Normally, women will have a menstrual cycle every month from puberty until they reach menopause. It is known that the menstrual process occurs when there are a series of changes in a woman’s body and reproductive organs that are influenced by hormonal changes.
However, there are not many women who experience an abnormal menstrual cycle, whereas your menstrual cycle will indicate a lot about your health. To know whether or not your menstrual cycle is normal, tracking your menstrual cycle is a must-do for you.
In addition, it can really help you understand ovulation and figure out important changes, e.g., a missed period or unpredictable menstrual bleeding. Okay, let’s dive into our post to find out information about the normal menstrual cycle!
What is Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle is defined as the monthly series of changes that a woman experiences as a sign that her reproductive organs are functioning properly. Each month, an egg will develop and be released from the ovary during ovulation.
At the same time, hormonal changes are preparing the uterus for pregnancy. If the released egg is not fertilized, the lining of the uterus will shed and come out through the vagina. Well, the process is called a menstrual cycle. Otherwise, if an egg is successfully fertilized, a pregnancy can occur.
It is known that the occurrence of menstruation can be triggered by the presence of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FS).
To track your menstrual cycle, you can start to trace your monthly menstrual cycle on a calendar. You can also record each menstrual start date to identify menstrual regularity. Luckily! Today, there are a number of menstrual counter apps you can use on your smartphone to record your monthly menstrual cycle.
What is the Normal Menstrual Cycle?
Understanding the menstrual cycle can show you an estimate whether or not it is normal. However, every woman does not have the same menstrual cycle – that is counted from the first day of one period to the first day of the next. In addition, the menstrual cycle every woman experiences can change with age.
In general, menstrual flow may occur every 21 to 35 days that can last two to seven days. Of course, the long cycle is common to occur for the first few years after menstruation starts. It’s important to note that the use of certain types of contraception, such as IUDs, extended-cycle birth control pills, injectable contraception, etc., can change your menstrual cycle.
Here are the menstrual cycles depending on the woman’s age:
1. Menstrual cycle: 20 – 30 years old
The average normal menstrual cycle at the age of 20–30 will last 28 days. It can be calculated from the first day of the cycle to the first day of the next menstrual cycle. At the age of 20–30, most menstrual cycles occur within 45 days and can last 2–7 days.
There are some abnormal signs that you have to notice, including:
- Your menstrual flow is pretty swift and can last more than 7 days.
- Your menstrual cycle is less than 21 days or more than 38 days.
- Spotting may occur when you’re not on your period.
Of course, if you miss periods, it can be a sign of early pregnancy or caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
2. Menstrual cycle: 30–40 years old
At the age of 50–52, most women will experience menopause. Some may get menopause earlier. During the 10 years before menopause, most women experience frequent changes in their menstrual cycles. In their late 30s and early 40s, the average normal menstrual cycle will be shorter with more bleeding.
There are also some signs of early menopause you must know, including:
- Hot flashes
- Dry on the vagina
- Urinary tract disorder
- Difficult when urinating
Ovulation often occurs earlier in the menstrual cycle when women’s ovaries mature.
Alan D. Copperman, the director of the division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Mount Sinai Hospital, stated that periods start coming a little earlier, and the cycles get shorter and more irregular.
3. Long and short menstrual cycles
According to obstetricians, a woman’s menstrual cycle is said to be normal if it lasts about 21–35 days, since the average menstrual cycle is every 28 days. Something wrong may happen if you do not have your period after one week of your menstrual cycle.
If you have a menstrual cycle of about 18 days or even lower, your menstrual cycle is abnormal since it is below the 21–35 day limit of a normal menstrual cycle. If it happens to you, it would be best for you to immediately consult with an obstetrician.
4. Menstrual blood flow
Whether or not your menstrual blood is heavy can be a sign that your menstrual cycle is normal. The estrogen and progesterone hormones also affect a woman’s blood flow when she has a period. In addition, the use of certain contraceptives can change a woman’s menstrual cycle.
For example, most women will change pads three times per day. If you usually change your pads more than three times per day, or even more than five times per day, you may have to consult with an obstetrician.
Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
A woman’s menstrual cycle consists of four stages, including:
- menstrual phase
- follicular phase
- ovulation phase
- luteal phase
Each menstrual cycle stage is very important to understand since it can help you predict the time of your next period. If you intend to become pregnant, you can also learn about the fertile period.
To better understand each phase, let’s see the explanation below!
1. Menstrual Phase
The menstrual phase is the first stage of the menstrual cycle that begins when the egg released by the ovary from the previous cycle is not fertilized. If pregnancy does not occur, the level of the estrogen and progesterone hormones will decrease.
If the egg is fertilized and pregnancy occurs, the uterine lining will thicken to prepare. If the pregnancy does not occur, the lining of the uterus will shed and come out through the vagina in the form of a combination of blood, mucus, and tissue from the uterus.
- Women may experience the following symptoms:
- Stomach cramps
- Breasts feel tight
- Mood swings
- Lower back pain
On average, most women will experience the menstrual phase for about 3–7 days; others may have a longer period. Before the period comes, there is the proliferative phase, when hormones play a role in supporting the menstrual phase.
It is known that the proliferative phase occurs when follicles and hormones in a woman’s body prepare to release the egg immediately. The proliferative phase usually lasts 8 days in the menstrual cycle, with a span of 28 days.
2. Follicular Phase
The follicular phase usually starts on the first day of menstruation and will end when ovulation occurs. Depending on a woman’s cycle, this phase will usually last for 16 days, but can range from 11 to 27 days.
According to the National Library of Medicine, the hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary gland to release follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). It is known that this hormone can stimulate the ovaries to produce 5–20 small sacs called follicles. Each of these follicles definitely contains an immature egg. However, only the healthiest eggs will finally mature. In very rare cases, a woman may be able to produce more than two eggs.
Afterwards, the remaining follicles will be reabsorbed into the body. While mature follicles can trigger a surge of estrogen to thicken the lining of the uterus, so that it can create nutrient-rich conditions for the embryo to grow.
3. Ovulation Phase
The level of estrogen hormone that increases during the follicular phase will trigger the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone (LH). Well, this is the beginning of the ovulation process as well as the next menstrual cycle.
In this phase, a mature egg will be released from the ovary and will move down the fallopian tube to the uterus to be fertilized by sperm. The ovulation phase is the only time for women to become pregnant.
When experiencing ovulation, you may feel some symptoms, including:
- Slight increase in basal body temperature.
- Vaginal discharge that is thicker and textured like egg whites.
In general, ovulation occurs on day 14 if your menstrual cycle is 28 days and will last about 24 hours. After a day, the egg will die or dissolve if it is not fertilized.
4. Luteal Phase
After an egg is released by the follicle, this substance will turn into the corpus luteum, which can also release hormones, especially progesterone and some estrogen hormones. The rising of these hormones can make the lining of the uterus thicken and be ready for the implantation of a fertilized egg.
If you are pregnant, your body will then produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which works to keep the corpus luteum and uterine lining thick. Otherwise, if the pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum will shrink and be absorbed.
Of course, it can cause a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels that can trigger menstruation. In this phase, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Breasts feel sore or swollen
- The mood changes
- Weight gain
- Sex desires change
- Food cravings
The luteal phase will last between 11 and 17 days, 14 days in general. In this phase, the progesterone hormone will be produced, peak, and then drop again.
Is It Normal When You Feel Pain During the Ovulation Phase?
During the ovulation phase, you may feel pain, but it’s very common and normal. According to Healthline, approximately 40% of women felt discomfort during the ovulation phase in the middle of the menstrual cycle.
Depending on which ovary released an egg during that month, the pain usually occurs on the left or right side of the lower abdomen. Of course, the level of pain could be mild to severe, which can trigger the body to ache or cramp.
The extreme pain often occurs due to several conditions, such as:
- Scar tissue in the abdomen
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
So, if you experience unbearable pain, it would be better for you to consult with an obstetrician.
Signs of Abnormal Menstrual Cycles
If you experience the following signs, your menstrual cycle tends to be abnormal:
1. Prolonged Menstrual Cycle
It is not normal when you’re not having a period for more than 90 days, even you don’t have a pregnancy. Later, it causes your menstrual cycle to become erratic, though it was previously regular. You also have to be careful if you are experiencing bleeding for more than 7 days, which is indicated by changing pads every 2 hours.
2. Too Short on the Menstrual Cycle
If your menstrual cycle is less than 18 days, it can be said to be an abnormal menstrual cycle. If you experience this condition, you may have to consult with an obstetrician to figure out what exactly happens. A menstrual cycle that is too short usually results in bleeding between menstrual periods. Fever and period pain are two of the symptoms you may experience.
Causes of Abnormal Menstrual Cycles
An abnormal menstrual cycle can be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Thus, the causes of an abnormal menstrual cycle can vary for every woman. Of course, all of this is subject to their lifestyle and medical conditions. In addition, too much exercise can also be a cause of abnormal menstrual cycles.
There are some signs that explain why your menstrual cycle is abnormal, such as:
- Eating disorders
- Extreme weight loss
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Uterine fibroids
Okay, these are some signs that cause your menstrual cycle to be abnormal.
Contraception use can also cause abnormal menstrual cycles in some women. For women who have experienced premature ovarian failure, they may experience an abnormal menstrual cycle. However, premature ovarian failure refers to the loss of normal ovarian function before the age of 40.
If you experience one or more of the symptoms above, consulting with an obstetrician is a must. Your doctor will identify the causes and examine what you’re experiencing. The first step you should always take is to track your menstrual cycle every month. Good Luck!!!