PMS Q&A with Marla Ahlgrimm – Founder of Women’s Health America

Marla Ahlgrimm | December, 22, 2011 | by
Marla Ahlgrimm

What is PMS?

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), says pharmacist, Marla Ahlgrimm, is a hormonal disorder characterized by (1) a regularly recurring group of symptoms which occur from two to fourteen days before a woman’s menstrual period, followed by (2) a symptom-free time in each monthly cycle. PMS isn’t just another name for menstrual cramps or simple premenstrual tension, says Ahlgrimm. The difference is easy to understand when you consider the element of time: PMS occurs before the menstrual period, and its symptoms

(which vary from woman to woman) improve once the period begins. According to pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm, menstrual cramps usually begin at the onset of the menstruation, disappearing by the end of the flow. Premenstrual tension, which occurs before the period, may be a symptom of PMS, but is usually just one of many symptoms a woman suffers, reports Ahlgrimm.

While Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is not a medical doctor, people have come to refer to her that way because of her acclaimed research in the field of women’s health. In the early 1980s, Ahlgrimm began to focus her attention on women with PMS and ways help them alleviate symptoms. Characterized by certain symptoms that recur regularly, PMS is a hormonal disorder that affects millions of women. According to Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm, symptoms begin between 48 hours and two weeks before a menstrual period. Within each cycle, there is a symptom-free period. When a pattern can be established, women may be diagnosed with PMS, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm.



PMS Symptoms and Characteristics


PMS symptoms can be both emotional and physical, affecting almost every system of the body. Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms are as individual as the woman suffering them. Marla Ahlgrimm says that while more than 150 symptoms have been associated with PMS, these are some of the most common:


Mood swings
Crying for no reason
Mental confusion
Fluid retention
Abdominal bloating
Brest tenderness/swelling
Weight gain
Swelling of joints
Muscle spasms
Craving carbohydrates/alcohol
Craving sweets/chocolates
Increased appetite
Panic attacks
Sinus problems
Asthma attacks
Cold sores


According to Marla Ahlgrimm, PMS sufferers are likely to have characteristics in common as well, including:


  • Adverse reaction to oral contraceptive
  • Absence of PMS symptoms in pregnancy –Marla Ahlgrimm reports that during the last 6 months of pregnancy this absence is most notable
  • Symptoms beginning (or becoming more severe) at the onset of puberty, while (or after) taking birth control pills, after pregnancy or with amenorrhea (missed periods)
  • Symptoms becoming more severe after a tubal ligation or hysterectomy
  • Ordinarily pain-free menstrual periods
  • Pregnancy complications, including miscarriage, toxemia, and post-partum depression
  • Acute symptoms (migraines, panic attacks, depression, epileptic episodes) occurring after long periods without foods
  • Symptoms worsening with age
  • Changes in premenstrual sex drive
  • A history of female family members with similar problems (though specific symptoms may vary from sister to sister, mother to daughter)


PMS is unusual in that the number and severity of symptoms will vary from woman to woman, with no one experiencing all of the symptoms listed here, says Ahlgrimm.

Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is an author and pharmacist, not an MD, although her patients sometimes refer to her as “Dr.” She is renowned in the field of women’s health, having helped some 300,000 women over the last 30 years manage premenstrual symptoms. She explains that true PMS is not just tension or cramps. According to Ahlgrimm, PMS occurs prior to menstruation and can take a physical and emotional toll on the woman who suffers from it. Additionally, Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm points out that the symptoms of PMS diminish once the actual period begins.



The odds are almost even


It’s been estimated, notes Marla Ahlgrimm, that 40-percent of all women between the ages of 14 and 50 experience symptoms of PMS. And at least 10-percent of these women experience symptoms severe enough to seriously disrupt both their personal and professional lives. Of course, only the PMS sufferer herself (or sometimes the people around her) can describe how much her symptoms are interfering with her life and well-being. Marla Ahlgrimm says that the sufferer and those around her are the only ones who can really say if she needs professional help.

Commonly referred to as Dr., Marla Ahlgrimm is actually a licensed pharmacist. She’s made a name for herself as the founder of Women’s Health America and Madison Pharmacy Associates. As a pioneer in the women’s healthcare movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s, she helped bring validity to the idea PMS, which at the time was thought to be largely psychosomatic. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm points out that PMS is not just simply menstrual cramps, headaches or fatigue, though these can be signs of the disorder. The physical and emotional toll that PMS takes on its sufferers can be devastating, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm.



How to find out if you have PMS


PMS cannot yet be diagnosed with laboratory test. And, because PMS symptoms are so individual and variable, you are the best person to make a preliminary diagnosis. The best way to determine if you are suffering from PMS is to keep a daily record of exactly when your symptoms occur. Marla Ahlgrimm recommends doing this for two to three consecutive cycles. It’s important to keep this record on a daily basis in order for it to be most accurate. It may help to set aside a specific time each day. The investment if worth it as it will only take a minute or two, says Ahlgrimm. After you’ve carefully charted your symptoms for two to three cycles, it’s time to discuss your findings with your doctor. Together, you’ll be able to see just how closely your symptoms relate to your menstrual cycle. Your daily symptom record will also help your doctor decide on the most appropriate form of treatment. Incidentally, says Ahlgrimm, continuing to keep a daily record is a very good idea, as it will help you and your doctor judge how the treatment are working, or if another approach is indicated.


Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is an entrepreneur, women’s health care advocate and licensed pharmacist in Wisconsin. She is not a medical doctor, although many patients have come to refer to her with that designation. Ahlgrimm has studied PMS extensively over the last 30 years, and says that there are over 150 symptoms that may typify premenstrual syndrome. To name just a few: mood swings, irritability, forgetfulness, bloating, headache and weight gain. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm says that these are not even the worst symptoms. Some of the more serious side effects of PMS can include muscle spasms, mental confusion and hostility. While not all women will experience the same symptoms, managing the disorder is important for everyone who suffers, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm.



What causes PMS?


The exact cause of PMS is yet to be determined. According to Marla Ahlgrimm, many theories have been offered but since none appear to be applicable to all PMS sufferers, there is yet no universally agrees upon cause. Some suggested causes include:


  • Vitamin-mineral deficiencies
  • Nutritional factors
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Progesterone deficiency
  • Retention of fluids
  • Excess prolactin (a pituitary hormone)
  • Stress
  • Psychosomatic causes
  • Chronic yeast infection


What can be done about PMS?


Naturally, the varying theories on possible PMS causes have led to a variety of treatments, points out Marla Ahlgrimm. However, there is yet no single therapy for all women with PMS. That’s why you and your doctor may need to work together over a period of several months to find a treatment that works best for you, your particular symptoms, and your lifestyle. Contact Marla Ahlgrimm, pharmacist at for more information.

Although she’s not a medical Dr., Marla Ahlgrimm is known worldwide for her research and work into the oft-misunderstood world of premenstrual syndrome. She says that overall women who are likely to have PMS may have certain common characteristics, and that many women who suffer severe PMS generally have no symptoms when their flow is active. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm also points out that migraines and depression are also common in women with the disorder. PMS may be difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary drastically from woman to woman, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm.

Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is a pharmacist, not a PhD. The popular author and entrepreneur is often referred to as Dr. because she has become known worldwide as an authority on women’s health issues. In her research, Ahlgrimm has found that nearly half of women of childbearing age have symptoms of PMS. Even more alarming, she says, is that nearly 10% of these women find their personal and professional lives disrupted due to their symptoms. According to Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm, PMS is extremely personal in that not all women experience the exact same symptoms. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm says that keeping a journal and charting your symptoms is the best way to open up a conversation with your doctor.



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Contact Marla Ahlgrimm, R.Ph.