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Soc Sci Med. 1992 Jul;35(1):49-56.

The social construction of premenstrual syndrome.

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Impact Assessment, Inc., La Jolla, CA 92037.


In 1931 a physician coined the term Premenstrual Tension, thereby commencing an extensive biomedical inquiry into the relationship between women's menstrual cycle and the occurrence of physical, emotional and behavioral changes. However, despite 58 years of scientific research, fundamental questions remain unanswered. For example, there is still no consensus on the definition of PMS. This, in turn, has led to disagreement among researchers about which medical specialty is best suited for diagnosing and treating PMS. Is PMS a disease whose pathology is best understood by physicians in reproductive medicine or in psychiatry? This paper argues that the inconclusiveness surrounding PMS is symptomatic of the persistence of cultural beliefs in the production (and reproduction) of medical knowledge. The roots of these cultural beliefs and their 'naturalness' in the context of Western ideas about reason, rationality and women are explored in the first section. The second section discusses the ubiquity of these same cultural beliefs in contemporary scientific research of PMS and in the controversy surrounding the proposed psychiatric diagnostic category of Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder (LLPDD). Finally, a new, anthropologically and sociologically informed approach to understanding the phenomenon of PMS is suggested.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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