, S.L. (1990). Biological Rhythms, Mood Disorders, Light Therapy, and the Pineal Gland. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
- Terman, M, PhD., & Terman, J., PhD. (2005). “Light Therapy for Seasonal and Nonseasonal Depression: Efficacy, Protocol, Safety, and Side Effects.” Center for Environmental Therapeutics, Cet.org.