Menstruation is something that happens to all women at some point in their lives, and yet there’s still so much misinformation and stigma surrounding it. But don’t worry, by the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to understand this natural process and feel confident about managing it.
What is Menstruation?
Menstruation is a monthly cycle that happens to women when the uterus sheds its lining. It typically lasts between three to seven days, but can vary from woman to woman. The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones that signal to the ovaries to release an egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the uterus sheds its lining, and the process starts over again.
Menstruation is a normal and natural part of a woman’s reproductive system, and it usually begins during puberty, which can happen between the ages of 8-15 years. Menstruation will continue until menopause, which usually happens between the ages of 45-55 years.
Why Does Menstruation Occur?
Menstruation occurs as a result of the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones in the body, including estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are produced by the ovaries and work together to control the menstrual cycle.
During the first half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels rise and signal to the uterus to thicken its lining. This prepares the uterus for pregnancy. Around day 14 of the cycle, an egg is released from the ovary in a process called ovulation.
If the egg is not fertilized, the hormone levels in the body drop, which signals the uterus to shed its lining. This shedding of the uterine lining is what causes menstruation.
Managing menstruation is a personal choice, and there are several options available. The most common options include:
- Sanitary pads: These are rectangular pieces of absorbent material that are placed in underwear to absorb menstrual blood.
- Tampons: These are cylindrical pieces of absorbent material that are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood.
- Menstrual cups: These are small, bell-shaped silicone cups that are inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood.
- Period panties: These are specially designed underwear that can absorb menstrual blood without the need for pads or tampons.
When choosing a method to manage your menstrual cycle, it’s important to consider your lifestyle and personal preferences. For example, if you are an athlete, you may prefer a tampon or menstrual cup over a pad. If you have a heavy flow, you may need to change your pad or tampon more frequently.
It’s common to experience symptoms during menstruation. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Cramping: This is caused by the uterus contracting to shed its lining.
- Bloating: This can be caused by water retention during the menstrual cycle.
- Mood changes: Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle can cause mood swings.
- Fatigue: This can be caused by hormonal changes and the physical demands of menstruation.
- Headaches: Hormonal changes can also cause headaches during menstruation.
- Acne: Hormonal changes during menstruation can also cause some women to experience acne breakouts.
- Breast tenderness: Some women experience breast tenderness or swelling during their menstrual cycle.
- Nausea: Some women experience nausea or vomiting during their menstrual cycle, although this is less common.
There are several things that are considered abnormal during menstruation, as they may indicate an underlying medical condition. Here are some examples:
- Heavy bleeding: If you are soaking through a pad or tampon every hour for several hours in a row, or if your period lasts longer than seven days, you may be experiencing heavy bleeding, which is also called menorrhagia. It can be caused by hormonal imbalances, uterine fibroids, or other medical conditions.
- Painful periods: While some discomfort during menstruation is normal, severe pain that interferes with daily activities is considered abnormal, and is known as dysmenorrhea. It can be caused by endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or other medical conditions.
- Irregular periods: Menstrual cycles that are shorter or longer than the normal range of 21-35 days. This may indicate a hormonal imbalance or other underlying medical condition. Irregular periods are called oligomenorrhea.
- Absent periods: If you have not had a period for at least three months after previously having regular periods, or if you have not started menstruating by age 16, this is considered abnormal and is called amenorrhea. It can be caused by hormonal imbalances, excessive exercise, or other medical conditions.
- Menstrual cramps outside of periods: If you experience cramping or pelvic pain outside of your menstrual period, this may indicate an underlying medical condition such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids.
- Unusual discharge: If you experience any unusual vaginal discharge during your period, such as a foul odor, thick discharge, or a change in color, this may indicate an infection or other medical condition.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): A combination of physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the days leading up to menstruation, such as bloating, headaches, mood swings, and breast tenderness. While PMS is common, severe or prolonged symptoms may indicate a more serious condition, such as Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
- Menstrual migraines: Headaches that occur before or during menstruation, and can be caused by hormonal fluctuations.
Menstruation is a natural process that happens to all women at some point in their lives. It’s important to understand how the menstrual cycle works and how to manage it effectively. By choosing a method that works for you and understanding common symptoms, you can feel confident and empowered during your menstrual cycle.
Remember, menstruation is a normal and natural part of a woman’s reproductive system, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It’s important to have open conversations about menstruation to reduce stigma and misinformation.
If you have a daughter or young woman in your life, it’s important to have age-appropriate conversations with them about menstruation. This will help them feel more prepared and confident when they experience their first menstrual cycle.