As a woman, your menstrual health is something you should always be concerned about. Most females begin their cycle between 10 and 14 years of age (on average).
A Normal Menstrual Cycle
The term ‘normal’ is a little subjective when it comes to your menstrual cycle because it can vary between different women. What you are looking for is your patterns, and whether they change suddenly or not. Many people like to say a menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but it is not unusual for it to be considerably longer or shorter. The important thing is to look at changes that happen suddenly, such as missing a period completely or having several months where the length keeps changing dramatically. In a ‘normal’ menstrual cycle, you should ovulate around the same time each month and have the same type of flow.
Healthy Menstrual Period
When you get your period, there are more things to look at to ensure it is a healthy menstrual period. Typically, you will bleed for 4-6 days, but again, this can vary. However, if you have a month where the flow is shorter or less overall than usual, you might want to tell your gynecologist. Some common issues that might warrant a visit to your doctor include a lighter or heavier flow, blood that is much darker than it typically is, blood clots, and excessive pain when you did not experience it before.
Don’t Ignore PMS Symptoms
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, can also vary based on the woman. Some women start experiencing PMS symptoms around the time they get their period, while others have it worse on random months. This latter is what you are looking for. If you have always gotten a little moody and headaches before your period, it is nothing to be concerned about. However, if you are suddenly getting severe cramps, extreme mood swings, aches and pains, and migraine headaches when you never did before, that is something to tell your doctor. These PMS symptoms might be from hormonal changes, stress, and other factors that need to be addressed. PMS changes are also signs that your menstrual cycle may change as well.
Along with the regular monthly cycle comes other occurrences such as menstrual pains or cramps that can be severe or intolerable. It is no wonder that women with severe cramps regard their monthly period with so much dread.
Menstrual cramps, or dysmenorrhea, are one of the most common health care problems that women suffer during their reproductive years. It has been estimated that as many as 30 to 50 percent of all women suffer from pain during their menstrual period, with the incidence being highest in younger women, from teenagers to women in their thirties. At least 10 percent of younger women have severe symptoms that some can not do their normal activities anymore. Some have to miss work, school, or other important functions because they can not handle the pain.
A substance called prostaglandins are the cause of most symptoms with dysmenorrhea. These are produced by the body and found in the uterine lining. When the lining starts to shed with menstruation, they are released, which will then cause the uterus to contract forcefully, which is the reason for much of the cramping itself.
Menstrual cramps start a day or more before the actual menstruation. This can usually last from one to three days. They are usually felt in the lower or middle abdomen. The pain can spread to the hips, thighs, and back. The pain rises to a peak and falls, then starts all over again. This is due to the contractions of the uterus that underlie the cramps. Though cramps are experienced by women, the severity of it varies from woman to woman. Some women have barely noticeable cramps, others may feel excruciating pain. They may also experience dizziness, weakness, or chills. Abdominal muscles and leg spasms also occur with severe cramps.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are the main treatment for menstrual cramps. There are different medications and brands to choose from but Ibuprofen (Motrin) or Naproxen (Aleve) are some of the most popular NSAIDs in the market today. They work by stopping the body from making prostaglandins and prevents blood clotting. Different formulations work well on different women, this is because the production of prostaglandins is a series of events. Different drugs in the NSAID category work on different stages of the process. Generic Ibuprofen is a good one to take for starters and it is also the cheapest. For severe cramping, your physician might recommend low-dose oral contraceptives to prevent ovulation. This may reduce the production of prostaglandins and the severity of the cramps. There is no way to predict which drug will work best on a particular woman that is why it is still best to consult a physician if menstrual cramps are becoming a regular thing and hinder a woman’s day-to-day activities.
However, there are a few self-care tips to help you reduce the pain from menstrual cramps. Once you feel the pain, use a heating pad in your abdomen and take a hot bath to ease your cramps. Exercising regularly has also been shown to help alleviate menstrual cramps. Exercise increases the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Getting adequate rest will help one’s body to be less vulnerable to pain.
Although menstrual cramps are generally related to pain, it is also closely tied to ovulatory cycles. So, women should not be always fearful about having menstrual cramps during and before their monthly period. It is an important sign of a woman’s potential for fertility.