What Is Menstruation?
Menstruation is a woman’s monthly bleeding, often called your “period.” When you menstruate, your body discards the monthly buildup of the lining of your uterus (womb). Menstrual blood and tissue flow from your uterus through the small opening in your cervix and pass out of your body through your vagina.
During the monthly menstrual cycle, the uterus lining builds up to prepare for pregnancy. If you do not get pregnant, estrogen and progesterone hormone levels begin falling. Very low levels of estrogen and progesterone tell your body to begin menstruation.
The menstrual cycle is the hormonal process a woman’s body goes through each month to prepare for a possible pregnancy. Regular menstrual periods in the years between puberty and menopause are usually a sign that your body is working normally. Irregular or heavy, painful periods are not normal. Many women also get premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. You can take steps at home and talk to your doctor or nurse about ways to treat your period problems and PMS.
The typical menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but each woman is different. Also, a woman’s menstrual cycle length might be different from month-to-month. Your periods are still “regular” if they usually come every 24 to 38 days.3 This means that the time from the first day of your last period up to the start of your next period is at least 24 days but not more than 38 days.
How Do Menstrual Cycles Change As I Get Older?
Your cycles may change in different ways as you get older. Often, periods are heavier when you are younger (in your teens) and usually get lighter in your 20s and 30s. This is normal.
- For a few years after your first period, menstrual cycles longer than 38 days are common. Girls usually get more regular cycles within three years of starting their periods. If longer or irregular cycles last beyond that, see your doctor or nurse to rule out a health problem, such as PCOS.
- In your 20s and 30s, your cycles are usually regular and can last anywhere from 24 to 38 days.
- In your 40s, as your body starts the transition to menopause, your cycles might become irregular. Your menstrual periods might stop for a month or a few months and then start again. They also might be shorter or last longer than usual, or be lighter or heavier than normal.
Why And How Should I Keep Track Of My Menstrual Cycle?
If your periods are regular, tracking them will help you know when you ovulate, when you are most likely to get pregnant, and when to expect your next period to start. If your periods are not regular, tracking them can help you share any problems with your doctor or nurse.
You can keep track of your menstrual cycle by marking the day you start your period on a calendar. After a few months, you can begin to see if your periods are regular or if your cycles are different each month.
You may want to track:
- When your bleeding begins: Was it earlier or later than expected?
- How heavy the bleeding was on your heaviest days: Was the bleeding heavier or lighter than usual? How many pads or tampons did you use?
- Period symptoms: Did you have pain or bleeding on any days that caused you to miss work or school?
- How many days your period lasted: Was your period shorter or longer than the month before?
You can also download apps (sometimes for free) for your phone to track your periods. Some include features to track your PMS symptoms, energy and activity levels, and more.
When Does A Girl Start Her Period?
A girl may start her period anytime between 8 and 15. The first period normally starts about two years after breasts first start to develop and pubic hair begins to grow. The age at which a girl’s mother started her period can help predict when a girl may start her period.
A girl should see her doctor if:
- She starts her period before age 8.
- She has not had her first period by age 15.
- She has not had her first period within three years of breast growth.
How Often Should My Pad / Tampon / Menstrual Cup Be Changed?
Follow the instructions that came with your period product. Try to change or rinse your feminine hygiene product before it becomes soaked through or full.
- Most women change their pads every few hours.
- A tampon should not be worn for more than 8 hours because of the risk of toxicity.
- Menstrual cups and sponges may only need to be rinsed once or twice a day.
- Period panties (underwear with washable menstrual pads sewn in) can usually last about a day, depending on the style and your flow.
What Is PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome?
PMS is a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that many women get after ovulation and before the start of their menstrual period. Researchers think that PMS happens in the days after ovulation because estrogen and progesterone levels begin falling dramatically if you are not pregnant. PMS symptoms go away within a few days after a woman’s period starts as hormone levels begin rising again. Some women get their periods without any signs of PMS or only very mild symptoms. For others, PMS symptoms may be so severe that it makes it hard to do everyday activities like go to work or school.
What Are The Symptoms Of PMS?
Physical symptoms of PMS can include:
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Bloating or a gassy feeling
- Headache or backache
- Lower tolerance for noise or light
Emotional or mental symptoms of PMS include:
- Irritability or hostile behavior
- Feeling tired
- Sleep problems (sleeping too much or too little)
- Appetite changes or food cravings
- Trouble with concentration or memory
- Tension or anxiety
- Depression, feelings of sadness, or crying spells
- Mood swings
- Less interest in sex
How Can I Deal With PMS?
These tips will help you be healthier in general, and may relieve some of your PMS symptoms.
- Get regular aerobic physical activity throughout the month. Exercise can help with symptoms such as depression, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue.
- Choose healthy foods most of the time. Avoiding foods and drinks with caffeine, salt, and sugar in the two weeks before your period may lessen many PMS symptoms.
- Get enough sleep. Try to get about eight hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep is linked to depression and anxiety and can make PMS symptoms such as moodiness worse.
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress. Talk to your friends or write in a journal. Some women also find yoga, massage, or meditation helpful.
- Don’t smoke. In one large study, women who smoked reported more PMS symptoms and worse PMS symptoms than women who did not smoke.
- Eat calcium and vitamin B6 foods or supplements. Studies show that calcium can help reduce some PMS symptoms, such as fatigue, cravings, and depression. Vitamin B6 may help with moodiness, irritability, forgetfulness, bloating, and anxiety.
What Does It Mean If I Have Irregular Periods?
Your periods are considered irregular if your menstrual cycle is shorter or longer than average. This means that the time from the first day of your last period up to the start of your next period is less than 24 days or more than 38 days.
Your periods can also be irregular if your cycle length varies by more than 20 days from month to month. Irregular periods are normal for teenage girls and pre-menopausal women. Causes of irregular periods include:
- Eating disorders
- Thyroid problems
- High amounts of prolactin (the hormone that causes breasts to grow, and create breast milk) in the blood.
- Certain medicines, such as those for epilepsy or anxiety
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), which occurs when your ovaries stop working normally before age 40.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the reproductive organs.
- Uncontrolled diabetes.
Can I Prevent Problems In My Menstrual Cycle?
You may not be able to prevent problems in your menstrual cycle. Many period problems, such as heavy bleeding or painful periods, are caused by other problems with your reproductive system.
Tracking your periods and menstrual cycle symptoms can also help your doctor or nurse understand your risk for health problems related to your period problem. Track when your period starts, how long it lasts, the amount of bleeding, and any pain you may have. Talk to your doctor or nurse about what is normal for you and any symptoms you have that are new or different.
Reaching a healthy weight and staying at a healthy weight and not smoking can also help improve period problems, including PMS symptoms, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, and sometimes period pain.
Content Source: Womenshealth.gov