All Your Questions About Menstruation Symptoms, Answered

From period pains to regular versus irregular cycles!
PHOTO: istockphoto

Do you know all you should about normal menstrual cycles and the symptoms related your period? Are there a few things you’re confused by or need to brush up on? Keep reading for a few FAQs on menstruation symptoms.

What is menstruation and why do I have it?

During your menstrual cycle, hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which occur naturally in your body, cause the lining of your uterus to thicken with tissue, blood, and nutrients. Midway through your menstrual cycle, your hormones will trigger the release of a mature egg from your ovaries in a process known as ovulation. During this time, you may feel bloated or experience some spotting or lower belly pain.

The egg will travel through your fallopian tubes toward your uterus. If the egg has been fertilized by a sperm cell, it attaches to the thickened lining of your uterus; this is the start of a pregnancy. If you do not become pregnant, the lining breaks down and the blood, nutrients and tissue are released from your body. This vaginal bleeding is called your period, or menstruation. If you become pregnant, you will not experience menstruation until you are no longer pregnant.

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What are common menstruation symptoms?

Apart from vaginal bleeding, you may experience the following normal symptoms associated with menstruation:

  • Abdominal or pelvic cramping
  • Lower back pain
  • Mood swings (particularly irritability)
  • Headaches
  • Food cravings (particularly for sweets)
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Sore breasts

What are common symptoms my period is about to start?

Your menstruation may be heralded by same symptoms above, which may begin even before the start of vaginal bleeding. Other symptoms may include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Depression or anxiety

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What symptoms associated with menstruation should I be concerned about?

Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Unusual menstrual cramping (out of cycle or more painful than usual)
  • Sudden irregularity in your menstrual cycle (when the gap between first days of a cycle is outside the normal range of 21 to 35 days)
  • Sustained irregular periods
  • Periods lasting more than seven days
  • Exceptionally heavy or light flow during menstruation
  • Suspected pregnancy

When in life do people start and stop experiencing menstruation and its symptoms?

Most get their first periods between the ages of 11 and 14, although sometimes these can occur later than that. If you are not menstruating by the time you are 16, consult your doctor.

Barring period-preventing birth control or health problems, you should have periods until your menopause, which occurs in your late 40s or early to mid-50s. Menopause can last a few years; by the time it is complete, you will no longer have periods and can no longer become pregnant.

Some symptoms, such as menstrual cramps, tend to be more intense in the early years then are reduced as women mature, usually after the age of 30.

Is there anything I shouldn’t do when I have my period?

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Having your period shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to do. But if you experience painful menstruation symptoms, you may want to take it easy during these days.

Why do I get period pains and how do I treat them?

Menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, occur one to three days before your period and often last up to three days after it starts. Apart from pain in the lower abdomen, other period pains can include pain in the lower back and in the thighs and headaches. These symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that can limit everyday activities.

You can take over-the-counter pain relievers (best taken as soon as you feel symptoms, and then as directed by your doctor) to ease menstrual cramps as well as rely on home remedies, like using heat—take a hot bath or press a heating pad or hot water bottle to your lower abdomen.

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You may also opt take hormonal contraceptives such as the Pill, which can lighten periods and reduce cramping, or make lifestyle changes like exercising regularly or reducing stress. Getting enough sleep and rest also helps prevent period cramping.

Cramps may also be caused by endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and other health issues, so advise your doctor if you experience painful cramping on a regular basis.

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How long does the average period last and when should I expect to feel menstruation symptoms?

Most periods last between three and five days. Symptoms may occur as early as one to three days before the start of the period. Menstrual cramps in particular may peak on the second day before easing off sometime in the next two or three days.

Should I track my periods and their symptoms? How and why?

It is a good idea to track at least the start dates of your period, as this is often a question your doctor will ask you when evaluating your reproductive health. If you are sexually active, it also gives you a way to determine if your period might be late (and you may be pregnant). If you experience irregularities such as abnormally long periods or unusual flow quantities, you should track these details as well and report them to your doctor.

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I have irregular periods. What causes them?

Irregular periods (when the gap between your period start days keeps changing) can be normal for teens as a symptom of puberty and those undergoing menopause. They can also be caused by early pregnancy, medication you may be taking, hormonal imbalances, excessive exercise or stress, extreme weight loss or weight gain, and certain medical conditions.

What kinds of birth control will affect my menstrual cycle and the symptoms related to it?

Hormonal contraceptives are almost certain to affect your menstrual flow and cycle. Copper IUDs may result in heavier flows as well as increase the likelihood of menstrual cramping. Only barrier methods (such as the condom) and natural birth control methods will have no effect on your menstrual cycle.

Can I have sex while I am menstruating without any additional symptoms?

Yes, and orgasms may actually help relieve menstrual cramping. However, if you are using a tampon, please make sure to remove this before anything is inserted into the vagina during sex.

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Can transgender or genderqueer people get periods and experience menstruation symptoms?

Yes, even though they may not identify as women, anyone who has ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus, and a vagina will get periods. Transgendered people may find periods stressful and experience gender dysphoria (discomfort and anxiety stemming from when a person feels their body does not match their gender identity) during this time. Taking hormonal contraception or undergoing hormone replacement therapy may be an option, but please consult your doctor before taking any medication.

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