Most girls get their first period around age 12 and go on to have monthly periods until menopause starts around age 51. If you’re doing the math, that equates to 400-500 periods over the course of a woman’s lifetime.
Periods are normal, but unfortunately, menstrual cycle education is often lacking for girls and women of all ages. As a result, you may be embarrassed, confused, or unsure about your period and the symptoms.
Board-certified OB/GYN A. Michael Coppa, MD, and our team are dedicated to changing that. We offer comprehensive gynecology care with an emphasis on education that empowers women to take change of their health.
If you have questions about your period and your menstrual cycle, you’re not alone. Here are three things about your period that you might not have learned in health class.
The role of your period in your menstrual cycle
Your menstrual cycle prepares your body for a possible pregnancy. It includes four phases: your period, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.
The first day of your period is the first day of your menstrual cycle. During your period, your uterus contracts and sheds its lining. Within about a week, your period ends and your body moves into the follicular phase.
During the follicular phase, your body prepares to release an egg. Your ovaries release an egg to be fertilized during the ovulation phase. After ovulation, your body prepares for pregnancy during the luteal phase.
If you get pregnant during this menstrual cycle, you won’t have your next period. If you don’t get pregnant, your menstrual cycle starts over again on the first day of your next period.
A normal period is different for every woman
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but the actual length of your cycle can vary. Some women have menstrual cycles that last about 21 days, while others have longer cycles that last closer to 35 days.
The duration of your period can also vary. In fact, your period may last anywhere from two to seven days and still be considered normal.
Along with the length of your menstrual cycle and your period, you may experience symptoms that differ from what the other women in your life experience. Variations can occur in menstrual flow, cramps, other types of pain, and moods.
What’s normal for you can also change over time. Your cycles may be longer or more irregular as a teenager and become shorter and more predictable as you get older. Your symptoms may also change as you move through life.
Never ignore certain period symptoms
While every woman’s menstrual cycle is different, there are some symptoms that aren’t normal. Heavy, painful periods are very common, but many women don’t know that their symptoms are irregular, so they never seek treatment.
Talk to Dr. Coppa or another person on your health care team if you experience:
- Periods lasting longer than a week
- Menstrual cycles shorter than 21 days
- Menstrual cycles longer than 35 days
- Heavy bleeding that requires changing pads or tampons hourly
- Blood clots larger than a quarter
- Severe menstrual cramps that interfere with your daily life
Only about a third of women seek treatment for heavy periods. Learning to recognize the signs that something isn’t right is the first step to getting the care you need.
Remember that you know your body better than anyone else. If you talk to a health care provider about your symptoms and they don’t take you seriously, seek a second opinion.
Periods are normal, and educating yourself about your menstrual cycle can help you take control of your health care. To find out more about menstrual cycles, schedule your next gynecological appointment with Dr. Coppa.
Call the office nearest you or request an appointment online now. We’re located in Cranston, Providence, and Smithfield, Rhode Island.