Menstruation is an irreplaceable part of every woman’s life. We have a period every month for most of our adult lives, as our body prepares for a possible pregnancy. But despite the fact that menstruation is a monthly recurrence, how well do we really understand our menstrual cycle?
While it’s true that no two women experience menstruation in the exact same way, it is also important to understand that your monthly period can be a good indicator of your health. A certain stigma surrounds menstruation, which is why we often don’t talk about it. Could you be suffering in silence, believing that what you’re dealing with is normal, when it is not?
Let’s take a closer look at menstruation – ovulation, hormonal changes brought on by your menstrual cycle and the problems to keep an eye out for.
A regular menstrual cycle is a sign that your body is healthy and everything is going as it should. Your menstrual cycle is counted from the 1st day of your period from one month to the next. Contrary to popular belief, this cycle is not always 30 days. Your menstrual cycle can be anything from 21 to 35 days. So if your menstrual cycle is shorter than 30 days, don’t be surprised if your period comes twice in the same calendar month — that is absolutely normal.
During the first half of your menstrual cycle, the body produces high levels of estrogen. This is the key hormone that helps build stronger bones, but its primary function is to thicken the uterus lining and prepare for a possible pregnancy every month. During this phase, which is also known as the follicular phase, the pituitary glands release FSH or Follicle-Stimulating Hormone to help one follicle in the ovary develop into a mature egg, known as ovum. This is called ovulation, and it usually occurs on the 14th day of a standard 28 day menstrual cycle. If you have a fairly regular cycle, you can guess time of ovulation by subtracting 16 from the number of days your cycle lasts and then adding 4 to it. For example – If your cycle is 25 days long, you ovulate between Day 9 and Day 13 (25 – 16 =9 (+ 4 = 13).
As this time, the mature follicle also releases large amounts of hormone progesterone into the body for further thickening and maintenance of the uterine lining. This mature egg moves into the fallopian tube and descends into the uterus. Ovulation is the time you are most likely to get pregnant, should the mature egg be fertilized by male sperm. If this egg is not fertilized within 24 hours of reaching the uterus, it disintegrates. Hormone levels starts to fall, and the uterine lining is shed through menstruation.
Our hormones are greatly influenced by life cycle changes, which is why you notice that your periods keep changing throughout your life. The female body undergoes tremendous changes during puberty, and it can take several years before estrogen and progesterone levels reach a balance. This is often the reason why adolescent girls have heavy, prolonged or irregular periods.
Just like puberty, the female body also goes through a plethora of changes during menopause, as hormone levels start to dwindle. During perimenopause, hormones become imbalanced, which can make your period a lot less predictable. Periods will become less frequent, shorter and you may notice changes in the menstrual flow.
Hormones during pregnancy and breastfeeding may also change your menstrual cycle. Menstruation ceases during pregnancy, and it’s not uncommon for some women to not have their period while they are breastfeeding.
Some other factors that can affect your hormones, hence your menstruation, are:
Your periods can change for a variety of reasons, none of which should be ignored. It’s important to understand what exactly is happening with your period in order for you to discuss it with your doctor.
A period is considered to be late if it doesn’t start within 5 days of when you expect it to start. There can be a plethora of reasons apart from pregnancy why your period is late. Sometimes, the reason can be as simple as stress, excessive physical exertion or nutritional deficiencies.
No period or absent menstruation is clinically known as amenorrhea and is characterized by no menstrual bleeding. A girl who hasn’t had her first period by the age of 16 is said to be suffering from No Period. Any adult woman who has not menstruated in 3 to 6 months is also diagnosed with amenorrhea.
If your period has come earlier than usual, it’s called as an Early Period. This largely depends on the length of your regular menstrual cycle, and signifies an irregularity with menstruation. The reasons could be stress, lifestyle changes or a hormonal imbalance, to name a few.
If your last period was more than 6 weeks ago, you are dealing with a Missed Period. As the name suggests, this is the failure of menstruation in any month and could signify an underlying health problem.
Menstruation that is lighter or shorter than your regular period is known as a Light Period. Don’t mistake this as Spotting — a Light Period is simple lighter than your regular period but is still characterized with a steady flow of blood. Periods can become lighter with age, and sometimes weight changes and contraceptives can also affect your period flow.
Menstruation that is heavier or longer than your regular period is known as a Heavy Period. If you are soaking through more pads/tampons than usual and your period has lasted longer than usual, it is time to get a check-up. Sometimes heavy periods are also accompanied by clothing and excessive cramps.
Spotting, as the name suggests, occurs when on again – off again bleeding replaces your regular period. Sometimes spotting can occur in-between your periods too. If you are pregnant, you could notice spotting around the time your period is due, as this is implantation bleeding – not a regular menstrual flow. Spotting is also common in women who have fibroids and cervical or uterine polyps. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) can also cause spotting.
Most women are no strangers to period pain. Some of us suffer from PMS pain that shows up as mild cramping, swollen and tender breasts and aching muscles. Others get awful cramps in their pelvis and lower back during their period, while some women also experience pain in their thighs and calves.
All of these are pretty common and caused by the release of prostaglandins in the uterus. This period pain (Clinical Term: Primary Dysmenorrhea) is normal, just as long as it doesn’t interfere with your everyday activities. You just need an ibuprofen, a hot compress, some rest, and you’re good to carry on with your day.
However, any pain associated with your periods that makes it hard for you to get through your day is not normal. If you suffer from severe period pain (Clinical Term: Secondary Dysmenorrhea) that is searing, throbbing, stabbing or burning pain which keeps you in bed throughout menstruation, it could be caused by an underlying medical problem.
All of the above could be a sign of underlying medical condition like endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, polyps, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or adhesions. It’s best to see your doctor immediately, so that you can work on the root cause and learn to manage period pain better.
If your periods are painful, there are many natural ways to help treat the condition. While your doctor will run a battery of tests to find out the underlying cause behind period pain, these simple tricks can be incorporated into your lifestyle right away, as they don’t have any side effects.
Magnesium is quite effective at preventing period pain. It helps calms the muscles of the uterus, preventing cramps. It’s also effective in treating period-related headaches and other muscle aches
Zinc helps to combat the pain-causing action of prostaglandins produced by the uterus. If you have sore muscles and abdominal cramps during your period (or even during PMS), taking a zinc supplement can be very helpful.
Turmeric contains the active ingredient – Curcumin, which is a potent inti-inflammatory that can help with period or PMS pain. It also combats mood changes and depression often associated with periods.
You know your period the best. So don’t be afraid to discuss any changes you notice with your healthcare provider. If period pain is hindering with a normal, active lifestyle, visit your doctor right away. Your body will thank you for it.