What is menstruation?

Every month, a series of hormonal and uterine changes occur in a woman’s body in order to prepare her for pregnancy. These hormonal or uterine changes that occur every month represent the monthly cycle. If pregnancy fails to occur, then the womb or uterus will shed its lining or interior in order to start the preparation afresh. Menstruation or period is part of this monthly cycle which involves bleeding through the vagina. Menstrual blood is partly blood and partly uterine tissues. Menstruation is a sign of womanhood and a sign that her body is working properly.

What you need to know about Menstruation

  • A girl starts menstruating anywhere between the ages of 8 to 15. This usually takes place 2 to 3 years after she starts developing breasts. Besides, she may observe vaginal discharge or mucus about 6 to 12 months before she starts menstruating. Besides a girl can get pregnant before ever seeing her first menstrual cycle. This is because for menstruation to occur there must be ovulation (release of an egg) and ovulation marks the most fertile period in a woman’s menstrual cycle.
  • Menstruation is triggered by low levels the hormones estrogen and progesterone
  • Menstruation last for 3 to 6 days
  • The first day of menstruation is the first day of a new menstrual cycle. A menstrual cycle vary from woman to woman and can be anywhere between 21 to 38 days. But on an average it usually last for 28 days. In some woman with irregular menstrual cycle, the length may vary from month to month.
  • Perimenopause is the period just before you reach menopause and occurs around your 40s. During this period, a woman may experience:
  • Irregular menstrual cycle ( shorter or longer cycle and heavier or lighter menses)
  • Menses might stop for some months and then start again
  • A woman stops menstruating between the ages of 45 to 55. This is called menopause. A woman is said to have reach menopause when she stops menstruating for straight 12 months. A woman also stops menstruating when she is pregnant or breast feeding.
  • At menopause, a woman can no longer get pregnant. Also her estrogen and progesterone levels get very low and can affect her health if she does not take supplements. Speak to a doctor for help on how to manage your symptoms at menopause.
  • A woman may or may not menstruate when; 1) she is breast feeding, 2) during her perimenopause stage

Side effects of menstruation

During menstruation, some women may experience some symptoms:

  • Abdominal (or pelvic) pain or cramp
  • Lower back pain
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Headache and fatigue
  • Food cravings
  • Bloating and soar breast

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

One or two weeks before menstruation begins, some women may experience a series of physical and emotional symptoms called premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which usually comes to an end just before menstruation starts or few days after menstruation starts . Symptoms for PMS are many, vary from woman to woman, cycle to cycle and with age. However common symptoms generally experienced include:

Physical Symptoms

  • Headache and lower back ache
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating or gassy sensation
  • Acne
  • Swollen or tender breast
  • Joint or muscle pain


Emotional Symptoms

  • Food cravings
  • Changes in sleep pattern (difficulties sleeping or sleeping less or sleeping too much)
  • Less appetite for sex
  • Mood swings
  • Easily irritated
  • Feeling tired
  • Depression
  • Tension or anxiety
  • Less concentration

PMS symptoms are very mild in some women while in others it can be so severe that it will be qualified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It may worsen with age but PMS is not experienced during pregnancy or once you reach menopause. PMS symptoms may be worsening in women who are stressed, depressed, take alcohol or caffeine.The exact cause of PMS is not known but may be attributed to the changing hormonal levels. However symptoms of PMS can be alleviated or managed with exercise, stress management, antidepressants, anti-inflammatories such as naproxen or ibuprofen, reduced alcohol intake, reduced caffeine intake, reduced salt intake, calcium and vitamin D supplements, healthy eating (avoid junk food and sugary drinks) and avoid smoking.