A menstrual cycle is a period of time where a woman’s body goes through changes in order to prepare for pregnancy. It occurs about once a month where the uterus grows a new lining, called the endometrium. This gets the body ready for a fertilized egg. If no egg is fertilized during this time, the uterus will shed its lining, which is called menstrual bleeding, or a woman’s period. Menstrual cycles typically start during early teens and last up until menopause which is around age 50.
The menstrual cycle lasts from day 1 of bleeding to day 1 of bleeding the next month. The average cycle length is 28-30 days which is about a month, though women can have shorter or longer menstrual cycles. The normal starting age for a menstrual cycle is between ages 11 and 14. Women usually begin having less periods during premenopause which starts between age 40 and 45 until menopause around age 50 to 55 when the menstrual cycles stop completely.
Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle
Your hormones are what control the menstrual cycle, including when it will occur and how long it will be. Every cycle, your pituitary glands and hypothalamus glands will send hormone signals back and forth form your ovaries. The hormones include estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen helps build up the lining of the uterus to improve your chances of conception while progesterone increases near ovulation (the middle of your cycle) and improves the thickness of the lining. Changes in hormone levels may affect your menstrual cycle, including causing infertility where you are unable to get pregnant. Things such as birth control pills, losing weight, low body fat, or being obese can also change your hormone levels and your menstrual cycles.
Side Effects of Menstrual Cycles
During different times of your menstrual cycle, you will experience different side effects. The week before menstruation, you will have what are considered premenstrual symptoms. These include feeling bloating, gaining water weight, tender breasts, acne, low energy levels, mood swings, cramps, and headaches. Different women feel a different range of premenstrual symptoms during this time. Near the middle of your cycle, you ovulate which is when your ovary releases an egg. This can also cause lower abdominal pain and a small amount of red spotting.
The cramping, headaches, and other symptoms during your menstrual cycle can sometimes be very uncomfortable. You can remedy this by taking an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin. Different medications will work better for different women, so you have to find out which works best for your own menstrual cycle.