Understanding your menstrual health can give you a better idea of your health as a whole. It can also help you if you plan to someday become pregnant.
You can learn a lot more about your own body when you understand your menstrual health. If you’re not as regular as you believe you should be, there are things that can help. A natural guide can be the first step toward ensuring that your cycle is balanced.
What Is Normal Menstrual Health?
Although you typically hear or read about the ideal menstrual cycle being 28 days, there is no true length that’s ideal. A healthy cycle can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days. Everyone is different, so cycle length varies depending on the person. Additionally, a normal period itself can last anywhere from three to seven days in length per month.
In general, even if your menstrual cycle varies in length from time to time, as long as you are regular and your follicular phase lasts 12 to 16 days, it’s considered normal, however it can range from 11 to 27 days depending on the cycle.
What Are the Phases of the Menstrual Cycle?
Throughout your reproductive years, you go through changes during each month to prepare for a potential pregnancy. This is known as your menstrual cycle, which is comprised of the following phases:
The menstrual phase begins when you get your period and is part of the follicular phase. An unfertilized egg is shed from the uterus, as does the lining of the uterus that includes a combination of blood, mucus and tissue. During this phase, you may also experience symptoms such as cramps, headaches, mood swings, tiredness, tender breasts and lower back pain.
The follicular phase begins on the first day of your period and lasts until you ovulate. The body releases follicle-stimulating hormone or FSH during this phase. FSH stimulates your ovaries to produce follicles containing immature eggs. The healthiest matures, and the remaining follicles are absorbed back into the body. The surviving follicle results in your body producing more estrogen and the lining of your uterus thickening to provide a nourishing environment for an embryo if pregnancy occurs. The follicular phase can last around 16 days.
During the ovulation phase, a mature egg is released by the ovary and travels from the fallopian tube to the uterus, waiting to be fertilized by sperm. This is the only point in the menstrual cycle when pregnancy can occur. Symptoms of ovulation include an increase in basal body temperature and egg-white cervical mucus.
During the luteal phase, the follicle releases the egg, which transforms into the corpus luteum. The body goes through a surge of progesterone and some estrogen, ensuring that the lining of the uterus remains thick in case a fertilized egg needs to implant. If pregnancy occurs, the body produces human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum gets reabsorbed and the uterine lining is expelled with your period. You also experience PMS symptoms if pregnancy doesn’t occur. The luteal phase can last around 14 days.
What’s Considered Irregular Menstruation?
If your periods are irregular, there may be something wrong with your menstrual health. Many women with irregular cycles have certain medical conditions or hormone disorders. The following situations are characteristic of irregular menstruation:
- A cycle that’s shorter than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
- Missing three or more periods in a row
- Much lighter or heavier flow than normal during your period
- Periods that last over seven days
- Periods resulting in severe pain, nausea or vomiting
- Bleeding or spotting between periods after sex or after menopause
Some types of irregular menstruation include the following:
When you don’t have a period for 90 days or more, you have amenorrhea. It usually occurs during pregnancy, breastfeeding or perimenopause but can also be present in teen girls whose breasts are already developed but who still haven’t gotten their periods.
This condition is marked by periods that come only occasionally.
This type of irregular menstruation involves very painful menstrual cramps that can disrupt daily life.
This condition includes abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding, bleeding or spotting between periods, after sex or after menopause, and periods that last over seven days.
What Causes Irregular Menstruation?
If your period is irregular, you can gain a better understanding of your menstrual health by knowing the cause. The following are the most common causes of irregular menstruation:
Smoking, heavy exercise, illness, dieting and travel can affect your period and make it irregular. Stress can also cause irregularity.
The pill is made up of progestin or a combination of progestin and estrogen. Either type of pill can lead to irregular periods if you abruptly stop taking it. This can last up to six months. Bleeding between periods can also happen.
This is a medical condition that causes the endometrial tissue to grow outside of the uterus. It can cause pain and bleeding during your period and between periods, and it can make sex painful as well.
Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is a bacterial infection that can cause irregular periods, pain, diarrhea, vomiting and miscarriage if the woman is pregnant.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a condition caused by too much androgen, a male hormone. Women who have it can experience irregular periods and infertility.
This condition is characterized by ovaries that malfunction in women under the age of 40. Periods can stop just like with menopause.
When you better understand your menstrual health, you can know what’s happening with your body and seek treatment if you need it.