Dealing with period symptoms is a monthly ritual for approximately 2 billion menstruating women. But there’s a lot that the average woman doesn’t know about missed periods, spotting, and menstruation in general. Whether you’re wondering, what is menstruation, or just want to know more about your time of the month, here are some period facts to impress your friends.
Disclaimer: The following content is not medical advice. It is meant for informational purposes only. For health-related questions, please speak with your gynecologist.
1. Period Definition: What Is Menstruation?
Aunt Flo, the crimson tide, moon time -- there are literally thousands of terms in English alone to refer to one thing: your period. But what is a period, why does it happen, and why are period symptoms so prevalent?
In simple terms, it’s when the vagina discharges blood and other tissue approximately once a month. The scientific term is menstruation: the final phase in a woman or girl’s menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is the natural process that occurs in the reproductive system that allows a woman to become pregnant. When she does not become pregnant, she has her period.
2. Why Do I Get a Period?
Wondering, what is menstruation and why is it apart of my monthly life? The menstrual cycle and period symptoms that go along with it are totally normal. This is because a healthy girl or woman has two ovaries, both of which contain eggs.
Throughout the course of the menstrual cycle, these eggs mature and travel from the ovaries through the fallopian tubes and to the uterus. All the while, the lining of the uterus is thickening to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy.
If sperm does fertilize the egg, the egg will land on the uterus’ spongey tissue to grow. If not, the body releases the tissue, blood and mature eggs. This is what looks like your period.
3. How Long Does a Period Last? How Long Is the Menstrual Cycle?
The average period lasts between 4 and 8 days. The menstrual cycle ranges between 24 and 38 days, though the typical length is 28, according to research, “The FIGO Recommendations on Terminologies and Definitions for Normal and Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.”
4. How Much Blood Does the Average Woman Lose?
Typically, a woman will lose 2-3 tablespoons of blood during this time, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep in mind that tampons are designed to soak up blood, so it may appear to be more than that.
The amount of blood a woman loses during her period is unique to her and may change throughout her life. For example, when she enters perimenopause, she may bleed more or less. If you are concerned that you are bleeding excessively, passing large blood clots or have any other questions, please contact your physician.
5. What Are the Menstrual Cycle’s Four Phases?
Period symptoms don’t occur throughout the entire menstrual cycle, or else you would be bloated and grumpy every day. In fact, they can occur at various points to varying degrees, depending on the woman. Here are the four major stages in the menstrual cycle, which can last between 21 and 35 days according to the National Institute of Health :
- Follicular Phase: The ovaries produce follicles to safeguard the eggs while the uterine lining thickens.
- Ovulation Phase: The mature egg travels from the ovaries through the fallopian tube, ending up in the uterus.
- Luteal Phase: The body releases extra estrogen and progesterone to prepare for possible fertilization
- Menstruation Phase: Your period begins, releasing tissue, blood, and eggs. Typically, a woman menstruates between 4 and 8 days.
Most women are not consciously aware of the ovulation phase, which typically happens between Day 11 and Day 21 of a woman’s menstrual cycle. What may seem like menstruation--spotting before period, cramping, bloating--may just be symptoms of ovulation.
The majority of period symptoms occur between Days 14 and throughout the menstrual cycle.
6. What Are the Most Common Period Symptoms?
Every woman experiences menstruation differently. For over 90% of women of reproductive age, that means dealing with the emotional and physical side-effects that come along with it once a month. We also have an article dedicated to dealing with PMS.
Here are a few of the most common:
- Abdominal cramps
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive troubles (diarrhea or constipation)
- Tender breasts
Keep in mind that every woman’s body is different. If you are concerned about the period symptoms you’re experiencing, please contact a licensed medical professional.
7. What Causes Period Symptoms?
The hormones estrogen and progesterone are responsible for the emotional changes that a woman may experience. This is because these hormones affect serotonin levels in the brain, which can control mood, digestive health, and other important processes.
8. When Do Girls Usually First Get Their Period?
The typical age for a woman to get her period in the United States is 12, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. However, menstruation can begin anytime between 8 and 15.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, a doctor should be contacted if a girl gets her period before the age of 8 or has not gotten it by 15 years old.
9. What Do You Call The First Few Years of Menstruation?
The first few years of menstruation are called menarche. This usually occurs between the ages of 8 and 15, though the average age is 12.
10. When Does Menopause Begin?
Menopause is the time when a woman has not menstruated for 12 months straight. It is preceded by a time called perimenopause during which her period is irregular. Perimenopause can last several years. Menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, though the average age is 52, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Now that you know a little about period symptoms, let’s learn a little more about menstruation.
11. What Could Cause a Late or Missed Period?
Irregular menstrual cycles are common. Between 14% and 25% of women experience irregular cycles, per research published in Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynecology. Here are a few potential reasons:
- New birth control: Trying out a new form of hormonal birth control (think: a hormonal IUD or the pill) may affect your period as your body adjusts to new hormonal balances.
- Stress, dietary changes, increased exercise: These can all cause a missed period. If you are concerned that you are not eating enough or exercising excessively, please contact a physician.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy is also possible. A missed period is one of the most common signs that a woman may be pregnant. If you believe yourself to be pregnant, please contact a doctor.
Wondering if your cycle is irregular? Check out a period tracker app.
Yes, you can. This is because period symptoms -- including bleeding -- do not necessarily mean that you are menstruating. For example, spotting before a period can be a sign of ovulation, which is the time a woman is most likely to become pregnant.
Though the chances of becoming pregnant while menstruating may be lower than during other phases, using birth control to prevent pregnancy is a must.
13. Why Is There Spotting Before a Period?
Spotting is light bleeding from the vagina outside of menstruation. Sometimes, spotting may be a different color than regular blood (think: brown versus red). There are many reasons for spotting, including:
- Ovulation. It is common for some women to experience spotting as part of their monthly menstrual cycle. This is because when the ovaries release an egg, a small follicle breaks. Ovulation may include light cramping.
- Hormonal birth control: The pill or the hormonal IUD may contribute to spotting during the first few months of use. If spotting begins after several months of use, contact a doctor.
- Health issues: These could include injuries, miscarriage, uterine polyps, and others. If you have any concerns regarding your health please contact a physician as soon as possible.
Answering 13 Common Period Questions
There is a lot we don't know about reproductive health due to the stigma that surrounds it. However, knowing the answers to the above questions is key for women of any age, whether or not you choose to use a menstrual cup.