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What is a menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle is a series of hormone-driven events. During each menstrual cycle, an egg develops and is released from the ovaries. Then, the lining of the uterus builds up. If a pregnancy doesn’t happen, the uterine lining sheds during a menstrual period, restarting the cycle.
The phases of the menstrual cycle
In a period of 26–35 days, the menstrual cycle goes through 4 different phases:
- Menstrual phase: The menstrual phase simply refers to your period, and typically lasts between 2 and 7 days. This phase starts when an egg from the previous cycle isn’t fertilized and indicates that there is no pregnancy. Menstruation is the elimination of the thickened lining of the uterus from the body through the vagina and sanitary pads or tampons are used to absorb the menstrual flow. These need to be changed regularly to avoid disease.
- Follicular phase: This phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation. In this phase, an egg will mature and become ready to be fertilized. This can occur around day 10 of the 28-day cycle.
- Ovulation: A mature egg is released from the surface of the ovary. This usually occurs mid-cycle, around two weeks or so before menstruation starts. The ovulation phase is the only time during your menstrual cycle when you can get pregnant.
- Luteal phase: This is when the lining of your uterus normally gets thicker to prepare for a possible pregnancy. If the egg is fertilized, it will stick to the lining of the uterus and develop into a pregnancy. If there is no fertilized egg, uterine lining will shed during your period, restarting the cycle.
You’re not alone
Is there such a thing as a “normal” period?
No two periods are the same. In fact, your period may even vary from month to month depending on factors such as stress, diet, and lifestyle. Over time, hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause will also cause changes to your period. However, here are some general guidelines that indicate a healthy period:
- Menstrual flow that occurs every 21 to 35 days. Your cycle may not be completely regular, and that’s okay. Cycle variation is common during the first few years of your period. However, in general, you should be getting your period every 3-5 weeks.
- Bleeding during menstruation lasts between 2 and 7 days. Bleeding lasting longer than a week, or the absence of a period, may indicate an underlying condition.
- Total blood loss between 10 and 35mL. To give you an idea, one fully soaked pad or tampon usually holds about 5mL of blood.
- Cramping or discomfort that may be mild to very uncomfortable, but can be managed with proper rest and over-the-counter pain medication.
Effects of menstruation
There are some common problems that come with the menstrual cycle. One of these problems is premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which is caused by hormonal events before a period and results in side effects like fluid retention, headaches, fatigue and irritability. Another problem is painful periods, or dysmenorrhoea. These are menstrual cramps caused by uterine contractions and are commonly relieved with pain-relieving medication. Lastly, heavy menstrual bleeding is another effect of menstruation and if left untreated can cause anemia. Oral contraceptives can be taken to regulate the menstrual flow.
Dealing with your menstrual cycle and worrying about pregnancy can be overwhelming, and many women turn to oral contraceptives as a solution to this. If you want to learn about this option you can book a menstrual health teleconsultation with an Ease physician at any time––we offer judgment-free, discreet care and treatment for your menstrual health. Over a menstrual health teleconsultation you will be able to clarify questions about your cycle and/or get treatment for conditions such as heavy menstrual bleeding, severe cramps, frequent spotting, nausea or vomiting during your period, irregular periods and lack of energy or weakness during your period. While further testing may be required after the teleconsultation, you will be able to clarify questions and figure out next steps with one of our doctors for just $20.