A woman’s menstrual cycle is a complex and personal thing. What’s normal varies from woman to woman, and it changes over the course of her lifetime. So how do you know if fluctuations in flow, symptoms and timing are natural, or if they might indicate a health problem? Read on to find out.
A woman’s menstrual cycle begins in puberty and is directed by hormonal changes over the course of each month. During puberty, hormones change and stimulate changes in the body that change a girl into a woman and prepare her body to bear children. Normally, puberty begins between the ages of 8 and 17 and may happen quickly or over the course of a few years.
It’s normal for girls to experience irregularities when starting to menstruate (getting their “period”). For most women, this cycle becomes more regular over time.
A normal cycle
Every month, a woman’s ovaries release an egg into the uterus. The lining of the uterus thickens in preparation for pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, this lining breaks down and is shed through the vagina, resulting in menstrual bleeding. The time of blood and tissue loss (about a few tablespoons to a half a cup of blood) is known as a menstrual period. A woman’s period normally lasts anywhere from 3 to 8 days.
The interval between periods and how regular this is also differs for woman to woman. The menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of bleeding to the next time bleeding starts again, and can range from every 21 to every 35 days.
It’s normal for many women to experience symptoms just before or during their menstrual periods. Normal symptoms include the following:
Before your period (premenstrual):
- Feeling anxious, irritable or depressed
- Low energy
- Pain in the abdomen, back or legs
- Tender breasts
- Weight gain or bloating
During your period:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Feeling irritable
Many things can affect the menstrual cycle. Stress, exercise, diet, hormone imbalances, illness, life changes or changes in weight are a few of the things that can affect your period.
Tracking your period
It may be helpful to track your periods to have a record of what’s normal for you. That way, it will be easier to tell if something is wrong. There are many resources available to track things about your cycle, like mood changes, pain, timing and flow
Your cycle and your health
It’s important to pay attention to your menstrual cycle over the course of your lifetime. If what’s normal for you changes in any way, or if you’re experiencing discomfort or symptoms related to your cycle that negatively affect your daily life, you may want to pay attention to your symptoms. There may be ways for you to feel better, or your symptoms may indicate other aspects of your health that need attention. Living a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy, lowering stress and staying active can also help you manage your changing cycle.