Are you tracking your menstrual cycles? If not, it might be time to start paying attention.
The timing of menstrual cycles can help you understand what’s normal for you, predict your time of ovulation and identify important changes. It also allows you to trend changes such as missed periods, bleeding in between periods, or inconsistent cycle length. While menstrual cycle irregularities usually aren’t serious, sometimes they can signal health problems.
What is menstruation?
There are four hormones involved in the process of monthly menstrual cycle. Two of these come from our brain, specifically the pituitary gland (located behind our eyes). These are FSH – follicle stimulating hormone and LH luteinizing hormone. The other two, estrogen and progesterone, come from our sex organs – the ovaries.
The interplay in the rise and fall of each of these hormones causes changes in the ovaries to ultimately release an egg — a process called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn’t fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina. This is a menstrual period.
The menstrual cycle is counted from Day 1 of bleeding to Day 1 of the next time of bleeding. If the first day starts with very light bleeding or spotting this is still counted as the first day.
The cycle length isn’t the same for every woman. Normal menstrual cycle length is 21 to 35 days and normal cycle flow is considered between 2-7 days. When menstruation first occurs in a young woman, long cycles are common. However, menstrual cycles tend to shorten and become more regular as you age.
Your menstrual cycle might be regular — about the same length every month — or somewhat irregular, and your period might be light or heavy, painful or pain-free, long or short, and still be considered normal. Within a broad range, “normal” is what’s normal for you.
Keep in mind that use of certain types of contraception, such as extended-cycle birth control pills, will alter your menstrual cycle. Talk to your health care provider about what to expect.
How can I track my menstrual cycle?
To find out what’s normal for you, start keeping a record of your menstrual cycle on a calendar or with the help of a smartphone application. Begin by tracking your start date every month for several months in a row to identify the regularity of your periods.
If you’re concerned about your periods, then also make note of the following every month:
- End date. How long does your period typically last? Is it longer or shorter than usual?
- Flow. Record the heaviness of your flow. Does it seem lighter or heavier than usual? How often do you need new sanitary protection?
- Abnormal bleeding. Are you bleeding in between periods?
- Pain. Describe any pain associated with your period. Does the pain feel worse than usual?
- Other changes. Have you experienced any changes in mood or behavior? Did anything new happen around the time of change in your periods?
- You develop severe pain during your period
- You suddenly get a fever and feel sick after using tampons
Remember, tracking your menstrual cycle can help you find out what’s normal for you and what isn’t. If you have questions or concerns about your menstrual cycle, talk to your health care provider.