Your menstrual cycle is much more than simply getting your periods once a month. This handy guide will help you with all your queries on this topic.
What is the menstrual cycle and what are its stages?
Your menstrual cycle days begin from the first day of your last period and end on the first day of your next. The length of normal menstrual cycle days is different for different women, but the average length of a cycle can be anywhere between 24 to 38 days.
The length of period cycle days is also dynamic – it keeps changing between your menarche (when your periods first arrive during puberty) and menopause (when your periods stop forever).
The key elements involved in and affecting women’s menstrual cycle is a complex interaction between your brain, female hormones – oestrogen and progesterone, the uterus, and the ovaries.
The pituitary gland situated at the base of your brain signals your ovaries to secrete oestrogen and progesterone that prepare the body for a possible pregnancy. Thus, commencing the menstrual period cycle which progresses in four main phases:
During this phase, a menstrual fluid consisting of blood, mucus, and the cells of the uterine lining is eliminated through the vaginal opening. This is your period. It can last anywhere between 2 to 7 days.
- The Follicular Phase:
The follicular phase of your menstrual cycle begins from the first day of your period and lasts up until ovulation. In the course of this phase, oestrogen levels rise, and the ovaries prepare for the release of an egg for possible fertilization.
The follicular phase also stimulates the phase where the uterine lining begins to build again.
- Ovulation: In this phase, ovaries release the egg. It travels through the fallopian tubes and implants itself into the lining along the walls of your uterus.
This phase usually occurs around two weeks prior to your periods. During this process, the oestrogen level peaks and drops just shortly after.
The typical life span of this egg is about 24 hours. Unless it is fertilised by a sperm cell during this window, it dies and is shed along with the uterine lining.
- The Luteal Phase: The phase that occurs between ovulation and the first day of your period is called the luteal phase. This phase sees a rise in the level of progesterone, required to maintain the thickness of the uterine lining to nurture the fertilised egg. Now, if during that time, pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels drop. This causes the uterine lining to break down and shed away, along with other menstrual fluid.
Why should you track menstrual cycle? How can you track menstrual cycle?
At the most basic level, keeping a track of your menstrual cycle can help you be prepared for your periods. But tracking your menstrual cycle can help you in so many other ways as well.
For instance, you are better equipped to understand and deal with the cyclical symptoms if you know what is causing them. Depending upon what phase of your menstrual cycle you are in, you might experience sexual intercourse differently, you might feel bloated, suffer from headaches, get acne, encounter digestive troubles, etc. In fact, many women have also reported that menstrual cycle tends to affect their mental health too.
You can note down your period dates somewhere in a diary or mark those dates on a calendar to help anticipate and plan for your next periods. Tracking your menstrual cycle or periods has also now become much easier with technological advancements. You can do that by simply downloading a period tracking app on your smartphone.
How do you calculate your menstrual cycle?
The female menstrual cycle is a very personal experience. Each woman experiences it differently, and that is why it is beneficial to look into the period calculation. To conduct a menstrual cycle calculation, you should start on the very first day of your period and count up to the very last day before your next period begins. However, you should be mindful that menstrual cycles may vary due to several reasons.
For example, if your period started on 1st January and ended on 5th January, you will start calculating your menstrual cycle from 1st January and it will last until your next period arrives. So, if your next period arrives on 31st January, your menstrual cycle lasted from 1st January to 30th January, meaning that your menstrual cycle is on an average 30 days long.
It is important to remember, however, that pre-period spotting doesn’t count as the first day of your period. Your period begins when you start bleeding regularly.
What causes menstrual cycle irregularities?
If you monitor your menstrual cycle closely, you can quickly recognize irregularities and atypical periods.
While a single missed, delayed or early period should not raise alarm, if your menstrual cycle is consistently irregular, you might want to pay your gynecologist a visit.
There can be several underlying causes that lead to irregular periods. Some of them are:
- Pregnancy: If you are sexually active and have missed your period, it is possible that the underlying cause is pregnancy. But merely missing a period doesn’t necessarily mean that you are pregnant. Watch out for other symptoms of early pregnancy such as tender breasts, extreme fatigue, morning sickness, nausea, etc., and take a home pregnancy test to rule out the possibility.
- Hormonal imbalances: Several studies have established a link between menstrual irregularities and hormonal disorders such as hyper or hypothyroidism. If your menstrual irregularities are coupled with sudden weight loss or weight gain, hair loss, or an irritable bowel it is best to check with your doctor.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: The most common symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS are irregular periods. Other symptoms to watch out for are weight gain, excess hair fall, growth of excess facial hair or body hair, etc.
- Stress: Stress and anxiety are known to interfere with your menstrual cycle – whether that is in the form of menstrual irregularities, delays in periods, or even shorter menstrual cycles. Of these, menstrual irregularities are most common in women facing excess stress.
How can you prevent menstrual irregularities?
There are several science-backed methods that can help in regularizing your menstrual cycle such as yoga, effective stress management, exercising regularly, and eating right. However, if the symptoms persist it is better to seek advice from your health care provider and chalk out a treatment plan that specifically targets the underlying cause of your problem.
Where can you get help for menstrual irregularities?
Monitoring your menstrual cycle will help you identify the early warning signs. You can then schedule an appointment with your doctor and based on your symptoms your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes, medication to regularize your cycle, or a combination of both. It is important not to ignore the signs and suffer in silence. Whatever be the underlying cause of irregularity in your menstrual cycle, your gynecologist is qualified to help you find a solution.