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Women Share Their Heartfelt Stories Of Battling PMDD

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Lisa_Sigell_08062010 Lisa Sigell
Lisa Sigell is a reporter for CBS 2 and KCAL 9 where she has worked...
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By Lisa Sigell

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Jen Levinson seems to have the perfect life — five beautiful children, a husband she adores and a job she loves, as a mommy blogger to thousands of women.

“There’s nothing that I would change,” Levinson said.

But there is something that she has kept hidden, something she was ashamed of that happened every month.

“It was a very, very dark, lonely place that I went to,” Levinson said. “I just wanted those that were closest to me to disappear. I wanted my husband not to come home. I wanted my kids not to come home.”

She even had thoughts of killing herself.

“Myself… yes, definitely. Like I did not want to wake up,” she said.

Jen would be filled with sadness, anxiety and even rage for days at a time.

“Then all of a sudden, like three days or four days later, the old Jen was back,” she said.

Jen started a journal and realized it was happening at the same time every month.

Johanna Juntunen also noticed a pattern her life, which was definitely different than Jen’s. She is single with no kids, but the feelings were the same — every month crippling emotions and physical pain.

“I really felt that it was not myself, but also that I had no control of my feelings and my actions. You do feel like you’re at the end of the road. Some nights you don’t sleep and it’s really hard to function,” Juntunen said.

Levinson and Juntunen finally went for help and were diagnosed with what’s called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It is essentially a very severe form of PMS that begins one to two weeks before a period and usually ends a few days after a period starts.

“The symptoms of PMDD are severe enough that they impact all aspects of daily life and most severely impacted are the family and home life,” said OBGYN and Professor Andrea Rapkin at the UCLA School of Medicine. Rapkin is an expert in PMDD.

“The most common symptoms of PMDD are irritability and depression and also mood swings, anxiety and tension,” Rapkin said.

There are also physical symptoms, similar to those a woman would have with PMS. But with PMDD the symptoms are debilitating. Women who suffer with it truly cannot function on any level and some feel there is no end in sight.

“The symptoms are often so severe, that women do think of doing harm to themselves and of committing suicide,” Rapkin said.

She said it is not clear what causes PMDD, but they are investigating how chemicals in the brain are affected during ovulation. Treatment includes birth control pills and anti-depressants.

Juntunen has chosen no medication, but is now aware of when the symptoms take control.

Medicine is helping Levinson, but even more so is just knowing her diagnosis.

“It is so freeing, calming and comforting to know that there is a reason, that I’m not just crazy,” Levinson said.

She now watches the calendar very closely and fills in her diary. It helps her control feelings and thoughts during those very difficult days each month. For her it is working.

“I have always, always, always been about helping and sharing and if that meant getting the word out about PMDD, that it would make at least one family’s life better, than it was worth it to me.”

Knowing The Symptoms Of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

National Center for Biotechnology Information: The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS. However, they are generally more severe and debilitating and include a least one mood-related symptom. Symptoms occur during the week just before menstrual bleeding and usually improve within a few days after the period starts.

Five or more of the following symptoms must be present to diagnose PMDD, including one mood-related symptom:

  • Disinterest in daily activities and relationships
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Feeling of sadness or hopelessness, possible suicidal thoughts
  • Feelings of tension or anxiety
  • Feeling out of control
  • Food cravings or binge eating
  • Mood swings marked by periods of teariness
  • Panic attack
  • Persistent irritability or anger that affects other people
  • Physical symptoms, such as bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and joint or muscle pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating

For more information about PMDD:

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