Women's menstrual cycles
The menstrual cycle is an important part of a woman's life. It is a series of changes the woman body has to undergo in order to prepare for pregnancy. The menstrual cycle has three phases: the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. The first day of the menstrual cycle is the first day of the menstrual bleeding. The average cycle lasts 28 days, but it usually differs from woman to woman and it is completely normal to have a shorter or longer cycle.
Each month the uterus prepares a new lining for a fertilized egg so it can nestle down into the uterine wall for implantation. When fertilization does not take place, the uterus sheds its lining and together with blood is excluded. This is the monthly menstrual bleeding (also called menstrual period) women experience from their early teen years until menopause.
A girl's first menstruation, called also menarche, occurs usually around the age of 12-13 years, but it is considered to be normal between the ages 8 and 16. The menstrual cycle evolves continually, some of the changes are slow and some are sudden and in the end it stops completely. Menopause is the term for permanent discontinuance of the menstrual cycle at the end of a woman's reproductive life.
Hot flashes, changes in sleep patterns, night sweats, migraines or headaches, high energy or loss of energy, untypical tiredness and mood changes are some of the signs of menopause. Usually women enter the process of menopause between the ages of 40 and 55 but some women experience early menopause, which occurs before the age of 40. Genetics are largely responsible for the age of menopause. A reason for early menopause can be cancer treatment, autoimmune conditions, thyroid problems and other health problems. Menopause, caused by a hormonal unbalance is reached when menstruation has fully stopped for at least one year. The menopause process lasts from approximately 6 months to up to 3 years.
The length of a woman's menstrual cycle will typically vary, some cycles are shorter and some are longer. A regular menstrual cycle is considered to be when the variations of the cycle length are less than 8 days between her longest cycles and shortest cycles. Length variation between 8 and 20 days is considered as moderately irregular cycles. Variation of 21 days or more is considered very irregular.
Irregular menstrual cycles
If you have an irregular cycle (that means a cycle which has a length variation of more than 21 days) then unfortunately it is not possible to predict when your next period will arrive. Predicting periods is never completely precise because even if you are usually regular it does not automatically mean that the next period will be on time. However this menstruation and ovulation calendar will enable you to get a pretty good idea of when to expect your next menstruation.
Menstrual cycle control
Hormones estrogen and progesterone are the most important for the menstrual cycle. Estrogen is responsible for building the uterus lining. The level of progesterone is increased after ovulation (when an ovary releases an egg) which takes place approximately in the middle of the cycle. Progesterone helps estrogen to keep the lining thick and ready for the fertilized egg. At the beginning of the period a drop in progesterone together with estrogen causes the lining to break down. The hormone levels can be affected by the woman's fertility or her period cycle. Other factors which can have impact on the cycle are birth control pills, low body fat, weight loss, overweight, extensive exercise or stress.
Myths about menstruation
- Every woman's cycle should be 28 days long.
- It is not possible to get pregnant during menstruation.
- Menstruating women need to be in bed and avoid strenuous activity.
- It is unhealthy to have sex during menstruation.
- Women on their period are more likely to be attacked by wild animals.
- Women should not eat certain foods while menstruating.
- A woman who still menstruates is not pregnant.
- Every woman will or should bleed every month.
- Young girls should not use tampons during their first periods.
- Periods shorter than 3 days or period's irregularity means a woman is infertile or abnormal.
- A woman cannot go swimming during her period.
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