Most of us women suffer from the discomfort of having our period every month, but do we know exactly what is happening in our body before, during and after menstruation?
What is menstruation
- Menstruation, also known as a period, consists of the shedding and expulsion of the endometrium outside of the woman’s body. Every month, the female body prepares to be fertilized and, if this does not occur, the inner layer of the uterus becomes untied and is expelled as blood through the vagina. This bleeding lasts approximately 3 to 5 days under normal conditions, but it can vary depending on multiple factors, such as stress, illness, diet… The average age of the first menstruation, also called menarche, is usually 12 years, which is when the body is ready to be engendered.
- Do you have any questions about your menstruation and how it works? Do you want to know the types of rule that exist? Today, in this article we reveal everything you need to know about your period.
Phases of the menstrual cycle
- Menstruation is part of a long process known as the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is defined as the time that elapses between the first day of a woman’s menstruation until just the day before the next period. It lasts approximately 28 days, although it may vary depending on each one. Some women experience long menstrual cycles (up to 40 days), while others have shorter ones (about 21 days).
- During the menstrual cycle, a series of female hormones, among which estrogen and progesterone stand out, are responsible for generating changes in the body (mainly in the uterus and in the ovaries) with the aim of preparing the woman for a possible pregnancy. This whole process is divided into several phases or stages:
- Menstrual phase: it comprises approximately from day 1 to day 5 of the menstrual cycle. This is the phase in which bleeding takes place. The drop in estrogen and progesterone means that, in the event that fertilization has not occurred, the endometrium that lines the inside of the uterus is shed.
- Follicular Phase – This stage is also known as preovulation. It ranges from day 1 to day 13 of the menstrual cycle. During these days, a new ovum begins to mature and the walls of the uterus begin to be covered with endometrial tissue.
- Ovulatory phase: ovulation occurs approximately around day 14 in those cycles that are regular. In this phase, the ovum finishes maturing, is released by the ovary and transported to the uterus through the fallopian tubes. The egg survives in the uterus for up to 24 hours, so during this period it can be fertilized by a sperm. It is the most fertile phase of the woman.
- Luteal phase: if fertilization does not occur, around day 15 or 16 of the cycle, the egg disintegrates until it is expelled in the next menstruation.
At what point in the menstrual cycle can a pregnancy occur?
- Now that you know the phases of your menstrual cycle, you can calculate your fertile days. This will allow you to plan a pregnancy or prevent it in the event that you do not want to have children. The fertile days are the day of ovulation, the three days before it occurs, and the three days after.
- To know exactly when you’re going to ovulate, you should start tracking your cycle for at least six months, noting what days your period starts and how much time elapses between one cycle and another. You can follow the following steps:
- Observe what your longest menstrual cycle has been and write down on a piece of paper how many days it has had. Subtract 18 days from that number and write down the result.
- Observe what your shortest menstrual cycle has been and write down how many days it has been. Subtract 11 days from that number and write down the result.
- These two results will give you the range of days when you are most fertile.
Symptoms that occur before, during and after the rule
It should be noted that most of the symptoms of the menstrual cycle occur before and during menstruation. During menstruation, the most characteristic symptom is undoubtedly vaginal bleeding. However, women also experience other discomforts such as those detailed below:
- Tenderness and swelling of the breasts.
- Ovarian pain and abdominal cramps.
- Kidney pain.
- Acne appearance.
- Sudden mood swings.
- Tiredness and weakness.
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as nausea, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
Many women also suffer from the hated and feared Premenstrual Syndrome. In these cases, the emotional and physical symptoms appear a few days before the menstruation comes down. To try to combat these discomforts, it is advisable to follow a balanced and healthy diet, drink two liters of water a day, avoid salt, reduce the level of stress and anxiety and, if necessary, take a pain reliever.
First and last menstruation
- As we have already mentioned, the first menstruation is known as menarche and appears during puberty, around 12 and 14 years of age. However, in some cases it is early or late and some girls experience their first period at 10 and even 16 years.
- During the first year of the period, it is very likely that menstruation will be irregular since the body is still adjusting to the hormonal changes that act on the ovaries and endometrium.
- It should also be noted that menstruation is not the same in all women. In fact, the same woman can have changes in her period throughout her reproductive life.
- The rule stops appearing, as a general rule, around 45 and 55 years of age. This process is known as menopause. In order for us to talk about menopause, a woman must have been without menstruation for at least a full year.
- If the total absence of menstruation occurs before the age of 40, we would be talking about an early menopause.
The menstrual cycle does not always occur regularly in women. Sometimes irregularities are generated that cause the rule to be delayed or that it directly does not go down for a month. This is a cause for concern for many girls, especially those who think they are not getting their period because they are pregnant and do not want a baby.
The most frequent causes of irregular menstruation are the following:
- Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
- Sudden weight gains and losses.
- Stress, anxiety or emotional problems.
- Hormonal alterations.
- Do excessive sport.
Colors of vaginal bleeding during the period, what does each of them mean?
The color of vaginal bleeding can vary depending on various factors, including the specific day of the menstrual cycle in which the woman is. Usually, the period begins with a scant discharge of brown color and as the volume of the bleeding increases, it acquires a deep red hue. During the last days of the period, the blood once again has a darker hue and its volume decreases until it disappears completely.
Next, we will briefly explain the meaning of each color of menstrual bleeding:
- Soft red: usually this color occurs when the woman takes the contraceptive pill, although it can also be a sign of a hormonal disorder.
- Orange red: this color during menstruation may indicate that we suffer from some type of infection. In this case, the blood will also have a strong unpleasant odor.
- Intense red: it is the normal color of menstruation on the days of heaviest bleeding.
- Dark red to brown: this type of bleeding is known as ‘old blood’ and usually appears during the last days of your period.
- Brown or black: a dark brown or black color in vaginal bleeding can also correspond to old blood from the last menstruation or indicate a health problem. If you see that this type of discharge lasts for several days, it is advisable that you go to your gynecologist since it could be due to endometriosis, a spontaneous abortion or some type of benign tumor.
Menstruation duration and amount
As we have already pointed out, the duration of the period and the amount of bleeding that is expelled vary greatly from one woman to another. Some women have periods of 4 days with light bleeding, while others experience periods of up to 7 days with heavy bleeding.
The only way to know if your period is normal or if, on the contrary, it shows alarming signs is to pay attention to some signs like the ones we show you below:
- Menstrual bleeding lasts for more than 8 days.
- The bleeding is so heavy that you have to change your pad, tampon, or menstrual cup every four hours.
- Your menstrual cycle lasts less than 20 days.
- You have breakthrough bleeding (metorrhagia).
If you suffer from any of these changes in your period on a regular basis, you should see a doctor to rule out possible serious problems.
Smell of menstrual period blood
- In addition to color, the smell of menstrual blood can also vary. This is what it can tell you about your health:
- Strong-smelling menstruation – The blood itself does not have a strong odor. However, menstrual blood, as it passes through the entire vaginal canal, mixes with a large number of bacteria and natural fungi from the flora present in that area and, in this way, begins to age, causing an intense odor. This odor should not be fetid or unpleasant, it is simply a characteristic odor.
- Rotten-smelling menstruation: if your menstrual blood has a foul odor, you should go to the gynecologist since you are probably suffering from a bacterial infection.
- Iron-smelling menstruation: Among other things, blood is made up of hemoglobin, a protein that contains iron. Therefore, it is totally normal for menstruation to have an odor similar to that of iron or metal.
Types of menstruation
As you have seen, menstruation presents a large number of variations. That makes several types of rule exist:
It is mainly characterized by painful menstruation, although other symptoms include abdominal cramps and even dizziness, vomiting, headaches, and diarrhea. We can talk about two types of dysmenorrhea:
Primary dysmenorrhea: It usually appears from menarche and although it may decrease with age, it is normal for it to last until menopause (end of menstruation).
Secondary dysmenorrhea: Appears at a later age and is due to some physical problem, usually as a consequence of some disease. The most common is endometriosis.
- It consists of the absence of menstruation. Like dysmenorrhea, we can classify it into two groups:
- Primary amenorrhea: Cases in which menarche has not appeared before the age of 16. When menstruation appears after that age, we are facing a late menarche and in many cases we are facing very thin adolescents or those who practice sports, so their body has not fully developed and is not yet ready to be fertilized.
- Secondary amenorrhea: It occurs when, after a woman has had her period normally, she stops having it. Stress, lactation, practicing sports, sudden changes in weight can be some of the causes of this phenomenon, pregnancy being the most common, not counting menopause, which sooner or later we will all suffer.