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The Menstrual Cycle Explained

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 28 Aug 2010 | comments*Discuss
Menstrual Cycle; Menstruation; Period;

The menstrual cycle affects every single woman every month from puberty to the menopause. Its function is to allow women to become pregnant and regulate the hormones in the body.

The Normal Cycle

Each woman will have a cycle that is normal to them but will typically last from 21 to 35 days with the average being 28 days. A woman with a 21 day cycle will bleed every 3 weeks whereas a woman with a 28 day cycle will bleed every 4 weeks. Day one of your cycle is counted as the first day of bleeding with the last day being the one before the next bleed. The average length of a period is 5-7 days but some will be for a few as 3 days whilst others will bleed for 8 days.

If you experience prolonged periods or exceptionally heavy blood loss, possibly with large clots, or your periods are intermittent please see your GP who may be able to determine the cause and treat.

During day one of the cycle the brain sends signals to the ovaries to start maturing the next egg which will develop over the following 13 days until ovulation when the egg is released from the ovary and begins its journey down the fallopian tube.

A woman is considered to be at her most fertile in the few days leading up to ovulation. Ejaculated sperm can survive for up to 7 days in the female body so will find the egg as it is in the fallopian tube.

Blood Loss

During the menstrual cycle there is a period called menstruation, which allows the lining of the uterus to be shed if a pregnancy is not conceived. This menstruation consists of blood and cells and often an egg with the average loss being around 40ml though they can be lighter or slightly heavier.

For most women the blood loss is heavier during the first few days than it is at the end of menstruation.

Associated Conditions Of The Menstrual Cycle

Pain And Discomfort:The most common symptoms of all is too experience some discomfort or even acute pain during the menstrual cycle. This can vary in severity and may present during ovulation or when the lining of the uterus is shed. It is not known for sure what causes the pain but it may be linked to uterine contractions to aid the shedding of the lining or the cervix dilating slightly to allow for the passage of the blood.

Weight Gain:Weight gain during the menstrual cycle is thought to be related to woman taking in extra calories but more because of water retention. These changes are not very significant and usually resolve themselves after a few days. Small dietary changes such as reducing caffeine intake and salt consumption may help to avoid these changes.

Skin Changes:Due to hormonal changes in the body, often the skin and hair can displays signs of these fluctuations. Skin can appear greasier and hair will often need washing more frequently.

Emotional Changes:Many women, though not all, will find that they become more sensitive or have shortened tempers at certain times during their menstrual cycle. This is often just before the menstruating stage of the cycle and can last for a number of days, but has commonly subsided by the middle of menstruation.

Every woman will have their own experience of the menstrual cycle and each will start and end their cycles at different time sin their life.

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