While nothing could be more ordinary than a woman’s menstrual cycle, it often remains shrouded in mystery or is poorly understood. How can you tell what’s normal and what’s not?
The menstrual cycle is a series of changes that a woman’s body undergoes to prepare for a potential pregnancy. Each month, the ovaries release an egg as part of a process called ovulation. If the egg doesn’t get fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina, and this is what causes the menstrual period.
The menstrual cycle, which is measured from the first day of menstrual flow to the first day of the next period, is different for every woman. Cycles are usually 21 to 35 days long. They can be very regular for some, and less so for others. For the first few years after menstruation begins, cycles tend to be longer and then eventually shorten and become more regular. When nearing menopause, cycles tend to become irregular again. The periods themselves may be short or long, heavy or light, painful or pain-free. Normality varies greatly.
To find out what’s normal for you, it is recommended that you keep a record of the start date of your period every month. If you’re concerned about the length, flow or discomfort of your periods, you can also make a note of that information to make follow-ups easier.
Menstrual cycle irregularities can have many different causes, including pregnancy and breast-feeding, eating disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, premature ovarian failure, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
It is recommended that you consult your doctor if your periods suddenly stop for more than 90 days, your periods become erratic after having been regular, you bleed for more than seven days or between periods, you soak through more than one pad or tampon every hour or two, you develop severe pain during your period, or if your cycle is shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days.
A regular pelvic exam can help promptly identify problems affecting your reproductive system. If you have any questions about your menstrual cycle, don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist, who can take you aside in the consultation area to answer your questions in complete privacy.