The first time a girl gets her period is a defining moment in her life. It marks significant biological changes in her body and means she is now able to conceive a child.
Each month when you get your period, also known as menstruation, your body sheds the lining of the uterus. The menstrual blood flows through the cervix and out of the body through the vagina. A typical period lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 days.
Here are some important things to know about your periods, for both young women just learning about menstruation and those who are experiencing changes in their typical cycle.
Why You Get Your Periods
Every month, an egg begins to grow in one of your ovaries. After it is fully developed, it leaves the ovary and travels to the uterus through the fallopian tube. This process is called ovulation.
During this time, the level of estrogen (a female hormone) in your body starts to increase and causes the uterine lining to thicken.
If you have intercourse and the man’s sperm reaches the egg and fertilizes it, the egg secures itself to the thickened uterine wall, and you become pregnant.
If the egg is not fertilized, it disintegrates and the uterine lining sheds and is eliminated from the body in the form of period discharge.
1. Changes Before Your Period may Mimic Pregnancy
Not all pregnancy-associated reactions of your body indicate actual pregnancy. Your periods could trigger the onset of such symptoms, too.
As we have already established, in the days leading up to your periods, your body thickens and prepares the lining of your uterus in case a pregnancy occurs.
Your body does so by secreting certain hormones that contribute to creating this uterine lining that will secure and nourish the embryo.
When your body secretes said hormones, such as progesterone, it may result in body changes similar to what occurs with pregnancy, such as water retention resulting in stomach bloating.
You may also suffer other symptoms characteristic of pregnancy, such as nausea, vomiting and a backache.
2. Prolonged or Heavy Bleeding may Indicate Fibroids
Many women tend to overlook heavy bleeding. Some might not even notice they are bleeding more than they usually do in a particular cycle, and they are using more sanitary products than they normally would.
Some women’s periods may last longer than the typical 3 to 7 days, but they may discount the importance of that as well.
However, heavy bleeding during periods and cycles that stretch beyond 7 or 8 days might be indicative of a fibroid growth. A fibroid is a noncancerous, fibrous and muscular growth that appears in or around the uterus.
Heavy and prolonged bleeding is the most commonly reported symptom among women suffering from fibroids, according to a 2014 study published in The International Journal of Women’s Health.
Occasionally, you may also notice the presence of blood clots in your menstrual flow. This, too, can be a sign of fibroids.
3. Excessive Menstrual Pain may Indicate Endometriosis
Abdominal pain and cramps are common complaints during period cycles when the uterine wall is shedding itself.
During periods, the endometrium produces prostaglandin, a hormone that induces inflammation and pain.
However, severely debilitating pain in the lower abdominal region and pelvic area that affects your ability to carry out daily activities in a major way can be indicative of endometriosis.
Endometriosis is an inflammatory disorder in which the uterine tissue, that is typically supposed to grow and stay inside the uterus, grows outside the uterus. This tissue also forms the uterine lining, which breaks down during periods.
When the tissue grows outside the uterus, it continues to function like normal uterine tissue, breaking down and bleeding.
However, the blood and disintegrated tissue no longer have an exit route out of the body. Over time, this causes painful swelling and lesions, which become even more painful during periods.
Furthermore, the body produces a higher and abnormal amount of prostaglandin in endometriosis, according to a 2013 study by Japanese researchers.
4. Irregular Periods may Indicate a Hormonal Disorder
While it is considered normal to have irregular periods when one is younger, if this situation persists well into your early 20s or later, it can be a cause for concern.
If irregular periods accompany other symptoms, such as obesity, excessive facial and body hair, hair loss and acne, it could be a sign of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
In people who have PCOS, cysts form in the ovaries due to the activity of excess testosterone (a male sex hormone) in the body.
These cysts stop the eggs from being released from the ovaries and obstruct the entire menstruation process. This causes often-missed periods.
5. Stress can Intensify PMS Symptoms
Many women suffer the pain of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a disorder commonly affecting women right before the onset of their monthly cycle and characterized by stress, anxiety, moodiness, depression, anger, fatigue, mild body aches as well as occasional bloating, and breast tenderness and swelling.
PMS tends to negatively affect a woman’s relationships with family and friends. It also decreases work performance and may often lead to high healthcare expenses.
About 5 to 8 percent of women suffer the above-mentioned symptoms severely, according to a 2008 study published in Lancet.
In fact, these symptoms often defy their name and persist through the period cycle. If this has been happening to you, it might just be your body’s way of telling you that you are stressed.
High levels of stress before the onset of monthly cycles were found to be positively associated with aggravated PMS before and during the cycle, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.
Stress could also shorten the length of your monthly cycle.
6. Abrupt Absence of Period may Indicate Low BMI & Affect Fertility
To have regular periods and be able to conceive, you must have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 22. The BMI measures the amount of fat in your body.
If you are suffering irregular periods, check your BMI. Low fat coerces the body into an emergency mode, causing it to focus on performing only the most crucial and life-sustaining functions. Thus, the body may stop menstruating.
This may have a huge effect on your fertility. If you are not having periods, your ovaries will not release eggs for ovulation and subsequent fertilization.
A BMI of less than 18.5 was positively associated with infertility in females, according to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Research.
7. Your Period Does Not Protect You from Pregnancy
The sooner this myth is banished, the better. Yes, the probability of conceiving during your period is less because you have just passed an ovulation cycle and your next ovulation cycle is still days away.
However, there are a few exceptions. A menstruation cycle is the length of time between your last period and your next.
Many women have a typical 28- to 30-day cycle. If you are one of them, the chances of getting pregnant when engaging in intercourse during your period are less.
However, if you have a shorter cycle (21 to 24 days, for instance), you could get pregnant even if you have intercourse during your period.
In a shorter cycle, ovulation occurs earlier. Since sperm can survive in your body for up to 5 days, you could conceive right after your period stops even though you had intercourse days earlier.
If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, use a condom no matter what time of the month it is.
8. Period Abnormalities may Indicate Thyroid Issues
Period abnormalities can take many forms, and they can all be indicative of thyroid problems.
Whether you have less frequent and irregular periods, heavy periods or no periods at all, these could all be symptoms of a thyroid disorder.
Furthermore, thyroid issues can also trigger early menarche (onset of menstruation or the first time a girl gets her period) or delay it.
Women with thyroid problems suffer period irregularities, infertility and an unhealthy sense of morbidity during pregnancy, according to a 2007 study published in Clinical Endocrinology.
Getting your thyroid checked would be a wise choice if you have been suffering menstrual irregularities and aren’t sure why.