Occurring on a regular basis in women (as well as other female mammals) of reproductive age, menstruation is the process of discarding the endometrium (the lining of the uterus which is also known as the womb). In women, the monthly menstrual bleeding which is commonly referred to as the “period” is used to flush out the uterus lining from the uterus through a small opening in the cervix and then out of the body through the vagina.
The Menstrual Cycle
Menstruation usually lasts between three to five days and it is part of the menstrual cycle which is the body’s monthly preparation for pregnancy and it is regulated and controlled by female hormones, predominantly estrogen. The menstrual cycle is the time period which begins with the first day of menstrual bleeding of one month and ending with the first day of the following month’s menstrual bleeding. On the average, menstrual cycles are twenty-eight days long but they can easily vary from a length of twenty-one days to as long as forty-five days.
During the first half of a twenty-eight-day menstrual cycle, which is approximately fourteen days, the levels of estrogen (one of the female hormones) increase dramatically and facilitate the growth and thickening of the uterus lining. On the fourteenth day ovulation (the egg leaving the ovary) occurs and the egg travels through the fallopian tube on its way to the freshly prepared uterus.
On the one hand, if that same egg is fertilized by a man’s sperm and it succeeds in attaching itself to the wall of the uterus, the woman becomes pregnant. On the other hand, if the egg is not fertilized it will break apart, the estrogen levels will drop and the lining of the uterus will disintegrate and will then be flushed out with the next menstrual bleeding.
The Symptoms, Challenges and Problems of Menstruation
Just like menstrual cycles can vary from one woman to another so can symptoms of menstruation. As a matter of fact, menstruation can also vary in the same woman from one month to the other and from one stage of her life to the next. Menstruation can last longer or shorter than the average of three to five days and the bleeding can be light, moderate or heavy. Typically, menstruation tends to become more regular and predictable with age.
- Amenorrhea is a condition where the menstrual bleeding does not occur and it is caused by the most obvious — pregnancy. However, it may also be caused by breastfeeding, a variety of serious illnesses, severe weight loss, malnutrition, excessive physical excursion such as extreme exercising, tremendous mental stress, hormonal imbalance or problems with the reproductive organs.
- Dysmenorrhea is a condition of painful menstruation which includes severe cramps caused by an overabundance of the chemical prostaglandin in teen girls and young women and uterine fibroids or endometrioses in older women.
- Mood swings, irritability, depression and craving for foods.
- Headaches or migraines which may include nausea and vomiting.
- Acne flare ups.
Although some drugs may be taken to take the edge off some of the more severe symptoms, menstrual cycles and menstruation are natural and are not to be considered as diseased or abnormal conditions.