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Women menstruate every month and menstruation runs in a cycle that has different period phases. So what is this cycle and what are the stages? Knowing what happens at each stage of your menstrual cycle and when each stage happens can help you to better understand the health of your body and prepare for what you can expect.
The menstrual cycle is a natural and vital process that occurs in reproductive-age individuals, signaling their ability to conceive. It involves a complex interplay of hormones and physiological changes within the body. Understanding the different phases of the menstrual cycle can empower individuals to recognize their bodies’ natural rhythm and identify any potential irregularities. In this article, we will explore the four stages of the menstrual cycle, the hormones involved, and the symptoms associated with each phase.
What is the Menstrual Cycle and How Long is It?
The menstrual cycle is the regular, monthly process that the female body goes through to prepare for pregnancy. Contrary to popular belief, not all menstrual cycles are exactly 28 days long. In fact, a typical menstrual cycle can last anywhere between 21 to 35 days, with the average being around 28 days.
The Four Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
Menstruation or Menstrual Phase:
The menstrual cycle begins with the shedding of the uterine lining (endometrium), resulting in menstruation or the period. Menstrual bleeding typically lasts for 3 to 5 days. During this time, hormone levels, especially estrogen and progesterone, are low.
When does the Menstuarion phase happen? – Day 1-5 – First stage of the menstrual cycle.
Duration of the Menstrual Phase – On average, the menstrual phase lasts from 3-7 days.
What is the Menstrual Phase? – The menstrual phase is when you actually have your period. During this time, you may also experience period symptoms, such as cramps, sore breasts, mood swings, irritability, bloating and headaches.
What happens to a woman’s body during menstruation? – During the menstrual phase, an egg from the last menstrual cycle has not been fertilized. Due to there being no fertilized egg to look after, the levels of the sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decline. Your uterus has built up a thicker lining in order to prepare for the possibility of a fertilized egg. With no fertilized egg present, the uterus begins to shed the lining that has been built, and this lining is shed in the form of a period. During your period, you release blood, mucus and tissue through your vagina.
Following menstruation, the body enters the follicular phase. The pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the ovaries to produce follicles containing eggs. These follicles produce estrogen, which prompts the uterine lining to thicken in preparation for a potential pregnancy. While the length of the follicular phase can vary, it typically lasts from day 1 to 13 of the menstrual cycle.
When does the Follicular Phase happen? – Day 1-13 – First day of period until you begin ovulating.
Duration of the Follicular Phase – On average, the follicular phase lasts approximately 16 days. It can range from 11-27 days.
What is the Follicular Phase? – The development of a healthy egg.
What happens at the follicular phase? – During the follicular phase, the brain sends signals and starts to produce and release a hormone called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH stimulates the ovaries to produce approximately between 5-20 small follicles. Each of these small follicles contains an immature egg. Only the healthiest egg will mature, and as it matures, the levels of estrogen in the body will increase. This increase in estrogen triggers the lining of the uterus to begin to thicken in preparation for a fertilized egg. The follicles that were not deemed the healthiest and therefore do not mature are reabsorbed into the body.
Around day 14 of the menstrual cycle, a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) triggers ovulation. The matured follicle bursts open, releasing the egg into the fallopian tube. Ovulation is a pivotal moment, as it presents the highest chance of conception. Some individuals may experience mild pelvic pain or discomfort during ovulation, commonly known as ovulation pain.
When does the ovulation happen? – Approximately halfway through your cycle (day 14 if you have a 28-day cycle).
Duration of the Ovulation Phase – Approximately 24 hours – if the egg is not fertilized, it will dissolve.
What happens during Ovulation? – Your ovary releases a mature egg.
What happens during ovulation? – As the levels of estrogen rise during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, this triggers the hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH) to be released. Once this hormone is released, you are now ovulating. This is when the ovary releases an egg into the fallopian tube, which it travels down to meet a sperm in order to get fertilized. It is during the ovulation phase of your cycle that you can get pregnant.
Signs of Ovulation – Ovulation is a crucial phase for those trying to conceive. Some signs of ovulation include increased cervical mucus, a slight rise in basal body temperature, and a mild pain or twinge on one side of the lower abdomen.
Following ovulation, the ruptured follicle transforms into the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. The hormone progesterone helps maintain the uterine lining and prepares the body for pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, hormone levels drop, and the uterine lining begins to shed, marking the start of a new menstrual cycle. The luteal phase typically lasts from day 15 to 28 of the menstrual cycle, but its length can vary from person to person.
When does the Luteal Phase happen? – From day 15 to 28, from ovulation until the next period start.
Duration of the Luteal Phase – The average length of the luteal phase is 14 days. It can last between 11-17 days.
What happens during the Luteal Phase? – The follicle that released the mature egg turns into the corpus luteum. This releases the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
How does the luteal phase work? – The corpus luteum is a structure that releases hormones and is very important for conception and pregnancies to be sustained. The hormones that are released by the corpus luteum, progesterone and estrogen, maintain the thickness of the lining of the uterus so that it is ready for the implantation of a fertilized egg. If you do not get pregnant, the corpus luteum will shrink and be reabsorbed back into the body. As the corpus luteum is no longer releasing hormones, levels of progesterone and estrogen drop, which leads to your period. If you do not get pregnant, you may experience PMS symptoms during the luteal phase, such as cramps, bloating, headaches, fatigue, mood swings and sore breasts.
Symptoms of the Luteal Phase – During the luteal phase, some individuals may experience symptoms like breast tenderness, bloating, mood swings, and mild cramps. These symptoms are linked to the hormonal changes happening in the body. –
Tracking the Menstrual Cycle
How to Count the Menstrual Cycle:
To count the menstrual cycle, start from the first day of your period (day 1) and continue until the day before your next period begins.
Using a Menstrual Cycle Chart:
Keeping a menstrual cycle chart or using a menstrual cycle tracking app can help monitor cycle length, symptoms, and identify patterns over time.
Irregularities in the Menstrual Cycle
While variations in cycle length are normal, sudden and drastic changes in menstrual cycle length or symptoms should be discussed with a healthcare provider. Factors like stress, illness, changes in weight, and certain medical conditions can contribute to irregular menstrual cycles.
Follicular vs Luteal Phase
The menstrual cycle is divided into two main phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Here’s how they differ:
Follicular phase: The follicular phase of the menstrual cycle begins on the first day of menstruation and lasts until ovulation, which typically occurs around day 14 of a 28-day cycle. During this phase, the pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the development of follicles in the ovaries. Each follicle contains an egg that may be released during ovulation. As the follicles grow, they produce estrogen, which thickens the lining of the uterus, preparing it for a possible pregnancy.
Luteal phase: This phase starts after ovulation and lasts until the next menstrual period. During this phase, the follicle that released the egg develops into the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. Progesterone prepares the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg. If fertilization occurs, the embryo produces a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which signals the corpus luteum to continue producing progesterone. This hormone is crucial for the survival of the embryo. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum breaks down, and the levels of progesterone and estrogen decrease, leading to the shedding of the uterine lining and the start of a new menstrual cycle.
In summary, the follicular phase is characterized by the development of follicles and the production of estrogen, while the luteal phase is characterized by the production of progesterone and the preparation of the uterus for a possible pregnancy.
Understanding the stages of the menstrual cycle, the hormones involved, and the associated symptoms can empower individuals to embrace their reproductive health fully. While the menstrual cycle may vary from person to person, tracking and recognizing patterns can provide valuable insights into overall well-being. If you have concerns about your menstrual cycle or experience significant changes, consulting a healthcare professional is always recommended.
More about Menstrual Cycle, PMS and PMDD:
- Natural and Medical Treatments for PMDD
- What is PMDD? Causes and Symptoms
- How your menstrual cycle can affect your mood
- How to support your body throughout your menstrual cycle
- What your menstrual cycle can tell you about your health
- PMS: causes, symptoms and treatments
- PMS and the Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
- What is PMS?
- How your menstrual cycle impacts your immune health
- Natural tips to get your period back
- Have you stopped getting your periods recently? This might be why
- Calcium supplements to stabilize your PMS mood swings
- Ovulation pain: What it is and when to be concerned
- Natural ways to reduce PMS symptoms
- PMS vs. PMDD: The critical difference
- Turmeric as a Treatment for PMS
- Signs and Symptoms of PMS
- Using your menstrual Cycle as your Fitness Guide – Africa Rubio Pastor
- PMS – Tips and Natural Remedies to Keep a Healthy Menstrual Cycle
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