Earlier this month I read the story of 33-year-old Michelle Fletcher in the national newspapers.

Michelle is a mother-of-three who ended up resorting to taking cocaine to help her with chronic pre-menstrual tension (PMT). Every month she would suffer extremely painful periods, fatigue and depression but assumed it was totally normal.

There were even days when she could barely get out of bed and when it was at its worst she felt suicidal, despite the fact she was taking painkillers, anti-depressants, the pill, herbal remedies and having counselling.

PMT varies from woman to woman. Some don’t get affected by it and with others, well it causes nothing but turmoil.

But what is it? PMT (or PMS as it’s sometimes known as) is the name given to the physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms that can happen in the two weeks before a woman’s monthly period.

There are a range of different symptoms, but typical examples include bloating, mood swings, irritability and loss of concentration.

You may think PMT has no relevance to you but in fact, a recent survey asked women how PMT affects their life, and a quarter of females said it was had an impact on their mood and relationship every month.

It is something that can affect women of any age, though it is said to most commonly occur in those aged between 30 and 40. At some point virtually all women will experience PMT at least once in their lives, but surprisingly, studies have shown that one in 20 will be affected at such a level that it begins to disrupt their day-to-day life, activities and relationships.

Some women experience severe personality changes, including even a ‘Jekyll and Hyde change’ where they literally become a different person in the run up to their time of the month.

Sufferers have said they know they are feeling and thinking differently to the point of being irrational but they have no control over the changes. For some women at that time, the world seems completely negative, ‘everything seems black’, doom and gloom and they will often cry at the slightest thing without any real reason.

The exact cause of PMT is unknown, but it is likely to be related to the fluctuating levels of hormones, including oestrogen and progesterone, that occur as the body prepares for menstruation.

But what about when PMT gets so bad that it drives women like Michelle to cocaine, having exhausted painkillers and antidepressants?

Michelle told the national newspapers: “I was so desperate to feel better that I wanted to try anything. I felt so guilty the first time I took cocaine but it immediately stopped my negative feelings and pain.

“I thought it was normal to have extremely painful cramps and feel depressed. But there were days when I could barely get out of bed. It then got worse and worse and I often felt suicidal.”

Michelle had married her first husband at 19 and was soon expecting her first child. The pregnancy meant her periods, and agonising PMT, stopped, during which she said it was ‘amazing’ to feel herself again.

But between pregnancies, her symptoms came back, and she would fly into a rage at the smallest thing.

“‘My behaviour just drove a wedge between my husband and me,” she said. “For two weeks a month I would either be crying or throwing dinner at him. Other days I’d cling to him and beg him not to go to work. I hated myself and apologised when it was over – I knew it was my fault.”

Once she finally got diagnosed with PMT she had her ovaries removed to stop the PMT all together and she now feels she can get on with her life.

Of course, not everyone is affected so badly by PMT, and the condition affects only 5% of women. But it’s important to be aware of it and to know there is support out there, through charities such as National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome: www.pms.org.uk.