A menstrual cycle is a regular change that occurs in a woman’s body, in the ovaries, and the uterus. This is a phenomenon that makes pregnancy very much possible. Every month the body prepares itself to receive an egg and gets ready for pregnancy. Oocytes are needed, and the cycle ensures production. In this cycle, the lining of the uterus thickens, and when the egg is released from the ovary, it implants in the uterus. The thickened uterus gives nutrients to the egg or now an embryo. However, if the pregnancy doesn’t occur, then the lining is shed by the uterus. This phenomenon is known as menstruation, and it occurs in cycles.
The menstruation cycle has 4 phases – menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase. Menstruation is the elimination of the endometrium or the thick lining of the uterus, discharged from the vagina. The period length can range from 3 days to a week. The follicular phase can start from day one of the periods up till ovulation. During this time, the body produces the follicle-stimulating hormone, which prompts the ovaries to produce 5-20 follicles, and each follicle houses an immature egg. Ovulation takes place when a mature egg is released from the ovary. After an egg has left the follicle, the follicle remains behind to release progesterone and small quantities of estrogen, which helps the uterus in maintaining a thick uterine lining.
The menstrual cycle has an average length of 28 to 29 days and varies for different women and also from one cycle to another. This length of time is calculated as the 1st day of the period till the day before the next period begins. Girls enter the menarche phase or puberty when they hit the age of 11 – 14 years. Hormones produced by different glands control the cycle. The hypothalamus in the brain causes the pituitary gland to release some chemical, which in turn causes the ovaries to produce hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. During this cycle, each gland and structure is impacted by the activity of others, making it a biofeedback system.
What Exactly Is a Normal Period?
A period, as described above, is when the uterus sheds the uterine lining prepared for receiving a fertilized egg. However, periods vary from woman to woman as each person’s body is different, and there isn’t one singular definition for a normal period. A period lasts for 3-7 days on average, and the menstrual cycle is around 28-32 days long. But then again, this is an average number, meaning some women could have a longer period. The symptoms occurring during a period, and its severity can also vary but generally includes headaches, bloating, cramping, breast tenderness, food cravings, mood swings, and fatigue.
The menstruation flow is different for different women. Initially, for the first two years, a woman may have a longer cycle that doesn’t start at the same time each month. But with age, the cycles become consistent, and older women tend to have it consistently. Contraception in the form of birth control pills and IUDs can change the pattern of the menstrual cycles, so consulting a doctor on that is the best option.
Women can track their periods and discover what “normal” means to them. By tracking color and duration every month, a woman can determine that what occurs regularly for her, is her “normal.” Once that has been determined, then a woman can check for any changes caused by other health issues.
Symptoms such as cramps, trouble sleeping, bloating, etc. are also normal. But there are other symptoms which aren’t considered normal. If a woman is bleeding more heavily than usual or is bleeding for more days than usual, meaning a change in her own “normal,” then she must consult a doctor. If the period suddenly stops, if there is bleeding in between two periods or if the period hasn’t come after stopping the use of birth control pills for three months, then this may not be normal, and a consultation with the physician is required.
Understanding the Meaning of Blood Colors During Period
The texture or color of the period blood may say something crucial about a woman’s health. The colors can range from red, orange to brown. Some colors are normal, but other colors may be cause for concern. The following are the colors one can see during menstruation:
Black blood may not necessarily be a reason to worry just because it isn’t a normal red. This could be old blood, that is the blood that is taking a little time in leaving the uterus. This happens in a slow flow. However, this could mean miscarriage as well, in some cases, when the woman isn’t on her period.
Brown discharge also means old blood as it has had time to oxidize. This color is more common at the end or beginning of the period, or it could be leftover from the last period. It is also seen in lochia – or the bleeding experienced 4-6 weeks after the delivery of a child. Spotting during pregnancy can also be in brown color. In case of a missed miscarriage, when a baby is lost but doesn’t pass through the uterus for four weeks or less, the blood is brown when a woman is bleeding or spotting.
A period can be dark red when a woman has been lying down for a while. It could also signal the end of the period as the blood flow slows down. During lochia (as explained above), the bleeding can start out heavy and have a dark red color. It could also signal implantation spotting or a miscarriage.
Fresh flowing blood has this color, but it could also mean an infection if a woman is bleeding between periods. Blood discharge of this color could also mean miscarriage or fibroids if the woman isn’t on her period.
Pink blood can appear at the start or end of the period, especially if the woman is spotting. The blood likely mixes with the cervical fluid making it lighter. Pink menstrual blood can mean low levels of estrogen. Now low estrogen could be caused by different factors like perimenopause etc. Women going through a miscarriage can see a gush of pink-colored liquid along with cramping and other symptoms of pregnancy loss.
Blood can appear orange for the same reasons as pink blood. This can appear in case of implantation spotting or if the woman has an STI.
An off-white or gray discharge is not a normal color. Gray blood is associated with an infection, such as bacterial vaginosis. This may be accompanied by other symptoms such as itching, foul odor, and pain. In case of a miscarriage, the tissues passing through can also be gray in color.
The above-mentioned blood colors can help one determine what each color means. All such colors may not only appear during periods but at other times as well. Such as bleeding in between periods. Blood can change colors from the beginning to the end of the period and even may change from one month to the other. But some colors are healthy, and some are not. If a woman sees an unfamiliar shade, it is best to go see the doctor.
How Does Abnormal Bleeding Affect Your Health?
Normal bleeding can vary, but abnormal bleeding could mean one of the following.
- Postmenopause bleeding
- Bleeding post intercourse
- Bleeding for more day or heavier than normal
- Spotting or bleeding in between periods
These types of bleeding don’t always mean a health complication, and the causes may vary. But such type of abnormal bleeding could be a sign of the following:
- Clotting disorders
- Von Willebrand disease
- Uterine fibroids
- Side effects of medicines
- Abnormalities within the uterus
- Uterine or cervical infection
- Miscarriage or pregnancy
- Medical conditions like diabetes, lupus erythematosus, cirrhosis, thyroid disorder, or pelvic inflammatory disorder.
The absence of a normal period also means an abnormal period, such as non-existent or infrequent periods. Stress, sports, vigorous exercise, and heightened physical activity could cause this. Abnormal bleeding can point towards some other medical conditions which may require a physician’s attention. As every woman’s cycle is different, one must learn how to read their period blood and flows. Once a woman knows how to read her period, then in case of any change, she must consult her doctor. The quick intimation and consultation can help in the diagnosis of a different disorder or medical condition and then its treatment.
FAQ Related to Your Health and Menstrual Cycles
How can it affect energy and emotional level, and why?
Hormones released during a menstrual cycle can affect other aspects of a woman’s life – physical, mental, and emotional. In the first half of the menstrual cycle, a woman’s energy levels may be higher, along with the tolerance for pain. Women may experience a better memory. And if one wants to schedule a pap test, then the best time is after the end of the period, as the cervical fluid is at its thinnest.
In the second half of the cycle, women may feel forgetful or sluggish. In case of certain health issues like migraine, asthma, depression, or irritable bowel syndrome, the symptoms can become worse just before the period begins. Diabetic women may find it harder to maintain glucose levels, and it may be lower or higher than normal. The serotonin levels drop, and changing levels of glucose can make one crave starchy or sugary foods.
How can your periods affect your other health problems?
Problems occurring during or because of periods can cause or affect other health issues. Symptoms related to other medical issues can get worse or better during certain times in the cycle.
- Anemia – Periods may affect anemia because of bleeding. Heavy bleeding is a common cause of iron deficiency in women. This condition occurs when blood is unable to carry enough oxygen to all body parts, as there is a lack of iron. This condition can make women feel weak, tired, or pale.
- Depression – Women with a medical history of depression are more likely to get premenstrual dysphoric disorder or premenstrual syndrome. Women suffering from depression may experience worse symptoms right before their period.
- Osteoporosis – If a woman suffers from amenorrhea, then her bones could be at risk. In the absence of estrogen from ovaries, a woman can lose bone mass, putting the woman at the risk of osteoporosis. This condition can cause the bones to become weak, brittle, and breakable.
- Heart Disease – Women who are going through menopause or amenorrhea may not have enough estrogen in the body. This hormone protects the body against stroke and heart diseases.
- Diabetes – Women who experience irregular cycles, specifically that which is longer than 40 days, are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Young women who are between the ages of 18-22 are even at more risk when they have irregular periods. Women having Polycystic ovary syndrome with insulin are also at risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Pregnancy-related issues – Conditions such as uterine fibroids, PCOS, or endometriosis that occur as part of PMS can cause infertility.
How do you relate weight issues to your menstrual cycles?
Weight can cause problems during the menstrual cycles. Underweight women who have low fat may stop ovulating and experience irregular periods. When one doesn’t ovulate, then the body doesn’t produce enough estrogen and can cause health problems.
Even overweight women can experience irregular periods or no periods. There may be pregnancy issues. While ovaries create estrogen but so do fat cells. As one gains more weight, fat cells grow, and more estrogen is produced. Excess estrogen may make the body feel like its pregnant or as if the woman is on birth control pills. Thus there may not be any ovulation, and there may be an absence of period.