The Menstrual Cycle Explained
The menstrual cycle is a little miracle. For most women, however, it is simply mysterious. We ovulate and then menstruate once a month, right? Yes, but there is a little more to it. This sophisticated system is the menstrual cycle.
The monthly cycle lasts between 21 and 35 days. It starts with the first day of the period and ends with the last day before the next period. The cycle takes place in three different phases: follicular phase, ovulatory phase and luteal phase. Each of these phases has a different purpose, is dominated by different hormones and has an impact on our health. We explain the menstrual cycle so you can better understand your cycle.
The Follicular Phase
In the follicular phase, the female body prepares for a possible pregnancy by creating fertile eggs. This is the phase the follows menstruation (the luteal phase). At this stage, your body realized that the last egg didn’t fertilize, hence menstruation. After the release of the uterine lining, an increase in the luteinizing (LH) and follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) occurs which travel from your brain to your ovaries and stimulate the growth of new eggs. The new egg growth causes estrogen to rise in preparation for ovulation and also stops the FSH so that you will stop producing eggs.
The Ovulatory Phase
Ovulation occurs about 14 days before the start of the next menstrual period. During this time, the cervix opens a little so that sperm have an easier passageway. This is the time when women are fertile and more sexually aroused. The ovum remains fertile 24-48 hours after ovulation. The most fertile days are usually the three days before your ovulation day when the egg is dropped into the fallopian tubes. This is because sperm can “wait around” for the egg during those three days and have an optimal opportunity to fertilize the egg at the right time.
It should be noted here that ovulation is the only time in which your body can fertilize an egg and become pregnant. However, you remain fertile until the egg dissolves which can be up to 48 hours afterward. It is also important to note that sperm can live in your uterus up to 6 days! That also means that 6 days prior to ovulation you are technically fertile and have a chance of becoming pregnant if engaged in unprotected sex.
The Luteal Phase
From the follicle, which remains after ovulation, a structure forms in the ovaries which is called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum is formed in order to retain a pregnancy if the egg is fertilized and so secretes large amounts of progesterone which is the hormone that will help protect the egg and fetus. If the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum will stop secreting progesterone and start to decay. Once the corpus luteum and the unfertilized egg decay, the uterine lining is discarded through the vagina (menstruation). When menstruation starts, both progesterone and estrogen drop back to a baseline, as if to recycle and begin again. Once menstruation is complete, your hormones initiate the follicular state which will trigger ovulation and then the luteal phase – and so on until menopause.
Menstruation (or period) occurs for the first time in a young female at the beginning of puberty. This first bleeding is also called menarche. Afterwards, the menstrual cycle sticks around until menopause. The menstrual cycle is normal, healthy and beautiful. No menstruating human should feel shamed or embarrassed, though it is often the case. Probably because it isn’t talked about enough. Menstruation should not be a shock topic anymore – it’s old news! And, it’s biology. We want to talk about menstruation all the time and shift the conversation into a comfort-zone – maybe even make it boring because it will be talked about so much. Let’s make periods as typical as talking about the weather.
What is a “normal” menstruation duration?
The duration of the menstrual period is typically 4-7 days, though, some healthy women experience 3 or 8 so the exact number is difficult to pin down. Every woman will have a unique period experience and you should never feel singled out or different. Your hormones are changing so you will also feel a change. For some women, spotting can happen a few days earlier, but usually does not last longer than 2-3 days. Menstruation will require a form of hygiene product (tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups) changed at least twice per day. If you only experience a few drops, it is probable that you are not menstruating and should probably book an appointment with your Gyno.
The amount of menstrual blood and fluid is also unique to you. During a typical menstruation period, 30-50ml of blood is lost. Mind you that this is not the same as the menstruation fluid. The blood only makes up 36% of what your body expels. The menstruation fluid might be anywhere from 80-120ml. Bloating and cramps are the main symptoms felt during menstruation.
What is an abnormal menstruation?
Menorrhagia, heavy bleeding is a serious diagnosis. If a tampon does not last 2 hours or you are emptying your menstrual cup 4 times a day, you may want to talk with your doctor about this. Similarly, if your period consistently lasts longer than seven days, you will want to have blood work and talk with your doctor to make sure that everything is alright.
It is also important to check for blood clots. Clotting will show up as coagulated blood (essentially gel-like or chunks). Of course, tissue remnants, which are very small, may appear and is no cause for concern. But if you notice larger lumps, .5-1cm or larger in diameter, please seek your doctor’s advice. It should also be taken into account that sever pain, migraine or nausea that affects your daily life is a sign that something is not right. Always seek medical attention if you are concerned.
What symptoms to look for?
All of these widespread symptoms, from excessive bleeding to long duration or severe pain, should not be a burden to endure. A normal menstruation should never restrict our everyday lives. If this is the case, it can be an indicator of various clinical disorders. Schedule a Gyno appointment if you feel any discomfort!
Many of these menstrual cycle symptoms may indicate a hormonal imbalance, poor diet, too much stress or a much more serious condition such as endometriosis, PCOS or thyroid dysfunction. The same applies to a cycle that is too long, too short or completely absent. We would strongly recommend a visit to your gynecologist if you experience any of these symptoms. When it is clear what the underlying causes are, treatment with medicinal plants, a change in diet and easy lifestyle changes can be very helpful.
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