What is a menstrual period?
Women can begin having menstrual periods as early as 8 to 18 years old. Most women begin having them between ages 10 and 12. The age that menstrual periods begin has been decreasing over the past several decades and no one really knows for sure why this is occurring.
Menstrual cycles after the first year of starting, generally occur on a monthly basis after the woman ovulates (releases an egg from her ovary) and no pregnancy takes place. If sperm meets the egg at the right time when the egg is released from the woman’s ovary, there is a 20 percent chance that the egg can become fertilized and if the fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus, a pregnancy begins and there will be no menstrual period.
Before an egg is released from the woman’s ovary (rarely there is more than one egg released at a time) the lining of the uterus becomes thickened due to female hormones. If fertilization does not take place, then the female hormones diminish rapidly and the lining of the uterus is shed through the lower part of the uterus called the cervix which has an opening that leads into the vagina. This lining of the uterus is actually tissue and a buildup of blood that is very important for implantation to take place which allows the pregnancy to grow. This tissue and blood is the woman’s menstrual period.
It normally takes two weeks from the day of ovulation until the woman’s menstrual cycle begins. It is the first half of the woman’s cycle that varies from the day that the menses ends to when ovulation begins. It can be from 5 days to more than 2 or 3 weeks. Thus the reason women can have a normal cycle that is from every 21 to 40 days. Women’s cycles that are less than 21 days or longer than 40 days are generally not normal except for the first year of a woman’s menses when the cycles are generally anovulatory (no release of an egg from the ovary). Menstrual cycles normally last until a woman is between the ages of 42 to 55 years old. Women whose cycles stop before 38 years old have premature stoppage of their cycle and need to be evaluated by a Physician.
Menstrual periods normally last three to seven days. Most women do not lose more than 50 cc’s of (about half a cup) blood during their entire cycle. It normally starts out very light for a day or two, becomes heavier and then goes back to very light at the end of the cycle. If the woman feels tired and fatigued, it could mean that she is losing more blood than normal and may be anemic which can be determined by a simple blood test.
It is very important to record when your menstrual cycle begins. This way you will begin to know how often your cycles occur and it will help you know when you need to carry tampons or sanitary pads. It may also help to know if your cycle does not arrive as it should, that there is a chance you may be pregnant.
Signs that may occur just before your period begins are irritability; swelling of feet and ankles, lower abdominal, back and leg cramps, breast tenderness, swelling of the lower abdomen.
Remember that you can still become pregnant when you are having vaginal bleeding. You can have sex when you are on your menses. Having a menstrual period is absolutely normal and is not a punishment. There is nothing dirty about having a menstrual cycle. You may talk to family or friends about your menstrual cycle and speak with someone experienced on how to use tampons or sanitary napkins if you have never used them before.
You may also call one of our five offices to ask questions regarding your menstrual cycle or other questions about your health in general.
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