PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and bipolar disorder have several symptoms in common, but they are definitely two completely separate disorders. The most frequently reported symptoms of PMS are the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Nervous tension
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
  • Physical symptoms:
    • Swelling or bloating of the abdomen or extremities
    • Appetite changes
    • Food cravings
    • Aches
    • Breast Tenderness

Patients with PMS or bipolar disorder may also take the same medications for their disorder.

Women who have a family history of bipolar disorder and in whom the disorder has been passed down (i.e., they have the heredity factor of bipolar disorder) will have symptoms which obviously have to do with bipolar disorder, and not just some hormonal features and/or the physical symptoms of a woman with PMS.

These women will often have a return of symptoms they used to have all the time, just before menses. In other words, they may get better from their bipolar mood swings (i.e., their medication is working for their bipolar disorder), yet 'start up again' (have a breakthrough episode) with a premenstrual increase in symptoms.

In other words, if you have bipolar disorder and are on medication for it and are following a good treatment program for it, you should be enjoying a long period of stability for the disorder. However, you might 'flare up' at 'that time of the month.' So it is possible for you to have both disorders – equal but separate, and easily differentiated in this case; mostly because of the obvious physical symptoms that precipitate PMS but not bipolar disorder.

So is it PMS or bipolar disorder? Technically, if PMS symptoms show up anytime other than 3-5 days prior to your period, and/or if they last greater than 10 days, then it is more likely to be bipolar disorder.

In either case, if you have any questions about either or both of these disorders, ask your doctor.