Jean West, who struggled with PMS syndrome for years, shares fresh research and hope for sufferers and those closest to them.

By Jean West  |  Photo by Kylene White

Our first home in Louisville was an old house in the Highlands, built in 1819. There were three stories and strange little rooms in odd places. I turned one of those small rooms into a closet. Referred to as Mommy’s closet, it probably preserved the mental wellbeing of our young boys — and my marriage at the time. This closet was my refuge when my severe PMS symptoms had me on the verge of despair once a month.

For many women, it’s a normal part of female life once a month: the mood swings, depression, crying spells. Moms, wives, sisters, all experience it without speaking about it other than ‘It’s that time,’ ‘I’m on my period,’ and other codes for ‘Leave me alone!’ Throw in sons and husbands who have no clue and it can be an isolating and extremely stressful interruption to otherwise happy family life. And women who suffer from severe pre-menstrual syndrome typically try every medication, food supplement, exercise and remedy to no avail.

The frustrating fact is that according to OB/GYN specialists, there is no standard treatment of care. “Women don’t come into a doctor’s office and complain about PMS. They will complain about constant headaches, cramping, and bloating, and that they want to scream at their husbands two weeks out of a month,” says Dr. Charles Pierce, a clinical pharmacologist and family practitioner in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Approximately 80% of women have pre-menstrual cramping due to excess gas and bloating, which leads to other symptoms like crying spells, panic attacks, and insomnia among other life-altering symptoms. According to physicians I spoke with, the typical treatments for PMS include Prozac for depression and mood swings, and birth control pills to suppress ovulation — neither of which address the root cause of PMS, according to Dr. Pierce.

“Birth control pills do not work. Think out of the box. Don’t worry about the hormones. Look at the symptoms, which mostly are the result of bloating and gas,” Dr. Pierce says. These symptoms can be treated using Nystatin, which is a safe, innocuous anti-yeast agent FDA-approved to treat thrush in children.

Dr. Pierce has found that the drug is highly effective in treating PMS. The 500,000-unit tablets are prescribed for two to three times a day starting 7-10 days before the period for a pain and symptom-free menstruation. Patients can gradually decrease the number of days by two. There are almost no side effects, and each month the symptoms lessen. After six months, some patients can stop taking the medicine.

He learned about the remedy in medical school and says it’s frustrating to know many physicians overlook this safe, effective, non-toxic medication as a treatment option for PMS or PMDD (Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder), its most severe form.

“Anytime a female has any painful period, cramping, distention, clots, mood swings, don’t go to your doctor and say ‘I have PMS.’ Tell your physician, ‘I have gas and bloating and I was told that gas and bloating is caused by yeast and that Nystatin is an excellent drug to treat yeast. Please write me a prescription for that.’

But even if you do take Dr. Pierce’s advice and get relief from your chronic pre-premenstrual syndrome, I still recommend a Mommy’s closet. If nothing else, it’s a welcome escape where you can read, drink a glass of wine, and tune out the chaos lovingly called family for just long enough to jump back into it joyfully.

Jean West, Emmy-award-winning journalist and former WHAS and WAVE anchor is president of The Rotary Club of Louisville. She and Michael Losavio, an attorney, raised three boys who are happily settled in New York, Florida, and Virginia.

Read Jean West’s Modern Family column about having The Talk with your kids.