Manual Of The Human Functions:menstruation

Some women today know little to nothing about their period, how and why it occurs, it's maintenance, when it occurs, the disorders tied to it and so on. This article explains what you need to know about Menstruation.

Menstruation is the recurring or periodic discharge of blood, vaginal secretions, and disintegrating mucosal tissues lining the uterus (endometrium) through the vagina. Simply put, it is the periodic discharge of blood. The blood discharged is accurately known as menstrual fluid and not menstrual blood. It is reddish brown in color and darker than regular blood in the body(venous blood). Half of the menstrual fluid is blood the other half are nutrients like sodium and calcium, among others, viginal secretions, and endometrial tissue.

Menstruation occurs during the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is the fluctuation of hormone levels that trigger physical changes in the uterus (womb) and ovaries in preparation for the female body for pregnancy. This cycle is marked by Ovulation and Menstruation.

The ovaries release two hormones; estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause the uterus (womb) to build up or line in preparation for a fertilized egg (pregnancy). If no egg is fertilized, i.e., fertilization doesn't occur, the lining breaks down and bleeds out through the vagina. Ovulation comes before menstruation and is, in simple words, the release of an egg that waits to be fertilized by a sperm in the prepared uterus. No fertilization means menstruation, which is a sign of not being pregnant and vice versa; this procedure occurs every month of the year. This tells us that a young girl has the possibility of getting pregnant even before seeing her first period before ovulation may have occurred a week or two before the period shows up.

The first menstruation (menarche) usually commences from the ages of 12 to 15, varying in different women, and stops (menopause) at ages 45-55; hence women menstruate for about 30 to 45 years. The period just before menopause is called perimenopause, after which the female becomes infertile. There isn't a specific age for a girl's period to appear but most times, the period could start two years after her breast starts developing or six months to a year after vaginal discharge (like a white mucus) appears. The typical length between the start of one period and the beginning of another is usually an average of 28 days but varies from 21-45 days in women. Bleeding lasts 2-7 days a month. It stops during pregnancy and doesn't resume during the initial stage of breastfeeding.

Although normal, women experience side effects to the menstrual cycle such as; acne, bloating, PMS, irritability, tender breast, tiredness, and cramps (caused by dysmenorrhea) in the abdomen or/and back. A severe symptom is PMDD- premenstrual dysphoric disorder, but it occurs in only about 3-8% of women. Cramps that cause a lack of strength and greatly affect a person's daily activities may be a sign of PMDD or endometriosis in a few women. Severe pain and sudden bleeding could be due to ectopic pregnancy or spontaneous abortion and should be checked immediately, as ectopic pregnancy could be life-threatening.

PMS- premenstrual symptoms are emotional and physical symptoms that occur a week or two before the commencement of each menstrual period and last for about six days. It appears in 20-30% of women. The symptoms clear out around the time bleeding resumes. Common symptoms are; tender, sore breasts, sadness, crankiness, anxiety, pimples, food cravings, mood swings, backaches, constipation, diarrhea, etc. Mood swings are not as widely attributed to PMS or menstruation as the society paints them to be. Though research is insubstantial, very little of women's mood fluctuations are a result of menstruation.

Some disorders associated with menstruation are;

Oligomenorrhea- Irregular period.

Hypomenorrhea- Short or light flow (very little flow).

Polymenorrhea- Frequent periods (more frequent than the 21-day interval).

Hypermenorrhea- Heavy and long period (more than seven days).

Dysmenorrhea- Painful period.

Amenorrhea- Absent period (more than 3-6 months of not having a period without being pregnant or at menopause).

If any of the above are observed, a visit to the gynecologist or nearest hospital is advised for proper evaluation of the situation.

Methods for maintaining one's self during menstruation have improved greatly over the years. There are many menstrual products, both disposable and reusable available to maintain hygiene during this period. The disposable ones include sanitary pads and tampons, and the reusable ones are menstrual cups, padded panties, and cloth pads. Menstrual cups are firm, flexible, bell-shaped devices worn inside the vagina to collect the menstrual fluid. Pads are thin rectangular pads of absorbent material worn externally to absorb menstrual fluid. Padded panties are underwear with extra absorbent layers(like pads) sewn in to absorb menstrual flow. Reusable menstrual clothes are made from cotton or flannel and may be hand-sewn; younger girls may have been told about it by their mothers or grandmothers.

Tampons are cylinders of treated cotton blends usually bleached and inserted in the vagina to absorb menstrual fluid. It is advised to shun using one pad, tampon, or any other menstrual product for a whole day as it causes bacteria to build up that leads to infections. One pad can be worn for 4-8 hours regardless of how light the flow is; a tampon should be replaced with a pad at night and frequently changed during the day (4-6hours) to lessen the risk of TSS- toxic shock syndrome caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Eating a balanced diet eases food cravings, reducing caffeine intake and increasing exercise helps with anxiety and crankiness, reducing alcohol, and salt intake help to reduce bloating, and yoga and meditation can relieve stress. Heating pads are great to help with cramps, headaches, and sore breasts by placing them on the affected area. Paracetamol, aspirin, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) aid in reducing pain. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are useful too. Calendars or period calendar apps can help you monitor your menstrual cycle giving you a heads up before it arrives. Frequent usage of panty liners also improves hygiene as it keeps you dry and fresh, absorb moisture and unexpected periods, and prevent the growth of bacteria that could lead to a vaginal infection, amongst other benefits. Baths in between the day also help you stay fresh and smell nice during this period.

The period is a healthy, necessary, and normal way of every woman's life and should not be considered unclean. You should embrace it and know how to maintain it to avoid complications. Consult your health care provider or gynecologist if you have any concerns or notice big changes in your cycle.

Reference: NIH: Medinplus: All about menstruation [for teens] (Nemeous foundation).

NIH: Medinplus: Period Products: Using your tampons (Boston Children's Hospital).

Wikipedia: Menstruation.

NIH: Medinplus: PMS, cramps, irregular period (Nemesis Foundation).

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