Also called menses or period, menstruation refers to vaginal bleeding in women and adolescent girls. This bleeding is due to shedding of the endometrium or uterine lining and is the last phase of the menstrual cycle. In other words, the tissue and blood exiting the body aren’t required anymore. Generally, the uterine lining thickens every month to get ready for a fertilized egg. If the egg doesn’t come in contact with a sperm, it doesn’t fertilize and exits the system via the vagina as blood. Menstruation involves both a woman’s nervous system and sex organs. Hormones are the prime reasons behind the phenomena.
When a girl has her first periods (menarche), it means her reproductive system is mature and functioning properly. It’s an indication the girl is turning into a woman. Most healthy girls get their periods around age 12 – some may start later or earlier. Generally, a healthy woman would experience periods every 28 days. The time gap may however extend or constrict among different women. Menstruation is likely to last until the female reaches menopause, or enters her late 40s or early 50s.
The menstrual flow may vary in quantity and quality, from small amounts to heavy losses, and could be bright red or black/brown in color. Periods generally last for 3 to 8 days, and most females could lose 80ml of blood (close to 1/3 of a tea cup) during the period. The flow isn’t consistent, and degrades in intensity and quantity with each passing day. The blood color is generally dark or bright red in the initial few days.
In some women, during ovulation (egg release from the ovary), which typically takes place close to two weeks prior to the next period, some pain and/or spotting is possible. This is due to change in hormones post ovulation. The bleeding or pain mustn’t last for more than three days – if it does, it’s time to see the doctor.
Premenstrual Symptoms and Relief Measures
Signs and symptoms of periods could be noticed one or two weeks prior to a period. The symptoms could include
- Bloating, irritability, tiredness and pimples
- Sweating, diarrhea, fatigue
- Breast pain (in most women)
- Vaginal pain
- Concentration issues
Though these symptoms are often irritating, they are least likely to interfere with routine activities. These symptoms usually vanish or subside when menstruation begins, or during the first few days of periods.
During periods, caffeinated beverages such as tea, coffee, cocoa, or cola are not recommended. Massage and other relaxation techniques would help relieve stress and the resultant discomfort. A physical exercise routine may help mitigate painful periods too.
Menstruation – Negatives & Positives
The following are the side effects women experience during menstruation:
- Headaches, irritability, fatigue, and water retention
- Anaemia, caused by heavy menstrual flow, also called menorrhagia
- Back pain and inner thigh pain
- Nausea, constipation, diarrhea, breast tenderness, irritability and similar mood changes
Women in their periods are also likely to experience relief, euphoria, exhilaration, creative energy, intense orgasms, increased sex drive, etc.
Generally, irregular or long absence of menstruation is not a serious condition in itself, but it still cannot be overlooked since it’s indicative of multiple underlying health issues.
Almost every woman has missed a period at least once. Menstruation may not occur if a woman is pregnant, breastfeeding, experiences major weight loss, indulges in heavy exercising, has serious medical conditions, eating disorders or stress issues. The absence of menstrual periods also mean the ovaries are not making normal levels of estrogen. And if the first period has not arrived after 15 years of age or two years post breast development, a doctor consultation is recommended. The doctor would check for early menopause, pregnancy, and health issues that could be causing no or irregular periods.
Doctor consultation is also recommended during the following scenarios:
- Menstruation doesn’t happen for more than three months, with no pregnancy
- Irregular periods post a series of monthly, regular menstrual cycles
- Profuse vaginal bleeding or bleeding for more than a week
- Sickness or fever post tampon or sanitary pad usage
- Bleeding between periods
- Period pattern changes
- Abnormally heavy periods, or periods lasting for more than a week
- Unbearably painful period