by Robin Elise Weiss, PhDc, MPH, LCCE
What is a menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle is a cycle of changes that a woman’s body goes through as it prepares to conceive each month. This includes building a uterine lining for a fertilized egg to implant and begin growing; releasing an egg to be fertilized, and shedding the uterine lining if the egg is not fertilized. These changes collectively are called the menstrual cycle. To determine the length of your cycle, start counting from the first day of menstruation until the first day of the next cycle. A typical cycle is between 21 and 35 days long in a healthy woman.
What symptoms may be experienced?
Over the course of the cycle, there are many physical changes that you may notice in your body. These can vary woman to woman and even cycle to cycle, but may include:
- Some women experience a slight cramping around the time of ovulation, typically on one side. This is known as mittelschmerz, or middle pain and signals that ovulation is occuring. If you experience cramping, it can be a very helpful indictor when trying to conceive. Do not be alarmed if you have not experienced any form of cramping as not all women will.
- Increased discharge. Near the time of ovulation, there is cervical mucus released that is used to aid in conception. It not only makes intercourse more enjoyable, but can actually help facilitate the transportation of sperm through the cervix to find the egg in the fallopian tube. You may notice this increasing until the midpoint of your cycle, which is typically when ovulation will occur.
- Breast tenderness. Some of the hormones involved in your menstrual cycle may cause your breasts to become tender. This is fairly common. Some women will need to wear a bra to prevent their breasts from aching, while others only notice a slight increase in sensitivity.
- Mood swings. As the hormones shift during your cycle, you may also notice that your mood swings too. Some women find that they are very sensitive or emotional in the week before their period is due. This is typically called premenstrual syndrome or PMS. Some women will experience this more than others, while some women will not notice it at all.
- Before your period starts, you may notice that your back hurts a bit. This can be a sign that your period is about to start. Other women notice a heavy feeling in their pelvis, or a combination of the two.
- Skin changes. You may also notice that at certain points of your cycle, your skin breaks out with acne. This is not a return to your teen years, but it is caused by your hormones. Typically this is short lived, even if every cycle.
What factors may affect these symptoms?
There are many things that might alter your symptoms and how you experience your cycle. This can include the form of birth control that you are using, other medications, and your general health. If you have any serious changes in your cycles, you should report it to your doctor as it may indicate that you have a problem.