What is Menstruation (period)?
The menstrual cycle
The ‘menstrual cycle’, ‘menstruation’, ‘menses’, or ‘period’ is a female bodily change that is controlled by hormones and causes a vaginal bleed every month. The bleeding comes from the uterus when there is no pregnancy. Around the middle of the menstrual cycle (eg day 14 of a 28 day cycle) an egg is released from one of the ovaries. If the egg doesn’t meet with sperm, it will not be fertilized to result in pregnancy. A couple of weeks later your period will start again.
The menstrual cycle varies for everyone.
- It starts between 9 and 16 years old, and stops between 45 and 55 years old
- The length of the cycle can be from 21 to 45 days
- The period (time when you bleed) can last for 4 – 8 days.
- It is heavier in the first 1-3 days and then gets lighter
- It tends to be bright or dark red at the beginning and dark brown at the end
- Typical blood loss is about 80mls, or 1/3 cup in total
- There is a variety of pads, tampons, reusable period underwear and menstrual cups that can be used to manage bleeding when you have your period. For an overview, see our blog post: What are all the period products?
When you have your period, you may experience side effects.
- It is normal to be irritable, moody, have pimples, bloating or be tired 1-2 weeks before your period. However, your side effects should not stop you from doing normal, daily things.
- It is normal to have mild abdominal pain in the first 1-2 days of a period. 2 out of 3 women have breast pain.
- Using hot packs to relax the muscles, exercise to release endorphins, and relaxing and resting to relieve stress can be helpful.
- Speak to your doctor about pain relief options.
Many women and people who menstruate experience regular, manageable periods, with few physical or psychological issues. Menstrual problems, however, are still very common and can significantly affect people's lives. Around 1 in 5 women get severe pain that needs to be assessed. This may be because of a gynaecological condition that needs treatment.
Menstrual problems can include:
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) - a range of side effects before your period that may include fluid retention, headaches, fatigue, mood swings and irritability. Treatment options include exercise and dietary changes.
- Dysmenorrhoea – or painful periods. It is thought that the uterus is prompted by certain hormones to squeeze harder than necessary to dislodge its lining. Treatment options include pain-relieving medication and hormonal contraceptives.
- Menorrhagia – or heavy menstrual flow. If left untreated, this can cause anaemia. Treatment options include hormonal contraceptives.
- Amenorrhoea – or absence of menstrual periods. This is considered abnormal, except during pre-puberty, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. Possible causes include low or high body weight and excessive exercise.
Better Health Channel
Sexual Health Victoria: The Menstrual Cycle
Sexual Health Victoria: Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
Royal Women's Hospital
The Vermillion Project
Menstruation video in Auslan
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