Talking about menstruation is still a taboo. Hushed voices and whispers is how we communicate. It is extremely important to be aware and know how the monthly menstrual cycle works. This brief blog post highlights the basics of the menstrual cycle.
What is menstruation?
Menstruation is the elimination of the endometrium (the thick uterine lining) through the vagina. The menstrual fluid is composed of blood, mucus and cells (from the endometrium). Menstruation is your body preparing itself for pregnancy each month. If you do not get pregnant, menstruation occurs. The ‘menstrual cycle’ is the period during which this occurs. Menstruation is commonly referred to as ‘period’.
How long does the cycle last?
The menstrual cycle starts on the day of the first day of your period and ends on the day before the next period. In general, this duration is about 28 days, but varies from woman to woman. This also changes through the course of your life, as several external factors such as stress and lifestyle can affect the menstrual cycle.
What are the phases of the menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle consists of the following phases:
The follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation (release of mature egg from the ovary). Ovulation occurs mid-cycle, approximately 2 weeks before menstruation starts.
During this phase, the follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) is released
This stimulates the ovaries to produce a number of follicles, which contain immature eggs.
During ovulation, one mature egg is released. In this phase, the lutenising hormone (LH) increases, which triggers ovulation.
The follicular phase lasts for about 10-22 days, but this can vary from cycle-to-cycle.
Post ovulation, the ruptured follicle forms what is known as corpus luteum.
This releases more amount of the hormone progesterone and some estrogen
These ensure that the lining of the uterus remains thick for the egg to be planted.
If pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum breaks down and progesterone levels fall.
This leads to the thickened uterine lining to shed, which marks the onset of menstruation.
The luteal phase typically lasts about 14 days, but between 9 and 16 days is common. During this phase is when one can experience mood swings, bloating, tiredness and even anxiety.
Menstruation: The lining of the uterus is shed out via the vagina. This stage usually lasts from 3-7 days, but again, varies from woman to woman. In fact, this can also differ from one cycle to the next. The onset of menstruation (menarche) is usually around the age of 11-14 years old. However, several factors such as ethnicity, age, height, weight and even genetic factors affect the onset of menstruation.
Can certain foods help ease symptoms felt during the menstrual cycle?
In general, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and good quality protein can help provide all the nutrients necessary to handle menstrual cramps, the most common issue faced by women. Magnesium rich foods (or supplements) could help relieve these cramps and also help with irritability and anxiety. Some magnesium rich foods are almonds, spinach, dark chocolate, cashews and avocados.
How long does one menstruate?
Menstruation lasts until a woman reaches a stage called menopause, post which she will stop menstruating. This usually happens between the late 40s and early 50s of a woman’s life.
What are some common problems associated with menstruation?
Oligomenorrhea: This is a condition where the menstrual cycle is infrequent. While there is some variation from cycle to cycle, intermittent periods without cycle could be a sign of oligomenorrhea. Conditions like PCOS and hyperthyroidism could also be associated with oligomenorrhea.
Amenorrhea: This is a condition where the menstrual cycle is entirely absent.
Premenstrual Syndrome: Commonly known as PMS, these are a group of symptoms that occur before the start of the menstrual cycle. Symptoms include but are not limited to acne, mood swings, sore breasts and even food cravings.
Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder: Known as PMDD, this is a hormone based mood disorder that is a more severe form of PMS. The exact cause for this is unknown. Nervousness, agitation, depression, severe fatigue, sleeplessness, paranoia and anger are some of the associate psychological symptoms. Besides these, nausea, constipation, acne, dizziness, hot flashes are come of the other symptoms. It is to be noted that the symptoms of PMDD are very severe and tends to affect several aspects of one’s life.
1) Understanding your menstrual cycle [Internet]. Office on Women’s Health. 2019
2) Menstrual cycle [Internet]. Victoria State Government. 2019.
3) Johns Hopkins Medicine.Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) [Internet]. 2019.
4) Johns Hopkins Medicine. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) [Internet]. 2019.