All About the Menstrual Cycle

All About the Menstrual Cycle

From puberty till menopause, every woman will go through a biological process in which their body is prepared for pregnancy every month. This biological process is called the menstrual cycle. Despite its challenges and difficulties, the menstrual cycle is a part of every woman’s life.

Whether a young girl or a mature woman, you have varying levels of knowledge about the menstrual cycle to help you deal with its challenges. Besides your current knowledge, there is a lot more information to learn about menstrual problems to help you manage issues related to your periods.

The menstrual cycle is an important biological process in every woman’s life. Every stage of a woman’s life, from puberty to pregnancy and menopause, is related to it. Due to this fact, it is important for women to have enough information about the most important aspects of the menstrual cycle.

In this article from Captain Well, we will provide comprehensive information on everything you need to know about the menstrual cycle. After reading this article, you will have all the information you need to deal with your periods and the challenges related to it.

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What is the Menstrual Cycle?

Now that we have explained menstruation and the reason why it happens, we can talk about the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is one of the most important processes in women’s bodies, and therefore, every one of us should have enough information about it.

According to Women's Health, the menstrual cycle is a cycle of hormonal changes that a woman’s body goes through to be prepared for pregnancy. Previously, we discussed menstruation, which is the most important part of every menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle has some other phases as well, which you can find more about, here.

A woman’s body, from puberty until menopause, experiences these hormonal changes. During the menstrual cycle, your body goes through different hormonal phases, leading to the development and release of an egg from your ovaries, uterine lining build-up, and possible pregnancy or menstruation. A complete menstrual cycle begins with the beginning of a period, and ends with the beginning of another.

How to Calculate my Menstrual Cycle?

Changes in the length of your menstrual cycle can be a sign of different issues. As a result, it is important to calculate the length of your menstrual cycle. This can help you detect problems like irregular periods and its causes, like pregnancy, or different disorders. On the other hand, knowing about your menstrual cycle calendar provides you with useful information about the days you are ovulating. These are the days when a woman is at the most fertile level of her menstrual cycle.

In order to keep track of your menstrual cycle timing, you should count from the very first day of your period, to the first day of your next period. This length which is counted for two consecutive periods, gives you the length of your menstrual cycle. After a few months of comparing the length of your periods, you can find out if they are regular or not.

As mentioned above, having a cycle calendar between 21 to 45 days is considered normal. However, the norm usually tends to be around 28 days for most women. Your period also tends to last for 3 to 8 days, according to WebMD.

Menstrual Cycle Calendar

There are also some special apps and programs made for the purpose of calculating your ovulation and menstruation that you can use to ease this counting for you. One of the most useful programs is the menstrual period calculator of WebMD. This calculator obtains data of your periods, and provides useful information about your menstrual cycle, ovulation, and menstruation.

You can find this brilliant tool on the WebMD website.

Stages of the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is not as simple as you might think. It is a complex biological process that engages different glands and hormones in your body. During the menstrual cycle, your body goes through some phases known as the stages of the menstrual cycle. It is good to know about them so that you are well-aware of what is going on in your body.

Stage One: Menstruation Phase

In this phase, the thickened lining of your uterus is discarded from your body. This will happen through elimination from your vagina. The length of this phase is between 3 to 7 days. Bleeding and menstrual cramps are the most common symptoms of the menstruation phase.

Stage Two: The Follicular Phase

Right after the last day of your period, the follicular phase begins. Ovulation begins in this phase by the release of follicle stimulating hormone, also known as FSH, by the pituitary gland in your brain.

According to Better Health, FSH stimulates the ovaries to produce around 5 to 20 follicles. Follicles are tiny nodules which beads on the surface and houses an immature egg. Usually all follicles will die, and only one will remain that will end up becoming an egg. In this phase, the developing follicle will cause a rise in the level of estrogen. This growth of the follicle is the reason why the lining of your uterus thickens.

Stage three: Ovulation phase

The mature egg prepared in the follicular stage will be released from the surface of the ovary in this phase. This process is called ovulation.

As the estrogen level in the follicular phase rises, the hypothalamus in the brain recognizes it and reacts by releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone, also known as GnRH. GnRH is a chemical that accelerates the production of FSH and LH (luteinizing hormone) by the pituitary gland.

Within two days, due to the rise of LH, ovulation will take place. The egg will only live for 24 hours and die unless it meets a sperm during its lifespan.

Stage Four: The Teal Phase

After the ovulation phase, the follicle will transform into a structure called the corpus luteum, which releases progesterone as well as a small amount of estrogen. This is what maintains the thickened lining of the uterus.

If a fertilized egg implants in the lining of the uterus, the corpus luteum will be maintained by the hormones produced by it. In the absence of a fertilized egg, which means there is no pregnancy, the corpus luteum will die.

This infographic from Women’s Health illustrates the different phases of a menstrual cycle perfectly.

You can also watch this video by Osmosis, which gives more detailed information about the different stages of the menstrual cycle.

Different Types of Vaginal Discharges

The vaginal discharges a woman has during her menstrual cycle vary from stage to stage, and even from day to day. These differences are not just about the amount of discharge a woman experiences, but it is also about various other characteristics like the color or elasticity of the discharge. These characteristics are related to ovulation and help the cause of the menstrual cycle: fertility.

In this section of our menstrual cycle guide, we will talk about some of the most common types of vaginal discharges during your menstrual cycle.

Blood discharge

This is your regular period discharge. It consists of the blood itself, cervical mucus, vaginal secretions, and endometrial tissue. Some mature women will also notice blood clots during their menstruation, which looks like bodily tissues. Blood occupies half of the volume of your period. It is for this reason that your period color is red.

Brownish discharge

This is the discharge a woman experiences at the end of her period. This brownish discharge is actually the old blood remaining in the uterus that is flowing out. Seeing this discharge is good news, as it shows that your period is finally over.

No discharge

The next type of discharge a woman observes is actually no discharge. This is right after the menstruation days, and for a lot of women, there are some days of dryness. Of course, some other women will have a little discharge on these days which tends to be yellow, cloudy, and perhaps sticky.

Watery and elastic discharge

This watery vaginal discharge which appears to be cream-like shows that your ovulation is near. This creamy discharge is mucus produced by your body, which is flowing out of it.

According to Monisat, your body produces 30 times more mucus before releasing an egg compared to after egg release.

Egg white discharge

This type of discharge is also known as ovulation discharge, as it occurs with the ovulation phase of the menstrual cycle. The amount of discharge is commonly at its highest in the days around ovulation. It appears like egg whites, both in color and consistency.

Thick discharge

This sort of discharge shows that the ovulation phase has passed, and now your body is ready to menstruate. As the uterus lining buildup has not yet been discarded, you will see less discharge in this stage which is thicker in appearance.

A More Detailed Look at Menstruation

Menstruation is the main part of the menstrual cycle, and having enough information about it is crucial. Menstruation is the monthly bleeding every woman experiences. This monthly bleeding is also called the period. Both of these terms are used interchangeably.

According to Women's Health, during menstruation, your body discards the monthly buildup of the lining of your uterus, which is also known as the womb. This blood and tissue flow from the uterus through the small opening in the cervix, and leave your body through your vagina. This is the scientific definition of the reason why you bleed during your period.

It is often said that getting your period is the way your body prepares itself for pregnancy. This statement is completely true. Throughout the menstrual cycle, your body accumulates the lining of the cells inside the womb so that it is in its best-prepared state for a possible pregnancy. This preparedness means that the lining of the uterus has become thicker and richer in blood vessels.

If your body detects no signs of pregnancy, it decreases its hormone levels. When the amounts of estrogen and progesterone in your body reach a very low level, it signals your body to start the process of menstruation. In this case, the thickened lining of the uterus starts to shed, which is followed by bleeding.

This whole process usually occurs in a regular cycle: the uterine lining build-up phase, the fall in the amount of estrogen and progesterone, and the bleeding. All this happens within a regular range of 21 to 45 days, while the average is 28 days for most women, according to WebMD.

Period Signs

There are many different symptoms that can help you realize your period is near. Some of them can occur before the period starts, while some others show up when the menstruation has already happened.

It is necessary to know the symptoms, so that in case of any abnormal conditions, you are well aware. Having a good set of knowledge about period symptoms can also help you better face this part of your menstrual cycle.

The period symptoms usually range from pains in different parts of the body like your head and abdomen, to fatigue and bowel issues like diarrhea and nausea. In this part of our complete menstrual cycle guide, we will discuss some of the most common menstruation symptoms in women.

Menstrual Cramps

Menstrual cramps are the most common condition a woman experiences during her period. These cramps start before your period happens, and is a familiar symptom of the period. Menstrual cramps are severe pains in the lower abdominal area, and can vary from minor aches to unbearable pain from woman to woman.

The time when the pain is the most severe can also be different in every woman. For some women, period cramps are most intense just before the period begins, while for many others, it is when the bleeding is at its heaviest.

Menstrual cramps, which are also known as dysmenorrhea, are caused by different conditions. All of them are related to uterine contractions. According to Health Line, some of these uterine-related conditions are:

  • Endometriosis
  • Cervical stenosis
  • Adenomyosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Fibroids

Fatigue

With the hormonal changes right before menstruation, your body status alters from preparing for a possible pregnancy, to getting ready for a period.

This fatigue is not just a result of these hormonal changes. A variety of period symptoms can lead to a lower level of sleep. With this lower amount of sleep, your body tends to feel more tired as well.

Bowel Issues

As one of the most sensitive parts of the body, your bowel reacts quickly to the hormonal changes of menstruation. This is very common among different women, but the type of reaction varies between them. Some women experience diarrhea, while others experience nausea. Constipation and gassiness are also other issues that happen during menstruation.

The digestive issues you experience during your period can be completely different from your usual bathroom habits. This is completely normal, as these are your menstruation days, and things are totally different.

Mood Swings

It is commonly said that women show extreme emotional reactions in normal daily occasions. Estrogen and progesterone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle are to blame for women’s mood swings.

Being on your period offers you a free ticket to an emotional roller coaster that is not easy to handle. According to Health Line, estrogen can affect the production of serotonin and endorphin in the brain. The former is known as the cause of happiness, while the latter is the feel-good chemical. Due to a fall in the level of estrogen, your body produces less of these two chemicals, which leads to depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Progesterone, on the other hand, has a relaxing effect for some people. In its absence during your period, it is harder for you to control your feelings. This is the reason why some women cry for no reason and experience hypersensitivity during their menstruation.

Bleeding

Bleeding, which is also called menorrhea, is the most common symptom of menstruation in women. The discharge that flows out of a woman’s body is the uterine lining buildup that is no longer useful as there is no sign of pregnancy.

According to The Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research, the amount of menstrual flow in woman is between 10 to 35 ml. Of course, there are other factors that can cause this usual amount to vary from woman to woman. As an example, women who are taller, have children, or are in pre-menopause tend to have more blood loss during their periods.

Treatments and Remedies for Menstrual Discomfort

Many women are consistently looking for treatments to remedy the different ailments caused by the menstrual cycle. As a natural bodily process, there is no treatment or method to stop any part of the menstrual cycle or the menstruation itself. It is a cycle that must happen for a long time. Therefore, it is better to get used to it as billions of other women have done before.

Of course getting used to the menstrual cycle does not mean that you should accept all of the different effects it has on your body. Bleeding, whether a little in amount or a lot, the cramps you will feel, and other effects of the menstruation need to be handled properly. This way you will have both a safer and easier menstrual cycle.

In this part of our complete guide to the menstrual cycle, we will talk about some of the most useful treatments and remedies you can try to ease the pain or solve the common problems caused by menstruation and menstrual cycle in general.

Period Products

As the period discharge needs to be properly taken care of, period products are the most common and well-known solutions women all around the world use when on their period. Although you may still think about pads when you hear the phrase “soak up the period blood,” there are a lot of new options out there now that you can benefit from. Here is a list of the most common yet useful period products:

Pads

Pads are definitely the most common sanitary products on the planet. This cotton pad that comes in different shapes and sizes is placed under the underwear to soak up the menstrual blood properly, just as it has been doing for many years.

The reason why this period product is so widely used is that it is easy to use, and easy to find. They have to be changed and thrown away after they have been put on for some hours.

As they are not so environmentally-friendly, we recommend to roll up the used pads in toilet paper and dispose of them in a sanitary bin.

Tampons

Tampons are another common period product. Just like pads, they are made of cotton, but instead of wearing them, you should insert them inside your vagina so that they soak up the period blood flowing through it. Tampons are small in size, and easily carried in either bags or pockets, which makes them a good option for women who are working outside the home.

One of the most important things to consider when buying a tampon is the size. Tampons come in different sizes, and you should choose the one that best matches the amount of blood you lose.

Using a tampon allows you to swim during your period, which is a dream for women who are into this sport, because no other period product lets you do so.

A period tampon should not be used for more than 8 hours as it can result in Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). It is recommended to change your tampons every 4 to 6 hours to safeguard your health while using tampons.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are soft silicone or rubber cups that are inserted inside the vagina to hold period blood. This reusable period product is gaining wide popularity among women due to its environmental friendliness.

Compared to the price of tampons and pads, period cups are more expensive. But because they are reusable, you can save a lot of money over time.

You need to make sure you insert the menstrual cups inside your vagina correctly, as it can be a challenge, especially for women using it for the first time. But after you get more experience using it, a cup can become one of the best options for you, especially if you are willing to exercise during your period.

You need to empty the cup, rinse it under water, and put it back into your vagina once or twice a day. We recommend doing this every 8 to 12 hours for optimal vaginal health.

Period Underwear

Also known as period panties or period shorts, this category of period products look exactly like your regular underwear, but are extremely absorbent. You can wear these convenient sanitary products like your normal underwear.

Period underwear is effective when your menstruation is light, but when you are facing a heavy blood flow, they can only act as a backup together with pads or tampons.

You need to change the period panties every day. If your blood flow is faster or heavier, this routine should be changed to every few hours. You must have a collection of period underwear so you can change them throughout the day.

There are also a few other options like reusable pads that are being used by different women all around the world, but the period products mentioned in this list are the most common ones. If you want more information about these products, the video below from Lavendaire contains great information for you.

Period Diet: What to Eat on Your Period

You lose a lot of blood during your period, and experience a difficult time. Therefore, it is vital to be on a nutritious diet during your menstrual cycle. A healthy diet provides all the nutrients your body needs to help make your period days more comfortable.

During your period, you must consume iron-rich foods, as iron is the crucial mineral needed for blood production. Your period diet should supply your body with sufficient amounts of iron to replace the iron lost through bleeding.

Consuming an iron-rich diet will not only help you replace the iron lost during your period, but it will also help you not face any iron deficiencies later on. To make sure you are consuming enough iron, you need to include red meat, fish, nuts, beans, and lentils in your diet. You also need to obtain vitamin C, as it helps your body to better absorb the iron. Bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and citrus fruits like orange, kiwi, and grapefruit are some of the best sources of vitamin C that you need in your diet to enhance iron absorption.

Other than ensuring sufficient iron intake during your period, you need to make sure that you are not consuming any foods or drinks that interfere with iron absorption. Coffee and teas, whether black or green, contain caffeine which reduce your body’s ability to absorb iron.

It is important to be careful with the amount of caffeine you consume when you are taking iron. Many women consume herbal drinks that contain caffeine as a home remedy for relieving menstrual pain. In case you are one of these women, try to consume your caffeinated drinks one hour after eating your iron-rich food to minimize interference with iron absorption.

Relieve the Pain

Menstrual cramps are probably the most uncomfortable part of the menstrual cycle.

The difficulties women go through when these pains come is so unbearable that they try various methods to relieve their period pain. The pain relieving methods range from home remedies to medicines, and regular consultation with doctors.

Here are some of the most common ways women around the world try to relieve their menstrual cramps:

Home Remedies

A lot of women try to relieve their period cramps with home remedies. There are many remedies to try, and some of them actually work for some women.

Ginger, for example, is one of the most common home remedies for period pain. There are some studies that show eating ginger helps reduce moderate to severe period pain effectively. To reap the pain relieving benefits of ginger, you can add ginger to your foods and drinks during your period to soothe your menstrual cramps.

Some studies have revealed that vitamin B1 and zinc also ease menstrual cramps. The most common food sources of vitamin B1 are rice, pasta, beef, liver, and nuts. Common food sources of zinc include meat, fish, seed, nuts, dairy, and eggs. You can also take supplements of these two nutrients, but it is better to obtain these nutrients from food sources.

Having short walks or light exercises can also help some women with period pain. Of course, physical activity during your period is not something all women are comfortable with. For those who prefer or are able to move less, doing yoga serves as good as a light exercise.

Massaging the place where you feel pain, or warming it up is another home remedy that works for a lot of women. Of course you cannot use this type of pain relief everywhere, but you can use these methods in the comfort of your home.

Medicines to Relieve Period Cramps

Some women prefer taking medications to relieve their period pain. While it is better to avoid medications, in some cases the menstrual pain is so severe that many women do not have any other options.

There are a variety of painkillers that women take to reduce their menstrual pain. But some of them really do not work at all. If you want to take medicines, the anti-inflammatory class of medications seems to be the ideal one.

According to WebMD, the best way to relieve painful menstrual cramps is to take an anti-inflammatory medication. Ibuprofen, ketoprofen, and naproxen are some of these medications that you can take without a prescription. These three medicines are effective at relieving your cramps.

Anna: A New Solution to an Old Problem

Anna, a smart menstrual pain reliever produced by Captain Well, is one of the latest solutions to help women with their menstrual cramps. This smart wearable device which can be controlled using a mobile app, has no side effects, and effectively eases the pain caused by menstruation.

By using this small, compact device which can easily fit in your pocket, you are choosing a safe option to relax your muscles, and reduce your period pain.

You can check out this link to read more about Anna.

From Puberty to Menopause

A woman’s menstrual cycle happens between two important events in her life: puberty and menopause. They are two hormonally caused phenomena in women’s life that are years apart from each other. On average, every woman gets periods for about 40 years of her life.

Both puberty and menopause are transition periods related to fertility. They can be seen as the period before and after a woman’s ability to bear a child. The fertility potential of a woman blossoms with puberty, and terminates when menopause arrives.

Unfortunately, puberty and menopause are considered taboos in many cultures, and therefore, many women living in those cultures are not aware of them. As a young girl or a mature woman, you must have adequate knowledge about puberty and menopause. This is due to the fact that they are the start and end point of your menstrual cycle, and as important as the cycle itself.

Puberty: When Periods Start

Puberty is the transition of a child to a sexually mature individual. In women, the process usually starts with the development of breasts. New breast growth will cause breast pain and tenderness in young girls. In some cases, one breast can start to develop earlier than the other.

Following breast growth, young girls will start to notice hair growth in regions where they had no hair, such as their arms, legs, and pubic region. All these biological changes are normal stages of sexual development, according to the NHS.

The symptoms discussed earlier are the first signs of puberty. These physical changes will continue for a couple of years, resulting in larger breasts and more body hair over time. Many young girls will also experience acne. It is during this phase of puberty when a girl gets her first period.

During puberty, a young girl can experience changes in mood as well. Aggression, depression, and low self-esteem are the most common emotional effects seen in pubertal girls. This can be due to the difficult time they are going through, as their body is changing, and they need to cope with this sudden change.

According to Women's Health, the average age of getting your first period in the United States is 12 years old. Of course, this is not the exact age when all girls get their first period. The first period, which is usually two years after the start of breast development, normally starts somewhere between the age of 8 and 15 years old.

As getting your first period is an important event in every woman’s life, parents should keep an eye on it. In case the first period occurs before the age of 8, or after the age of 15, you should see a doctor for checking the reason. If a girl has not had her first period within three years of initial breast development, this can be considered as another reason to see a doctor as well.

Menopause: When Periods Stop

Menopause is the final stage of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Also known as the climacteric, this is the time when your periods stop permanently. For a lot of women, this is good news, as the pain and all challenges associated with periods will be gone for good. But on the other hand, having no periods means there will be no menstrual cycle, and without a menstrual cycle, there will be no pregnancy.

There are two expressions about menopause that need to be defined along with it. The first term is perimenopause, which is the phase right before menopause. During perimenopause, a woman still gets her periods, but they may become irregular. Post-menopause, on the other hand, is the phase after a woman hits menopause.

As estrogen and progesterone production declines after menopause, the post-menopausal stage is characterized by unfavorable menopausal symptoms. During the post-menopause phase, the menopausal symptoms slowly start to wane until they disappear.

As it is obvious now, the menopausal process consists of three different, consecutive stages: perimenopause, menopause, and the post-menopause phase.

Every woman experiences menopause in their own way, with their own unique symptoms. For some women, menopause can occur suddenly. For others, it can occur gradually over many years. The first signs of menopause, also known as perimenopause, usually come four years before a woman gets her last period. According to Health Line, a small number of women experience menopausal symptoms up to a decade before their last period. Further, 1 in 10 women will witness these symptoms for 12 years after their last period.

Different types of menstrual changes can be seen among the most common signs of menopause. Irregular periods, especially less frequent menstruation, is one of the symptoms. Women who are getting closer to their menopause will experience different sorts of periods as well.

This means the menstruation can be either heavier or lighter, compared to their normal ones. Flushing, hot flashes, and night sweats are among other signs of menopause in women.

There are a variety of other symptoms that can be considered as menopause symptoms. According to Health Line, these common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Dry skin, mouth, and eyes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Sore breasts
  • Tender breasts
  • Less full breasts
  • Weight gain
  • Reduction in muscle mass
  • Hair loss
  • Hair thinning
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Reduce libido or sex drive

According to Women’s Health, the average age of menopause in the United States is 52. Just like puberty, this does not mean that every woman will experience menopause when they are exactly 52 years old. For most women, menopause happens between the ages of 45 and 55.