Class is in Session: Back to Basics for Menstruation 101
When it comes to uterine health, we can all use a reminder about what goes on “down there,” so we can be mindful and alert to help identify anything out of the ordinary. That’s why we’re rounding up the basics for “Menstruation 101,” so you can empower yourself to have more informed conversations about your health – with yourself, your friends, and especially your doctor.
Class is in session!
What Are My Reproductive Organs?
It’s very likely you haven’t heard some of these terms since middle school health class. In any case, we’re here to help. There are a few moving parts in your reproductive system, all working together in harmony to create egg cells for reproduction and female sex hormones that maintain your entire reproductive cycle. Internally, the system is made up of the vagina, which joins the cervix to the outside of your body1, the uterus, the organ lined by your endometrium (responsible for your menstrual flow), the ovaries, the glands that produce hormones and ultimately egg cells, and the fallopian tubes, which serve as pathways for egg cells to travel from the ovaries to the uterus.1
While the reproductive system plays an integral part in reproduction (sounds obvious), the entire system, and more specifically, your uterine health, plays a critical role in menstruation, general health and wellness, and should be prioritized accordingly!
What Is the Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle is a hormonal process that occurs at one-month intervals.3 At the end of the cycle, the uterus sheds its endometrium lining if it has not experienced the implantation of an egg. The entire cycle includes four phases:2
- Menstrual Phase – the phase when you get your period, which begins when an egg from the previous cycle isn’t fertilized
- Follicular Phase – the development of an egg
- Ovulation Phase – the release of an egg
- Luteal Phase – the decrease in hormones when an egg has not been implanted (translation: the initiation of that PMS)
The typical cycle is 28 days long, but can vary.3 Additionally, the length of a woman’s period can be different from month-to-month and still be considered regular. All of these factors depend on each person’s unique experience. While some women experience a cycle so regular that they can pinpoint the exact day/time of the beginning of their cycle, others may experience less reliable timing, and that’s still considered normal.
What Kind of Symptoms Are Considered Normal?
The normal cycle can be accompanied by a number of symptoms outside of bleeding, like cramps, bloating, fatigue, cravings, etc. While all are considered normal, there are some signals to watch out for that could draw the line between normal and abnormal. Keep an eye on consistency in length and frequency of bleeding, amount of blood loss, pain level and quality of life. If you find that symptoms related to your cycle take you away from enjoying your daily life, or cause anxiety or fear, that could be an indicator that there’s something wrong. Always be proactive in discussing these symptoms with your doctor so you can figure out what’s normal for you, and when it might be time to seek treatment for a more serious issue.
Learn more about common uterine health conditions like abnormal uterine bleeding and fibroids by visiting our Uterine Health page. If you experience any symptoms in line with those discussed, consider talking to a doctor.
What Else Should I Know?
Remember, that while basic information is helpful for tracking symptoms, every woman’s experience is unique and can differ from the baseline. What’s important is that women are aware of their symptoms, and proactively address any issues that feel different or have a negative impact on their life.
If you are experiencing abnormal symptoms like pain and heavy bleeding that keep you from living your life to the fullest, talk to a doctor near you that can help you determine the best path forward. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at our symptom quiz or doctor discussion guide to help you kickstart your discussion. You have resources and treatment options, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
- Female Reproductive System. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9118-female-reproductive-system.
- Stages of the Menstrual Cycle. Healthline. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/stages-of-menstrual-cycle.
- Office on Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Accessed July 2, 2019. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle#3.