Your menstrual cycle. Your period. The monthly visit from Aunt Flo. Painting the town red. Whatever you call it, it’s a monthly burden that almost all women must bear in their life. While every woman’s menstrual cycle is a little different, there are some guidelines that must be met so that your period can be considered regular. Today, we’re talking about what’s “normal” and what’s “not so normal” when it comes to your menstrual cycle.
What Exactly is a Menstrual Cycle?
A menstrual cycle is a monthly series of changes a woman’s body undergoes to prepare the body for a potential pregnancy. The average cycle, beginning on the first day of bleeding, lasts about 28 days but can vary anywhere from to 21 to 45 days. Things like birth control can also affect the timing of your cycle.
What Happens During My Period?
During the first half of your period, estrogen levels rise initiating the beginning of your menstrual cycle. Estrogen causes the lining of your uterus to grow and thicken in preparation for an embryo. At the same time this lining is growing, an egg or ovum is beginning its maturation process. After around 14 days, the mature egg is released, signaling the start of ovulation.
If this egg is fertilized by a male’s sperm, pregnancy can begin. However, if the egg is not fertilized, it breaks down, hormone levels drop, and the thickened uterine lining is shed. This process repeats every month for most women with a few variances. If you notice a few differences in your cycle that can’t be explained, something may be amiss.
Signs Your Period is Off
The Schedule: One of the biggest trademarks of a menstrual cycle is regularity. Whether your period arrives every 30 days, every 25 days, or exactly every 28 days, that’s just your body’s schedule and that’s okay. Keep track of your period over the next few months using a calendar or a smartphone app designed specifically for that purpose. If you notice your period is inconsistent, consult with your doctor.
Cramps: Cramps are an unfortunate side effect to the menstrual cycle and can be experienced at different degrees of pain. Standard over-the-counter pain medications should help you manage your cramps. If they persist, it could be a sign of a more serious problem such as endometriosis where the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus.
Flow: Flow, or how much you bleed during your period, can vary. Although if your bleeding causes you to have to change your tampon every hour, this is considered heavy bleeding. Heavy bleeding isn’t necessarily an indicator of an underlying disease since it’s common to have a heavier flow at the beginning of your cycle. However, if the heavy bleeding continues for the duration of your period, it could be a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Missing Periods: Missing a period may seem like a cause for immediate alarm but simple things like stress can cause you to skip your period. Multiple missed periods, however, are a sign of a deeper issue such as PCOS, early perimenopause, or even diabetes.
If your period falls outside the norm, consult with your healthcare professional. An inconsistency doesn’t always indicate a problem but in some cases, it does.
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