Menstruation 101

Menstruation refers to a woman’s monthly blood cycle, or period. When a woman reaches child-bearing age, she sheds the lining of her uterus each and every month (generally 28 – 35 day cycle, depending upon the woman). As she does this, she releases that lining through her cervix out of her vagina. The menstrual flow is shed as blood via the vaginal walls. Most menstrual periods last in duration for three to five days. They can be mild, moderate or severe and include cramping, discomfort, swelling and a variety of symptoms.

Usually beginning during puberty, around or near the age of 12 or 13 and ending with the onset of menopause in a woman’s late 40s or early 50s, the menstrual cycle prepares a woman’s body for childbirth. When a woman doesn’t become pregnant during the portion of the process where the egg is released from the fallopian tubes into the uterus, then she will shed her endometrium (uterine lining) and bleed. Of course, when we discuss the female reproductive process, we will learn more about this.

As a result, menstrual symptoms can be both emotional and physical in nature and relate specifically to reproductive hormone levels such as progesterone, estrogen and, in some cases, testosterone. Many women report problems with some (or all of) the following:

  • Abdominal pain,
  • Cramping,
  • Migraine headaches,
  • Depression,
  • Emotional Sensitivity,
  • Weepiness,
  • Bloating,
  • Changes in sex drive,
  • Breast discomfort,
  • Irritability,
  • Exhaustion,
  • Restlessness,
  • Water retention and/or swelling,
  • Food cravings, etc.

For many women, menstrual difficulties aren’t just felt during the portion of the cycle when they bleed. They struggle with a condition known as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and can see their hormone levels shift at different, and seemingly unrelated, times of the month.

Typically, women bleed very little overall during their week, or less, of menstrual flow. They start light, with the most blood lost being done on the second and third days generally. Then, the flow lets up on the last few days before it tapers off entirely. Prolonged bleeding, which lasts for longer than seven days, can be a sign of something wrong as can delayed periods. Women who don’t bleed for periods longer than 45 days in between menstrual cycles should get checked by a qualified specialist in addition to those who bleed longer than 7 or 14 days.

Other signs that something is awry with your cycle can include:

  • Excessive bleeding (i.e., bleeding through tampons, pads or other signs of above average blood loss)
  • Extreme pain, especially of the variety that is not relieved by over the counter pain relievers and such that seems NOT to be related to the menstrual cycle
  • Anything that seems abnormal to the menstrual process

It’s important to note that if you are new to the menstruation game that your periods won’t be regular for the first few years and if you are close to menopause there will also be a slackening off process. The best thing you can do, at any age, is to keep track of when you get your period, take note of how long they last and try to remember roughly how light or heavy it was.

Most women do have to contend with some menstruation-related difficulties during their reproductive lives such as uterine fibroids. Early detection can be a life-saving activity. Early action is definitely necessary. The vital thing to remember is that you mustn’t panic. Menstruation is a natural process, and panicking won’t help you. In fact, stress makes things much harder on you and your body. Let nature take her course.