Chances are you are a woman searching for answers about your body, and while you know the basics, how much do you REALLY know about your own body?
Unfortunately when I was growing up here in Australia, we weren't taught much about our bodies, besides the simple mechanics of men and women among the giggles of classmates...but for girls, it really is important to know about how our bodies work beyond just the "basics".
So what exactly IS your menstrual cycle?
Menstruation is the technical term for getting your period. About once a month, females who have gone through puberty will experience menstrual bleeding. This happens because the lining of the uterus has prepared itself for a possible pregnancy by becoming thicker and richer in blood vessels. If pregnancy does not occur, this thickened lining is shed, accompanied by bleeding. Bleeding usually lasts for 3-8 days. For most women, menstruation happens in a regular pattern that normally ranges from 21-35 days.
Our menstrual cycle can be broken into 4 main phases: Menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation & luteal phase. Menstruation is the elimination of the thickened lining of the uterus (endometrium) from the body through the vagina. Menstrual fluid contains blood, cells from the lining of the uterus (endometrial cells) and mucus. The average length of a period is between three days and one week.
The follicular phase of the menstrual cycle occurs from approximately day 1-14. The pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain) releases a hormone called FSH - follicle stimulating hormone. This hormone causes several follicles to mature, containing eggs. The maturing follicle produces the hormone estrogen, which increases over the follicular phase and peaks in the day or two prior to ovulation. Surges in LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH cause the egg to be released from the follicle. The surge in LH also causes a brief surge in testosterone, which increases sex drive, right at the most fertile time of the cycle.
Ovulation phase is when the mature egg gets released, and happens on about day 14 as a result of a surge in LH and FSH over the previous day. After release, the egg enters the fallopian tube where fertilization may take place, if sperm are present. If the egg is not fertilized, it disintegrates after about 24 hours. Once the egg is released, the follicle seals over and this is called the corpus luteum. The luteal phase occurs after the release of the egg, and levels of FSH and LH decrease. The corpus luteum produces progesterone. If fertilization has occurred, the corpus luteum continues to produce progesterone which prevents the endometrial lining from being shed. If fertilization has not occurred, the corpus luteum disintegrates, which causes progesterone levels to drop and signals the endometrial lining to begin shedding - hence we are back to the beginning, where our cycle begins again, and menstruation occurs. FUN FACT: You will spend nearly 10 years of your life on your period. From the time of her first cycle to menopause, the average woman will have around 450 periods in her lifetime.
WOW. That’s a LOT of days menstruating, so shouldn’t we know a little more about our bodies?