You won't believe the diagnosis and treatment for PMS back in the day

Was this seriously the diagnosis and treatment for PMS?
Was this seriously the diagnosis and treatment for PMS?

For centuries, a common and chronic affliction saw families being torn apart, homes completely ruined and millions of children growing up without a mother, as a crippling female disease spread from Ancient Egypt to Western Europe. Symptoms included sudden cloudiness, debilitating insomnia and stabbing pain in the abdomen, as well as increased appetite, heightened sexual desire, chronic irritability and a “tendency to cause trouble”.

In more serious cases, women were hospitalised or placed in a mental institution, unless they were cleared for medical intervention in the form of a surgical procedure known formally then, and today, as a hysterectomy.



1. Then: From the Greek cognate of uterus (hystera), an actual medical diagnosis for women who, around the time of menstruation, would experience particular symptoms. Of course the term was dropped by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952 and we know it now only as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
2. And now: An “exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion of excitement”.

The definition of "hysteria" has somewhat changed – but it still holds its inherent meaning and is mostly reserved for women: “You won’t believe how hysterical Julie was.” But you would be too, Dirk, if you knew just how excruciating period pains and disruptive PMS can be.

Quite honestly, it’s like having someone constantly punch you in the stomach and make you cry. And that person would be this guy:


Have you had the period-talk with your teen yet? What about PMS? How do you explain it to your daughter? Do you have any useful tips you'd like to share with the Parent24 readers? Tell us by emailing to and we may publish your comments. 

But if you’re explaining PMS to your tweens who don’t necessarily know who the most-hated guy in television history is, here’s a cute video by Blossom to show them that what they feel like throughout the month is completely normal (don't worry, it's safe for tweens).

What causes PMS?

The obvious answer, and the one that comes up on Google right next to “disease causes for pms” (hah, “disease”), is menstruation. But it’s the chemical process inside our bodies that has much to do with the feelings of fatigue, nausea and general listlessness for life we feel specifically before our period starts.

In our period series for tweens, we’ve written how you can go about explaining menstruation to your tweens. We start with the fact that their menstrual cycle will occur every month (anything between 21 and 35 days is considered normal) and is the shedding of their uterine wall.

In more detail, during the first half of the cycle, estrogen levels will start to rise. Estrogen is the hormone that keeps us healthy, gives us energy and also makes the lining of our uterus, or womb, thicken. While this is happening, an egg (ovum) in the fallopian tube starts to mature, and at around 12 to 14 days before the next period is due, the egg leaves, travels through the fallopian tube and hangs around in the womb. When the egg is not fertilised, it breaks down and sheds along with the thickened lining. That's when our period starts.

This video by Glamour depicts the ups and downs perfectly.

It’s quite the ordeal, isn’t it? To put one's body through that and still keep on keeping on. Our bodies sure are marvellous, but it doesn’t come without a price. That’s where PMS comes in.

While we haven’t found an actual ‘cure’ for PMS, nor have we established the exact cause of it, Mayo Clinic lists several factors that probably contribute to the condition. For the most part it has to do with the hormonal and chemical highs and lows.

So in continuing that discussion with your girls, you can explain that when estrogen levels are high, we usually feel pretty good. And when levels of estrogen and serotonin (the feel-good brain chemical that plays a crucial role in moods) are low, nearing menstruation, we end up feeling depressed, sleepy and in desperate need of chocolate.

That being said, while PMS can reveal the more monstrous side of women, it passes after a week or so and it’s hardly as deep as society initially thought. Our wombs certainly aren’t as the physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia declared, “an animal within an animal” – a wandering and very much alive womb.

Sure, we’re fantastical – to quote Nayyirah Waheed, "I bleed every month but do not die. How am I not magic?". But our whims are hardly animalistic – not quite sorcery. It’s just biology.

Have you had the period-talk with your daughter yet? What about PMS? How did you explain it to your daughter? Do you have any useful tips you'd like to share with the Parent24 readers? Tell us by emailing to and we may publish your comments. 

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