Menstrual cycle is a biological process during which a woman’s body undergoes a series of hormonal changes to prepare for a possible pregnancy. It starts on the first day of a period and ends on the day prior to the next period. The average menstrual cycle period is 28 days. In adults, the cycle could last for anywhere between 21-35 days. Teens generally undergo the phase for 21 to 45 days. The length and time-interval however may change between women and subsequent cycles.
During the first few days (2 to 7 days) of the cycle, a fluid flows through the uterus and exits out of the vagina, the phenomenon referred to as menstruation or periods. The liquid comprises blood, mucus and cells from uterus lining. Tampons or sanitary pads are usually used for absorbing the fluid. These absorbents must be changed every few hours, depending on the flow’s intensity. Girls typically experience their first period between 11 to 14 years of age. However, some may get their initial period much early or during late teens. Women continue to have these cycles until the 45 to 55 age period.
Though menstrual cycles are frowned upon by most women for the associated pain and discomfort, it’s a signal the important body parts are working properly. Important chemicals, known as hormones, are released during this stage to keep the body healthy and prepare it for pregnancy. With each menstrual cycle, the body becomes increasingly capable of bearing a child.
Different Menstrual Cycle Stages
Multiple glands are at work during a menstrual cycle. Generally, during the first half, estrogen (female hormone) levels in the body increase. On the first day of menstruation, the estrogen level is the lowest. Estrogen helps build strong bones and maintain strength with age. The hormone also helps the uterus (womb) lining grow and thicken. The womb lining is a place where the embryo gets nourishment during pregnancy.
Simultaneously, ovum or an egg starts maturing. At mid-stage of the cycle, the egg exits the ovary. This is known as ovulation. The exact day of ovulation may vary across women, but it’s usually day 14. Generally, ovulation goes unnoticed, but some women may experience minor pain in the lower abdomen region. Also, during ovulation, the vaginal discharge loses viscosity considerably and becomes watery. On ovulation day, another hormone called progesterone is produced, which further helps in building womb lining.
The egg heads to the uterus via the fallopian tube. During this phase, the hormone levels surge and prep up the uterine lining for pregnancy. Generally, women are likely to be pregnant on or three days prior ovulation. Pregnancy is achieved if the egg fertilizes with a male sperm cell and sticks to the uterine wall. If no fertilization happens, the egg breaks. Subsequently, the hormone levels go down and the uterus’ thickened lining is shed. This indicates the beginning of the next menstrual cycle.
Menstrual Cycle Irregularities and Cure
A menstrual cycle may not be uniform and may get delayed or vary in duration. An irregular menstrual cycle could be due to the following:
- Breast-feeding, pregnancy or miscarriage
- Eating disorders, excessive exercising or extreme weight loss or gain
- Caffeine consumption
- Premature ovarian failure – the loss of regular ovarian function prior 40 years of age
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Uterine fibroids
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Excessive stress
Birth control pills could be used to mitigate an impending pregnancy, thereby regulating menstrual cycles. But, some irregularities have no treatment.