Often referred to as “that time of the month” or “a visit from Aunt Flo,” a woman’s period is an important but commonly avoided topic. Some cultures still consider it a taboo, while others are unaware about the importance of having a healthy menstrual cycle.
Understanding the Menstrual Cycle
By definition, the menstrual cycle is the natural process a woman’s body goes through every month, in preparation for pregnancy. It is a process that begins just before or during the early teen years, lasts through a woman’s prime and fades out as she approaches her 50s and 60s.
The menstrual cycle has four distinct phases, each with their own duties and characteristics:
The follicular phase:
This phase usually lasts for seven to 10 days and is responsible for preparing the body for the ovulation process. During this phase, the levels of estrogen and the follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) start increasing, signaling the ovaries to get ready to ovulate. The increase in these two hormones often manifests as higher energy levels.
The next step is the ovulation phase where the released egg moves through the fallopian tube and waits to be fertilized. This simply means that a woman stands the highest chance of getting pregnant during this stage. Estrogen and FSH are joined by the luteinizing hormone (LH) and all three reach their peak, causing an increase in libido and overall confidence. Since each woman’s cycle varies in length, the time between ovulation and the next period can be anywhere between seven days to a full two weeks.
This phase is characterized by an increase in progesterone levels and is manifested in the form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Many women complain of symptoms like bloating and irritability during this time, though this can vary from person to person. High progesterone levels can also cause a spike in appetite and increase cravings for certain types of foods.
The menstrual cycle culminates with the dreaded period. Progesterone levels, which were high in the previous phase, drop and estrogen continues to peak and eventually drops off too. This phase focuses on the removal of the lining of the uterus and is characterized by bleeding that can last anywhere from three to seven days, depending on individual bodies. Typically accompanied by cramps, backaches, tenderness in the breasts and mood swings, this is the most painful phase of the menstrual cycle. Many women often need to take a break from regular activities to cope with the side effects of the period.
Key Points About the Menstrual Cycle
- A menstrual cycle is calculated from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period.
- The duration of a cycle can vary and it is considered normal as long it lasts between 24–38 days. It is recommended to talk to a healthcare professional if you notice irregularities.
- Young girls may have irregular cycles for the first few years after they get their first period, but it stabilizes over time.
- Women in their 20s and 30s may have the most stable cycles.
- Women in their 40s may notice irregularities as the body starts preparing for menopause.
- Menopause occurs typically in the 50s or 60s, depending on individual traits.
Though the menstrual cycle tends to be associated only with negative aspects like PMS and the painful period, we should realize its importance and strive to keep it working like clockwork until it wanes off naturally.
Berzin, R. (2018, July 03). 28 Days Or 40? Here’s How Long Your Cycle Is Really Supposed To Be. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/healthy-menstrual-cycle-length
Menstrual cycle tool. (2018, March 16). Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle#3