What Is Menstruation? When Does Menstrual Cycle Start?

Chances are you already know what menstruation is. But how much do you know about it? If you want to become a mother someday, you can never say you know enough.

What Is Menstruation

Table of Contents

What Is Menstruation?

Menstruation is a normal vaginal bleeding specific to women, and which manifests once a month over a few days (usually between 2 and 7 days).

The female ovaries eliminate alternatively (one ovary this month, the next ovary the other month) every month a single egg. This egg travels through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. If the egg was fertilized by a sperm, the uterus will host the fertilized egg and this will be the place where the fetus will be formed and develop until birth, and the menstruation will stop for the entire period of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

When the organism receives the signal that the fertilization wasn`t produced in the uterus, the egg together with the uterine lining (which will remove itself) are eliminated through the vagina. Now it`s producing what we know as being the process of menstruation. And the period of time between 2 periods is known as the menstrual cycle. This stops for every women around 50 years old, when menopause occurs due to the fact that the ovaries don`t release eggs in the fallopian tubes.

The uterus prepares itself every month for a possible pregnancy, and its membranous lining becomes thick and soft, so it can be an ideal host for the fertilized egg and, thus help in the development of the fetus. When the organism receives the signal through the hormonal mechanism that in the uterus there isn`t any developing fetus, this membrane detaches and together with the egg are eliminated from the body through the vagina. This is what we call menstrual bleeding or menstruation.

Menstruation, or “eumenorrhea,” denotes normal menstruation which usually lasts for 3 – 5 days, but is also considered normal a menstruation which lasts between 2 and 7 days. During menstruation, a woman eliminated around 35 ml of blood through menstrual bleeding (between 10 and 80 ml is considered normal). During menstruation, it can also be observed some parts of endometrium (the lining of the uterus) which occur as tissue mixed with blood.

An enzyme named plasmin (contained in the uterine lining) tends to inhibit the blood`s clotting. Women need a larger amount of iron than men, precisely because of these menstrual blood losses to prevent anemia caused by iron deficiencies.

When Does It Start?

Menstruation appears for the first time in young girls around the age of 12 – 13 years old, but there are lots of cases (and is considered normal) when the first period appears in the range of 8 – 17 years old. The menstrual cycle will start when the organism is prepared for conception. Normally, the onset of menstruation cannot be hurried or delayed.  In our modern era, it was noticed a noticeable decrease in age when the first menstruation occurs.

Signs & Symptoms

The main sign of menstruation is the appearance of a vaginal bleeding which generally lasts between 2 and 7 days. Before menstruation, breasts become sore and swollen. For the vast majority of women, just before and during menstruation their physical and mental condition is less pleasant, often even experiencing mood changes. For most women, the appearance of abdominal pains and cramps are perfectly normal. Usually, vaginal discharges are:

  • Whitish and more consistent after menstruation.
  • Transparent and slippery during ovulation.
  • Elastic and in smaller quantities before menstruation.

During menstruation, some women experience pains in the lower abdomen, back pain, headache, diarrhea or mood changes.

Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle has 2 main phases. Between them takes place ovulation (the phases are also known as pre, respectively post ovulation periods).

Follicular Phase

The beginning of the follicular phase coincides with the first day of the menstrual cycle and includes hormonal changes which prepare the organism for ovulation. The duration of this phase may vary a lot between cycles (13 to 18 days) and depends on the development of the follicle in the ovary.

During the phase, the pituitary gland releases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which as its name suggests, stimulates the development of ovarian follicles. Between more ovarian follicles in development, one becomes dominant and continues ovulation until maturation and release of the egg. This development if accompanied by an increase of the level of estrogen.

Fertility increases along with the evolution of the follicle towards the release of the egg, the most fertile period being with 5 days before and 2 days after ovulation. The 5 days before ovulation are due to the sperm`s duration of survival, and the 2 days after ovulation are due to the period in which the egg can be fertilized. In other words, if the sexual contact with sperm ejaculation takes place with 5-4-3-2 or 1 day before ovulation, the sperm can survive until ovulation takes place to fertilize the egg. Just the same, if the sexual contact with sperm ejaculation takes place 1 or 2 days after ovulation, the sperm may fertilize the egg which has just been released from the mature ovarian follicle.

As mentioned above, there`s an increase of the level of estrogen along with the development of the dominant follicle. If this level reaches a certain limit, the pituitary gland understands that the follicle is ready to release the egg. This is the moment when the pituitary gland is producing luteinizing hormone (LH) which triggers ovulation. The egg is released in the fallopian tubes and may be fertilized (if there`s a sexual contact without protection).

Luteal Phase

Ovulation marks the end of the follicular phase and the beginning of the luteal phase. The name of this phase comes from the corpus luteum, a formation which plays an essential role. The corpus luteum is the dominant follicle which has just released the egg and will start secreting progesterone, the hormone which maintains the optimal conditions in the uterus for a possible fertilization and implantation.

If fertilization and implantation takes place, the corpus luteum continues to secrete progesterone until the development of the placenta starts in the second trimester of pregnancy. If fertilization and implantation doesn`t occur, the corpus luteum disintegrates after around 14 days, causing a decrease of the level of progesterone, which marks the beginning of a new menstrual cycle.

If the follicular phase has an independent duration from the follicle`s evolution and can last from 13 to 18 days, the luteal phase has a fixed duration of 14 – 15 days (a period after which the secretion of progesterone stops due to disintegration of the corpus luteum in lack of fertilization and implantation). Exactly because of this, at regular menstrual cycles but with a different duration of 28 days, the most probable date of ovulation is calculated as being 14 days before the end of the menstrual cycle.

This is basically a normal menstrual cycle. The duration of such a cycle varies between 21 and 40 days (having an average of 28 days). If you want to find out how many days has your menstrual cycle, you need to count the days from the beginning of menstruation (the first day of the menstrual cycle) until the previous day of the next menstruation (the last day of your menstrual cycle).

The duration of menstruation can be between 1 and 8 days, with an average of 4 – 5 days, a period in which there are similar amounts of blood lost from one cycle to another.

Even if most of the changes occur without being aware, there are some which can help you make a calendar: menstruation (you have the first day of the menstrual cycle), increase of basal body temperature (you have the ovulation day), to which you add 14 more days and you have the end of the menstrual cycle.

Menstruation & Pregnancy

The general belief is that once the pregnancy was installed, the menstrual cycle stops immediately, this being the first symptom that the woman is pregnant. Still, nothing is certain in this matter. When the tests confirm the presence of a pregnancy, it`s possible for the menstruation to be absent for a long period of time.

Even so, some pregnant women continue to experience during pregnancy similar bleeding to the one from menstruation. This happens most often during the first part of the pregnancy (and even a few spots from time to time along the pregnancy).

It`s possible for a regular menstrual cycle to be present during pregnancy? There are various reasons for the occurrence of spotting or bleeding during pregnancy. Some are serious and require medical treatment, but others are not. Some women have irregular menstrual cycle, even when they aren`t pregnant.

This may happen due to a conception which occurred near the next menstruation and may cause a major confusion in what means the date of menstruation or due date. The baby`s gestational age and due date are, usually, calculated depending on the date of the last menstruation.

An ectopic pregnancy in which the embryo will implant somewhere outside the uterus (most often the fallopian tubes) can lead to similar bleeding to menstruation. Ectopic pregnancies are very serious and can put the life of the mother in jeopardy. If there are cramps and bleeding experienced during pregnancy, medical care is vital.

9 Things You May Not Know about Menstruation

  1. Women can remain pregnant during menstruation. It`s unlikely, but not impossible, so don`t forget to use protection.
  2. The most fertile period is during ovulation, but also before or after ovulation. You should know that ovulation occurs at mid-term between 2 menstrual periods.
  3. An irregular menstruation may have several causes. If you experience such periods, it`s recommended to visit a doctor. This may happen for multiple reasons, such as: sudden weight loss, stress, pregnancy, medication or uterine cancer.
  4. The quantity of blood lost during a menstrual period is equal of a cup of blood. Even if it may seem much, the quantity of blood lost at menstruation varies between a few spoons and a cup.
  5. Menstruation is the same for every woman. We can agree that when we are very young, we don`t pronounce the word “menstruation.” Did someone put a funny name to this period to inhibit the sense of shame?
  6. Opinions in terms of sex during menstruation vary. The sexual preference is personal, so that both women and men have different opinions in what sex during menstruation means.
  7. During menstruation you can be more excited than ever. Progesterone, the hormone which regulates your libido is very low during menstruation, reason for which sometimes you feel the need of an intercourse.
  8. It couldn`t yet be proved if the synchronization between periods is real. The theory in which 2 or more women who have a close relation have their periods at the same time continues to be controversial.
  9. Menstruation continues to be considered a taboo in some parts of the world. In areas such as rural regions of India women endure a tough behavior from men due to menstruation – for example, they aren`t allowed to cook during this period.

Menstrual Disorders

First of all, it`s best to outline that any menstrual disorder should be examined by a doctor. They may occur when talking about micropolycystic ovaries, stress, fatigue or drastic diet. Also, it may occur when an increased level of insulin is involved. There are also pathological changes that may lead to menstrual disorder, one of which is uterine fibroids. Such a disorder is, most of the times, a simple change which happens almost in every woman, but just to be sure, they need investigated.

Image courtesy of teens.webmd.com

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