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What You Should Know About Your Period

The average woman will have between 400 and 500 menstrual periods in her lifetime.

Menstruation, menstrual periods, menses, monthly cycle, or periods are all terms used to describe women’s monthly bleeding. Most menstrual periods last between 3 - 5 days. The average age at which a girl begins her period in the US is around the age of 12, but anywhere between 12 and 15 years of age is considered normal. Menopause is when a woman no longer has her period. Typically this begins between 40 - 50 years of age.

A menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of a woman’s period, to the last day before her next period begins. Many women report a 28 day cycle, but anywhere between 23 - 35 days is still normal.

Every month your body prepares to become pregnant. In the first half of your cycle, a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone signals your body to release an egg. The hormone estrogen makes the lining of the uterus grow to get ready for the released egg to be implanted. Midway through the cycle, another hormone called luteinizing hormone tells your ovary to release the egg. This is known as ovulation. Some women experience pain during the release of the egg. Some women report they can be moody during ovulation.

In the second half of the cycle, the egg begins its journey down the fallopian tube. Progesterone (another hormone) kicks in and thickens the uterine lining. If sperm fertilizes the egg, it continues down the tube and implants in the uterus. Once the egg is attached to the uterine wall, the hormones Progesterone and Estrogen levels increase rapidly to keep the pregnancy growing. If the egg remains unfertilized, it either dissolves or is reabsorbed. Because the uterus is not supporting a pregnancy, hormone levels fall off and this signals the body to shed the lining of the uterus. This lining is passed out of the body through the vagina during the menstrual period.

This process is repeated every month. If a woman has no periods is is called Amenorrhea. This may happen normally during breast feeding, during periods of extreme weight loss, excessive exercise, extreme stress or illness. Sometimes problems with the thyroid, pituitary or other glands may be the reason. If a woman experiences Amenorrhea she should have a complete physical to rule out any serious reasons for not having a period regularly.

Dysmenorrhea, is the medical name for very painful periods. This can be caused by a low pain threshold, endometriosis, a disease that occurs when uterine tissue grows outside the uterus, or from the hormone Prostaglandin. Ibuprofen, Aleve or aspirin may be helpful. If pain from your period interferes with your ability to function you should see your doctor for an evaluation and treatment plan.

Menorrhagia is when you have an excessively long or very hard period. Many women will experience this at some point in their life, but if it continues for a long time, your doctor will evaluate you for fibroids, endometriosis or an undetected pregnancy. Menorrhagia usually involves cycles shorter than 3 weeks, or when a woman soaks a pad or tampon an hour for more than 24 hours.

Oligomenorrhea is a condition characterized by very light, infrequent periods. Stress, travel or the flu or infection may cause and occasional missed or light period. If this continues over time, your doctor will want to check and see if you have a hormone imbalance, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Some women experience spotting or bleeding between periods. This may be expected from time to time. Heavy bleeding or many days of spotting between periods may indicate an infection, or the presence on noncancerous growths called polyps. If this occurs, you should see your healthcare provider.

Problems with your period should be evaluated by you healthcare provider. You will most likely be given a pelvic exam, a pregnancy test, a pap smear, perhaps blood tests to check for infection and sometimes an ultrasound exam. Often your doctor will suggest hormone based birth control to regulate your period. These methods can control heavy bleeding, cramping, and periods that are too frequent.