Know About Your Aunt Flo: The Various Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
Author- Shambhavi Shukla Editor- Navya Om Agnihotri What is a Menstrual Cycle? The menstrual cycle of a woman refers to the monthly series of hormonal changes. A menstrual cycle begins with the first day of periods and ends when a woman gets her next period. People often confuse the menstrual cycle with periods, contrary to popular belief; periods are merely a phase within the menstrual cycle. A menstrual cycle happens due to a series of hormonal communications occurring between the brain, the ovaries, and the uterus. Furthermore, one menstrual cycle is, in fact, made up of two different cycles, overlapping and interacting with one another. One of these cycles happens in the ovaries, and the other in the uterus. Ideally, an entire menstrual cycle lasts for about 28-35 days; however, the length could vary from one person to another, and a woman’s cycle’s length can change multiple times from the beginning of her period at puberty (menarche) till it stops (menopause). Physical and emotional factors, like bloating, acne, cramps, mood swings, etc., are often seen fluctuating during the cycle. After the egg develops and matures, it discharges from the ovaries during each menstrual cycle. The uterus lining thickens in preparation for pregnancy, and if the pregnancy does not happen, the uterine lining sheds during the periods. And the cycle repeats so on. Phases of the Menstrual Cycle: The menstrual cycle of a woman is made up of 4 phases: 1. Menstrual phase 2. Follicular phase 3. Ovulation phase 4. Luteal phase The Menstrual Phase: The first phase of the menstrual cycle is known as the menstrual phase. It's the time of the month when a woman gets her period. When an egg from the previous cycle does not fertilize, this phase begins. Because there hasn't been a pregnancy, the estrogen and progesterone levels drop. The uterus' thick lining, which would normally be used to support a pregnancy, is no longer needed, so it sheds through the vaginal canal. The uterus releases a mixture of blood, mucus, and tissue during periods. Cramps, sore breasts, bloating, mood changes, irritability, headaches, exhaustion, and low back pain are common symptoms of periods. Women are in the menstrual phase of their cycle for 3 to 7 days on average; however, some women's periods can be longer or shorter than others. The Follicular Phase: The follicular phase begins on the first day of a woman's period and ends when she ovulates, so there can also be some overlap with the menstrual phase. The process begins when the hypothalamus (a region of the brain) instructs the pituitary gland to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The ovaries are stimulated to create 5 to 20 tiny sacs called follicles as a result of these hormones. An immature egg is present in each follicle. It’s only the healthiest egg that matures in the end. A woman may even have two developed eggs on rare occasions. The remaining follicles are absorbed back into the body. The mature follicle triggers an increase in estrogen, which thickens the uterine lining. This provides an embryo with a nutrient-rich environment to thrive. The follicular phase lasts roughly 16 days on average. Depending on someone's cycle, it might also last anywhere from 11 to 27 days. The Ovulation Phase: The ovulation phase begins when the pituitary gland releases luteinizing hormone (LH) in response to rising estrogen levels. Luteinizing hormone then stimulates the release of a mature egg from the ovary. This process of release of the egg is known as ovulation. The developed egg moves from the ovary, down the fallopian tube, and into the uterus during ovulation. Sperm can fertilize an egg at any point during its journey. People who want to get pregnant should look for indicators of ovulation, like a thick, white discharge from the vaginal area and a slight rise in their basal body temperature. Ovulation occurs right in the middle of the menstrual cycle (e.g., on the 14th day in case of a 28-day-long cycle). It lasts approximately 24 hours. The egg dissolves if not fertilized during that time. The Luteal Phase: A structure called the corpus luteum develops after the follicle discharges its egg. Hormones, primarily progesterone and some estrogen, are released by this structure. The increase in hormones keeps the uterine lining thick and ready for the implantation of a fertilized egg. The body will create human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) if the pregnancy does not occur. This is the hormone that pregnancy tests look for. It aids in the maintenance of the corpus luteum and the thickening of the uterine lining. The corpus luteum shrinks and is reabsorbed in the absence of pregnancy. This causes a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, resulting in the commencement of menstruation. During menstruation, the uterine lining sheds. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, bloating, breast soreness or tenderness, changes in sex drive, weight gain, problems sleeping, food cravings, etc., might be experienced during the luteal phase. The luteal phase can last anywhere from 11-17 days, although it usually lasts for approximately 14 days. Each woman's menstrual cycle is unique. What you consider to be normal might not be the same for someone else. It's critical to understand your cycle, including when your periods occur and how long they last. Let's Paint it Red! Tracking your periods seems to be a cumbersome job, especially when you’d rather be lying curled up with your hot water bottle, doesn’t it? We all ask ourselves if it’s even worth it, and most of the time, we end up forgetting the exact dates of our cycle. The answer to the question, however, is yes. It is totally worth the effort. Tracking your monthly cycle and noting down the symptoms and changes throughout the month can prove to be remarkably beneficial for numerous reasons, such as remembering the dates of your periods, understanding your cycle better, taking proper steps for birth control, and planning your pregnancy, and so on. For more tips on self-care, check out our latest blog on Self-Care during Menstruation. Complications: Women, who suffer from various conditions, such as endometriosis, PCOD, PCOS, etc., usually have an irregular or erratic cycle. Tracking their periods and keeping a detailed account of the changes taking place every month in such cases is beneficial. These detailed accounts can help them in noting even the slightest of changes in their cycles. Understanding Your Cycle: The simplest approach to keep track of your cycle is to keep track of when your period comes so you can figure out how long your cycle is on average. Every person is unique, and having an irregular period is more common than you might believe. A 28-day cycle is a universal average, but it may not be the same for everyone. Having an idea about your next period date will make you feel more in control instead of leaving you cautiously waiting for the blow to strike. Pregnancy: There are some frequent misunderstandings about pregnancy, such as the belief that you can only become pregnant on the day you ovulate or that you can become pregnant at any point in your cycle. Neither of these statements is correct. Pregnancy is possible in the days leading up to and following ovulation. Hence, if you're trying to conceive, knowing your cycle can help you estimate ovulation, which is when you're most likely to become pregnant if you're not on birth control. A missed period is one of the earliest indicators of pregnancy, so keeping track of your cycle will help you detect a probable pregnancy sooner. Period (and ovulation) tracking might also help if you're trying not to get pregnant and want to identify techniques to avoid getting pregnant. Knowing your reproductive window or ovulation phase might be useful, depending on whether and how you use birth control. If you're on birth control, this strategy can boost the effectiveness of whatever method you're already using. Tracking Regular Cycles: Even if your cycle is quite regular, it is still a good idea to keep track of it every month. Not only can it be used to anticipate when your period will arrive, but also to assess other aspects of your health. For example, irregular periods may indicate other underlying health issues, so it is critical to be aware of what is going on so you can inform your doctor. It can aid in planning your lifestyle, fertility and letting women know when their cycle is changing. Changes in your cycle are not always a bad thing, but they are worth keeping track of in case you want to talk to your doctor about them. How to Track Your Cycles? The traditional method of tracking your cycles is by circling the date on which your periods begin in your calendars in red ink (or any other ink, go ahead and customize your table calendars). However, the only downside to this method is the inability to track various symptoms in detail throughout the cycle. Using an app to track your period is another easy way. Clue, Flo, My Flo, and Eve are a few of the popular ones. The applications will keep track of your period dates and help you to keep track of your symptoms. Depending on the software, it can also anticipate when you will be ovulating and when your next period will arrive. If you do not want to use an app, you can also keep track of your period dates and detailed accounts of any symptoms in a calendar or on your phone. Apart from the obvious signs like cramps, body aches, etc., it is always a good idea to note down emotional symptoms, such as mood swings. Keeping a close eye on Aunt Flo goes a long way!