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"We were not able to detect any clear association between menopausal hot flashes and previous PMS," said study researcher Dr. Tomi Mikkola, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland.
The study was published recently in the journal Menopause.
PMS refers to a group of symptoms linked to the monthly menstrual cycle. It occurs about one to two weeks before the period starts. Symptoms of PMS include mood changes, headache, breast tenderness, bloating, fatigue, sleep changes and food cravings, according to background information in the study.
Estimates of how many women suffer from PMS vary greatly. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates about 85 percent of women report at least one PMS symptom.
For the study, Mikkola and his colleagues included information from 120 healthy postmenopausal women who answered questions about symptoms they had experienced when they still had periods. They also answered questions about their current health and symptoms. The women were between 48 and 55 years old. None had taken hormone replacement therapy.
About 90 percent of the women said they had premenstrual symptoms earlier in their lives. About half said the symptoms hampered their ability to work well or hurt their social relations.
If the women had experienced premenstrual symptoms, at menopause they were more likely to report problems with memory and concentration, a depressive mood, sleep problems and feeling less attractive, the study authors found.
"We do not know why PMS is linked with memory and concentration problems at menopause," Mikkola said. "However, it is possible that some women are more prone to experience both PMS and menopause symptoms more disturbing than others." That, in turn, could be related to personality, coping style, self-esteem and other factors, he said.
Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society, reviewed the findings. "I've always thought many of the things bothering perimenopausal women are very similar to the symptoms of PMS." Perimenopause, which means "around menopause," refers to the years when a woman's body is making the transition from a regular monthly period to none.
"The study is very interesting and could help women and their [health care] providers better understand all the symptoms of menopause,'' Gass said.
Her advice for women? "Not to be surprised by these symptoms and to realize they are not going to last the rest of their lives," Gass said. "The symptoms will fade away as women get further away from their last period."
To improve PMS symptoms, experts suggest lifestyle measures such as getting regular exercise, eating a diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and getting enough sleep. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help symptoms such as breast tenderness. Taking birth control pills may help reduce symptoms, too.
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