Understanding Your Period to Feel Confident During Your Monthly Cycle
Learning and understanding more about my hormones and monthly cycle has been one of the most empowering things I have done for my own health in the last 35 years. I was a late bloomer to starting my period and very quickly chose to use birth control as a way of 'managing' my cycle.
Having always felt a bit confused and embarrassed to delve into too much detail around my periods meant I was always in the dark about how much this impacted my day-to-day life. I still to this day don't recall having had any proper conversations about what I should expect from my periods or how to better manage them without using the pill. I don't think I ever fully understood what the pill is, even though I took it for well over ten years of my adult life.
Every woman’s experience of their monthly cycle is different but it is estimated that between 14-25% of women have what are classed as irregular periods. That’s a pretty big deal when you consider we will have around 400 periods in our lifetime.
In this blog we are going to look at each phase of our monthly cycle and talk about some of the factors that can cause your periods to become irregular. We will also touch upon what changes as we head into perimenopause and menopause.
Hormones play a really important role in our overall health and have a huge impact on how our bodies feel and perform. Hormones and periods are often things we avoid discussing but when we understand our bodies better, we can support and care for our bodies rather than feeling frustrated by them.
The fluctuations in our hormones throughout our cycles mean that we see peaks and dips in how our bodies feel and perform in relation to exercise. This means we can see frustrating dips in our abilities, in how we tolerate pain when exercising and struggling with things like balance and coordination.
That’s why it is key for us to understand more about our hormones and what’s happening during our menstrual cycles.
IS YOUR CYCLE REGULAR?
The full menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. It typically lasts between 21 and 35 days. You may have heard and read a lot about a standard 28 day cycle, a recent study found that only 13 percent of cycles are 28 days in length. The average cycle is 29.3 days long.
Our Menstrual Cycle can be broken down into phases, the Follicular phase, Ovulation, the Luteal phase, and Menstruation.
Remember what is normal for some is not for others. This is where creating a better understanding and awareness of what is normal for you is key. Although we are all unique and have different cycles, there are some symptoms that indicate it might be worth speaking to your doctor.
· Your period becomes irregular after it has been steady and predictable for a long time.
· Your periods suddenly stop for 90 days or more and you are not pregnant.
· Your period lasts for more than eight days.
· You bleed much more heavily than usual.
· You soak through more than one tampon or pad every two hours.
· You suddenly begin spotting.
· You develop severe pain during your period.
· Your periods are more than 35 days apart, or less than 21 days apart.
Runs from day 1 of your cycle, the first day of your period all the way through to ovulation. The body's hormone control centre sends a message to the pituitary gland at the base of your brain. The pituitary then releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This stimulates your ovaries to produce follicles which inside houses an immature egg. The follicles grow during this phase of your cycle and eventually one will become dominant. The remaining follicles wither away and are reabsorbed into your body.
Your body’s production of estrogen increases as the egg ripens within the follicle, this makes the lining of your uterine grow and thicken. It becomes rich with nutrients to prepare for a potential pregnancy. The rise in estrogen signals to your pituitary gland to slow FSH production and levels of your luteinizing hormone surge. This halts estrogen production and starts the process of ovulation.
The follicular phase is often the longest and most variable part of your menstrual cycle. It begins on the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate. The average length is 16 days, but it can last anywhere from 11 to 27 days depending on your cycle.
High levels of Oestrogen during this phase can leave you feeling energised and motivated with a higher tolerance for endurance and pain.
Ovulation marks the start of the Luteal Phase, the second half of your cycle. The Luteal Phase tends to be fixed in length, at around 14 days. It begins with ovulation and ends when your period begins again.
Progesterone is the pro-gestation hormone which supports pregnancy if it were to occur. It also has many other health benefits such as reducing inflammation, calming the nervous system, soothing mood, and improving sleep.
Progesterone slows you down, it essentially wants to keep you safe in case you are pregnant. Slows your digestion. It does this so your gut has more time to extract and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. Your appetite ramps up during this phase because your body is gearing up to grow a baby.
Due to the warming effect progesterone has on the body, it can be detected as a rise in your basal body temperature.
You only produce progesterone if you ovulate if you’re on the pill your body will not do this.
WHAT IS MAKING MY CYCLE IRREGULAR?
Sometimes your cycle just isn’t lining up right and it can be really difficult to find out why. There are lots of factors that can make you irregular, or cause changes to your menstrual cycle, including:
- Extreme weight loss
- Excessive exercising
- Infections to the reproductive organs, like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Increased stress
- Changes in diet
If you have any concerns the best thing you can do is speak to your GP to understand what is going on for you.
The perimenopause is the transitional period prior to the menopause, usually between 45 to 50 years of age but can happen as early as 35 in some women. It is the time when egg production dwindles, and hormones can take on a life of their own.
Perimenopause can last for 4 to 8 years. It begins with changes in the length of time between periods and ends 1 year after the final menstrual period.
Common signs and symptoms of perimenopause include:
· Irregular and/or abnormal periods (that may be heavier or lighter in flow)
· Hot flashes and night sweats
· Breast tenderness
· Increase in weight gain
· Worsening symptoms of PMS (before periods begin)
· Thinning of hair
· Lower sex drive (or loss of sex drive)
· Vaginal dryness
· Headaches and/or muscle aches
· Problems concentrating
· Memory problems
· Mood swings
· Tachycardia (an increase in heart rate)
· An increased incidence of urinary tract infections (due to hormonal changes that cause thinning of the urethra)
Menopause is defined as the final menstrual period and is confirmed when a woman has missed her period for 12 consecutive months. Menopause results in lower levels of estrogen and other hormones and occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but the average age for a woman to be in menopause, according to The Global Library of Women’s Medicine, is age 51.
Common symptoms include:
· Hot flushes
· Night sweats
· Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
· Difficulty sleeping
· Low mood or anxiety
· Reduced sex drive (libido)
· Problems with memory and concentration
You should speak to your GP if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you or if you're experiencing symptoms of the menopause before 45 years of age.
Every woman is different and so is her cycle. If you’re ever concerned about your hormones, menstrual cycle or anything else discussed, please speak to a healthcare professional and please don’t rely on Dr Google!
I hope this blog has helped to shed some light on what we should expect from our monthly cycles and things we can be looking out for and should get checked out if we have concerns. Understanding and knowing more about how our hormones impact our lives is something I am really passionate about helping others to do.
If you have any questions or would like to work with me to improve your health and fitness and understand your body better, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org