The Menstrual Cycle 101
Although it is sometimes referred to by many different names, “Visit from Aunt Flo”, “That Time of the Month”, or “Riding the Crimson Tide”, to name just a few, your period is a lot more complex than it may seem. It’s shocking how unfamiliar many people are with the basics of this often “taboo” subject.
When you mention the menstrual cycle, most people solely think about the days leading up to and during your period; however, the menstrual cycle is in fact comprised of six phases. These include:
- The Follicular Phase: The time between the first day of the period and ovulation of the egg.
- Ovulation: Happens mid-cycle when the egg is released from the ovary.
- The Luteal Phase: The time between ovulation and before the start of the next menstruation. This is when the body prepares for a possible pregnancy.
- Menstruation: The actual period part of the cycle. Where the uterine lining is shed and women may experience bleeding, cramps, and other symptoms associated with menstruation.
- The Proliferative Phase: After your period when the uterine lining is being built back.
- The Secretory Phase: The uterine lining prepares to support an early pregnancy or for the lining to be shed if pregnancy does not actually occur.
Menstruation is the technical term for getting your period. Typically, women who have gone through puberty will experience menstrual bleeding one time per month. The weeks before your period, your uterine lining has prepared itself for a possible pregnancy by becoming thicker and richer in blood vessels. If pregnancy does not occur, this lining is shed throughout the week. For most women, bleeding lasts for 3-8 days and can range from being an extremely light flow to a moderately heavy one.
The length of time from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period normally ranges from 21-35 days. This is regulated by oestrogen and progesterone, as well as a few other hormones. These hormones are produced by two structures located within the brain: the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, along with help from the ovaries.
What’s Considered “Normal”?
The average woman will experience her period in a fairly predictable pattern; however, this is not always the case for everyone. Depending on many lifestyle and genetic factors, a woman’s period may vary in length and heaviness. There are also a few other reasons like uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, uterine polyps, pelvic inflammatory disease, and hormonal conditions that may cause your period to be more irregular, long, or heavy.
Fibroids and the Menstrual Cycle
Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that can impact the menstrual cycle. They typically grow within the lining of the uterus, causing a variety of symptoms such as:
- Heavy periods lasting 10 days or more
- Severe pelvic pain or cramps
- Bleeding between cycles
- Protruding abdomen or belly
- Pain during intercourse
- Frequent urination or difficulty emptying the bladder
- Fatigue from anemia
Many women have fibroids and do not know because they may think heavy, lengthy periods or severe cramps are just a part of their menstrual cycle; however, this is not the case. Your period should not be limiting you from enjoying a full life. If you are planning your life around your symptoms, or avoiding activities because of your period, you need to find an effective solution.
Tracking your period and noting any changes is helpful in knowing if there could be an underlying issue. Every woman’s cycle and period is different; therefore, some women who have fibroids may not experience the same symptoms or changes in their menstrual cycle. Opening up a dialogue regarding any issues regarding your period and getting checked for fibroids is important in preventing future issues from arising. Your period shouldn’t be controlling your life; for some women, fibroids can cause symptoms that negatively impact their daily and personal life.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, or want to learn more about fibroids, take our 5-minute quiz to see if this could be the cause of your discomfort.