Your menstrual cycles will no longer hold any secrets for you
As a menstruating person, menstrual cycles are often reduced, for the most part, to the occurrence of periods. We know our rules, their duration, their flow, the solutions to respond to them. But we realize throughout life, and especially when we start to have a baby plan, that we know nothing about what surrounds periods: menstrual cycles . Periods are in fact only one stage of a well-established cycle which influences the bodies of menstruating people on a daily basis. What are menstrual cycles? How long do they last? How to influence and why influence them? It's never too late to educate yourself and understand what's going on inside you. In the following article, we answer all the questions you may have about your menstrual cycles.
What is a menstrual cycle?
Let's start with the basics. A menstrual cycle is a natural process that occurs every month in menstruating people of childbearing age. This cycle begins with menstruation , followed by the follicular phase where an egg is created, ovulation where the egg is released, and the luteal phase. These stages are regulated by hormones and prepare the body for possible pregnancy. What if the egg is not fertilized? The cycle ends with menstruation and back to square one, a new cycle begins!
What is the average length of a menstrual cycle?
A menstrual cycle lasts on average 28 days . It is known that the menstrual cycle lasts on average 28 days and that this would be the “ideal” duration, however, this duration is a construction of doctors of the past. Women were often associated with the moon and lunar cycles lasted 28 days: it was therefore “practical” to align the length of women's menstrual cycles with lunar cycles.
The truth is, some women have shorter menstrual cycles while others have longer menstrual cycles without this being evidence of any illness or difficulty conceiving. In addition, the length of cycles and their regularity can change over the course of a woman's life.
How to calculate your cycles?
Because each woman is different and the length of cycles can change throughout life, calculating the length of your menstrual cycles is useful to get to know yourself better. The procedure is as follows: identify the first day of your cycle, count the days until the occurrence of a new cycle and repeat for at least three cycles.
Identify the first day of your cycle
The first step is to identify the first day of your menstrual cycle. To make counting easier, we recommend that you select the first day of your period. Depending on your period, it could be spotting or an actual flow of blood.
Then count the days
From this first day of your period, it is now a matter of counting the days.
To do this, you can use a checkmark in a calendar/diary or you can use an application to track your cycle . See what simplifies your life the most, the goal is not to add mental load to you.
When your period comes again, a cycle has taken place: you just have to count the number of days it lasted.
Follow at least 3 cycles
Not everyone who menstruates has the same cycle length – you may be irregular. Even more, the length of the menstrual cycle changes over the years and depending on the variation of your hormones in your body (pregnancies, stages of life, stress). This is why it is interesting to follow at least 3 cycles in a row to get an idea of the average length of your menstrual cycle.
👉 Our tip for calculating your menstrual cycles
Consider using an app to track your cycle! The latter can also help you monitor and evaluate the duration of your periods or the occurrence of your ovulation.
What hormones are involved in female cycles?
The menstrual cycle of menstruating people is mainly regulated by five different hormones . Please note: the hormones mentioned may have other roles in the human body and are not necessarily limited to their action on the menstrual cycle.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (or FSH): FSH is produced by the pituitary gland (a gland located in the brain). Within the menstrual cycle, it plays a crucial role since it is what stimulates the growth of eggs in the ovarian follicles.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH): Like FSH, LH is also produced by the pituitary gland. In the menstrual cycle, it is she who triggers the release of eggs . Under its action, the mature egg leaves the ovarian follicle.
- Estrogens: Estrogens, of which estradiol is the main representative, are hormones produced mainly by the ovaries. As part of the menstrual cycle, they regulate the development of ovarian follicles (where eggs develop) and the uterine lining (also called “endometrium”) in preparation for the possible implantation of a fertilized egg.
- Progesterone: Progesterone is a hormone produced in large quantities by the corpus luteum, a structure that forms in the ovary after ovulation. Within the menstrual cycle, its action is to prepare the endometrium for implantation and maintenance of a possible pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum disappears, causing progesterone levels to drop and menstruation to begin.
- Prolactin: If the main function of prolactin is to stimulate milk production after childbirth, it can also play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle. Indeed, high levels of prolactin can inhibit ovulation.
Because they are central to the smooth running of menstrual cycles, variations in the levels of these hormones can lead to menstrual irregularities or other health problems.
💡Would you like to know more about the role of hormones in the menstrual cycle? We have composed a complete and detailed article for you on the involvement of hormones in the menstrual cycle .
Menstrual cycles in 4 phases
The menstrual cycle of menstruating people is divided into four distinct phases : the menstrual phase (the best known and most visible), the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. The days indicated in parentheses are indicative: they vary greatly from one woman to another.
1. Menstrual phase (periods) (days 1 to 5)
The first phase of the menstrual cycle is the menstrual phase, also called “menstruation” or “period” . This is the phase during which the body expels both the unfertilized egg and the endometrium (the uterine lining that has thickened to accommodate the fertilized egg).
Hormonally, this phase coincides with low estrogen and progesterone levels.
During this phase, women lose blood as well as blood clots. The amount of blood lost depends on the women, cycles and periods of life: on average, it would be 30 to 40 milliliters. As for the duration of periods, this varies greatly from one woman to another: some people report periods lasting two days while others have more than seven days of periods.
The menstrual phase is the phase best known to women because it is the visible phase. From puberty, menstruators learn to live with and manage their periods. Indeed, in addition to blood loss, various symptoms can affect women during their periods, making this period difficult to live with: stomach and head pain, significant fatigue, etc.
To relieve symptoms, at Gapianne we have healthy products dedicated to the menstrual cycle, carefully selected. Among them, period panties from the Smoon brand or other non-toxic hygienic products ( organic tampons , menstrual cups , towels ).
2. Follicular phase (days 6 to 14)
The second phase of the menstrual cycle is the follicular phase. This is the phase during which an egg develops to mature while the uterus gradually prepares to welcome a fertilized egg (its wall thickens).
Hormonally, during this phase, estrogen levels increase, which stimulates the development of ovarian follicles. One of these follicles becomes dominant and continues to grow while producing more and more estrogen. This prepares the uterus to accommodate a fertilized egg.
During the follicular phase, cervical mucus (which can be compared to white vaginal discharge) is scanty, thick and white in color. It closes the cervix to prevent the passage of sperm. In the 48 to 72 hours before ovulation, cervical mucus becomes more abundant, fluid and stringy.
The follicular phase is the most unknown phase and for good reason - with the exception of white discharge, it has little reality for menstruating people. It is often the phase where women have the most energy and where the symptoms linked to premenstrual syndrome (PMS or PMS, in English) are the most reduced.
3. Ovulation (approximately day 15)
The third phase of the menstrual cycle is also the shortest: it is ovulation . This is the phase during which a mature egg is released from the ovarian follicles. This ready-to-be-fertilized egg can survive in the fallopian tubes and uterus for about 24 hours.
At the hormonal level, during this third phase, it is the increase in levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) which triggers ovulation.
During ovulation, the white vaginal discharge continues to evolve. From compact, they become fluid, transparent, stringy, abundant. They can be compared to egg white. Its role is to facilitate the path of sperm to the egg.
The ovulation phase occurs approximately in the middle of the menstrual cycle. Beyond the consistency of the white discharge that evolves, it can be identified by menstruating people because of the pain it can cause. The release of the egg can indeed cause spasms and pain in the lower abdomen.
4. Luteal phase (approximately day 16 to 28)
The fourth and final phase of the menstrual cycle is the longest: it lasts almost half the cycle alone. This is the luteal phase , the phase during which the body takes the time to observe what happens to the released egg – has it been fertilized or not? – in order to adapt to it . After ovulation, the empty ovarian follicle transforms into a structure called the corpus luteum. The latter produces progesterone which prepares the body for the potential implantation of the fertilized egg by increasing the endometrium (the lining of the uterus). If fertilization does not take place, the corpus luteum degenerates and the body expels the unfertilized egg and the endometrium produces: this leads to the start of menstruation... back to phase 1!
At the hormonal level, during this last phase, progesterone is produced in large quantities by the development of the corpus luteum within the empty ovarian follicle. If fertilization does not occur, progesterone levels decrease with the gradual disappearance of the corpus luteum.
During the luteal phase, after ovulation, women's white vaginal discharge changes again. This time, they are more compact, opaque and pasty, almost lumpy. They stay like this until the onset of menstruation.
The luteal phase is the phase known today as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This is a more or less difficult time for menstruating people who will experience different symptoms such as water retention, migraines, fatigue, mood swings, painful cramps , acne , etc. The symptoms are numerous! If you are concerned by severe pain, consult our anti-period pain and endometriosis device from Bluetens .
When is my fertility at its peak?
The fertility of a menstruating person is at its maximum in the hours following ovulation, i.e. around the fifteenth day of the cycle (the fifteenth day following the arrival of the period). In fact, the released egg travels through the fallopian tubes in a perfect environment for its fertilization. The woman's entire reproductive system is then focused on one objective: helping this egg to meet a sperm (facilitating cervical mucus) and allowing it to settle in an environment favorable to its growth (developed endometrium) once fertilized.
Since the egg has a “lifespan” of 24 hours within the woman's body, it is at the time of its release that fertility is greatest and the risks of becoming pregnant are greatest. If you use a natural method of contraception, based on your body temperature and monitoring your menstrual cycle (such as a basal thermometer ), this fifteenth day of the menstrual cycle is the most dangerous of the menstrual cycle .
⚡Be careful though: although your menstrual cycle is regular, small hazards of life, such as stress, can be able to upset it. Two eggs can then be released at the same time or at different times during the menstrual cycle... making you fertile at unanticipated periods. While there are days when you are most likely to be fertile, you may be fertile at other times in your menstrual cycle.
Can a menstrual cycle change over the course of a lifetime?
Let's not beat around the bush: yes, the menstrual cycle can change (hugely) over the course of a menstruating person's life . And this, for various reasons linked to age, but also to the joys and accidents of life (pregnancies, illnesses, stress).
At the age of puberty, women have their first menstrual cycles. These generally appear between 12 and 15 years of age. The first cycles are often irregular and the first periods are often of uneven duration. It takes time for the body to take its cues. However, it is important to note that as soon as the first period occurs, a young girl is fertile and can become pregnant.
Illnesses can cause changes in menstrual cycles. Anorexia is a disease often preceded or linked to amenorrhea (absence of periods). Treatments associated with certain diseases can also lead to changes in cycles, during treatment and, in the long term, after treatment.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Pregnancy is a period during which the menstrual cycle has stopped – with the exception of very specific cases, such as denial of pregnancy during which some women continue to have their periods despite being pregnant.
It is known and shared that breastfeeding is a means of contraception for women (this method is called LAM (Lactational Amenorrhea Method)). It acts on the production of the prolactin hormone, the presence of which can suppress ovulation in women.
⚡Although breastfeeding is considered a solution to slow down ovulation and thus be a natural contraceptive, the period of returning to childbirth is also, for some women, a very important time of fertility. It can therefore be dangerous to rely only on breastfeeding to avoid another pregnancy.
Use of hormonal contraceptives
The pill, the hormonal IUD or even the hormonal implant are contraceptives which act on the woman's body to prevent pregnancies using the force of hormones. They simulate pregnancy in such a way as to block the release of new eggs and access of sperm to the uterus.
Stopping or restarting hormonal contraception can cause a change in hormonal cycles.
💡Did you know? Periods triggered by hormonal contraception are not caused by the expulsion of an egg and the uterine lining. They are generated artificially by hormonal contraception.
Stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety are also likely to cause changes in menstrual cycles. These can be modified in duration (lengthen or shorten) or even stop: periods can stop under the effect of stress and anxiety. This is amenorrhea, or absence of periods.
Menopause is the period during which a woman stops having her menstrual cycles, between the ages of 45 and 55.
During this period, there are significant hormonal changes that occur in women's bodies. The ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone, causing menstrual cycles to end and fertility to decrease. The pituitary gland, a gland located in the brain, responds to falling estrogen levels by producing more follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Increased FSH levels are often used as a diagnostic indicator of menopause. However, the other hormones involved in hormonal cycles (estrogens, luteal hormones) also vary in number and quantity.
If you are experiencing symptoms linked to menopause, consult our dedicated solutions with, among others: a moisturizing and rebalancing intimate gel , anti-hot flash mist , and a natural hormonal imbalance cure:
💡 Do you want to know more about the factors that influence menstrual cycles and lead to period disruption? We have written a dedicated article for you to describe how menstrual cycles and periods evolve over the life of a menstruating person.
What symptoms can cause menstrual cycles?
In recent years, premenstrual syndrome has been increasingly highlighted. If the latter causes various inconveniences of different natures and intensities, these are not the only symptoms that menstrual cycles can cause in women. Here is a list of all the problems that you may encounter during your life as a menstruator.
A majority of the symptoms listed below can also be symptoms linked to other illnesses: if you suffer from them, do not hesitate to contact your referring healthcare professional. He will be able to advise you and carry out additional examinations to understand whether they are linked to your cycle or any other illness, but also to treat them.
Pain and discomfort
The most well-known and commonly experienced symptoms linked to menstrual cycles are the pain felt by menstruating people, during their periods but also outside.
Dysmenorrhea : Dysmenorrhea refers to excessive menstrual pain that usually occurs during the menstrual period. It's a relatively common symptom among menstruating people, but it can vary in severity and impact on quality of life.
There are two main types of dysmenorrhea: primary dysmenorrhea which is not linked to a particular disease and secondary dysmenorrhea which is associated with an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, pelvic infections or other gynecological problems. If primary dysmenorrhea tends to improve with age and pregnancy, this is not the case for secondary dysmenorrhea which evolves with the diagnosis and treatment of the disease responsible for the pain.
- Breast tenderness: One of the symptoms related to menstrual cycles is breast tenderness. According to women, these pains, which are often presented as a feeling of heaviness/swelling in the chest, generally occur during the luteal phase. They can occur from ovulation and end when menstruation begins, or last only a few days.
- Menstrual migraine also called catamenial migraine : Variations in hormones linked to women's menstrual cycles can lead to severe headaches.
- Ovarian Cysts : Ovarian cysts are fluid-containing bulges found on one or both ovaries. Although they are often benign, their presence is abnormal and they can be the cause of more or less severe pelvic pain. They are one of the possible causes of secondary dysmenorrhea.
- Uterine fibroids: Uterine fibroids (leiomyomas) are benign tumors of the smooth muscles of the uterus. They can cause pain, abnormal uterine bleeding (outside the period of menstruation) and sometimes cause urinary and intestinal symptoms. They are one of the possible causes of secondary dysmenorrhea.
- Endometriosis : Endometriosis is a disease linked to the functioning of the endometrium. The endometrium corresponds to the lining of the uterus. In a healthy woman, not carrying the disease, it develops during the luteal phase to accommodate the fertilized egg and provide it with a nest and disintegrates when the latter is not fertilized. But for reasons that are still poorly understood, some women have an endometrium that extends outside the uterus, without reabsorbing itself, going so far as to create adhesions in the organs surrounding the uterus (notably the intestines). No treatment exists today: it is a matter of slowing down the disease (in particular by taking hormones) and removing the endometrium (in particular by surgery). This creates severe pain and can lead to infertility.
- More serious case, bed rest : In some women, pain caused by menstruation and linked to the function of their genitals can lead to bed rest for one or more days, without painkillers being effective. This, on a regular basis (each cycle) or more punctually: in fact, women's menstrual cycles can also be irregular due to the symptoms they cause.
Beyond the pain felt during the menstrual cycle, the menstrual cycle can also be disrupted and modified.
- Heavy menstruation (or Menorrhagia ): Menorrhagia is particularly heavy and prolonged menstruation. We also talk about bleeding periods . If this symptom often has no serious cause and is not serious, the consequences can alter the quality of life of the people concerned (tasks, feeling of shame) and amplify iron deficiency anemia.
- Light menstruation (or Hypomenorrhea ): Hypomenorrhea is particularly light and short menstruation. Like bleeding periods, the factors are most often hereditary and not serious. They can lead to amenorrhea , the absence of periods.
- Absence of periods (or Amenorrhea ): Amenorrhea is the absence of periods in a person of childbearing age. It is the most common symptom of pregnancy and menopause but can also be linked to illnesses, such as anorexia. It is important to consult your healthcare professional in the event of amenorrhea to understand the causes.
- Menstrual irregularity : Menstrual irregularity is the fact of having cycles that vary greatly in length (the number of days between periods varies). The duration of periods can also vary. Newly menstruating adolescent girls are often affected by menstrual irregularity, but this can continue. The factor may be heredity and the causes and consequences of menstrual irregularity are often not serious. They do not cause infertility but can pose a problem in the context of a pregnancy project because the day of ovulation and fertility can be variable.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) : Polycystic ovary syndrome is an endocrine disorder that affects the ovaries in menstruating people of childbearing age. It is characterized by the presence of multiple cysts in the ovaries and can have other symptoms and consequences such as menstrual irregularity and hormonal imbalances which themselves induce different consequences such as acne, increased hair growth (hirsutism) and loss of hair. hair. PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women.
Weakened mental health
“Well what’s wrong with you, are you on your period or something?” Mental health disorders linked to menstrual cycles and changes in hormones in the bodies of menstruators have been observed for a long time and are still derided today. However, it is a very real condition that can have a significant impact on the lives of the women affected.
- Irritability, anxiety and depressive episodes: The variation of hormones in the body during the menstrual cycle can lead in certain women to either irritability with very significant mood swings or, on the contrary, great fatigue and loss of motivation. Some women can even go through moments of anxiety and significant stress or depression. In the most complicated cases, we can even speak of depressive episodes.
- Sleep problems: Due to all of the symptoms mentioned in this list, women may experience difficulty falling asleep or finding restful sleep. Trouble falling asleep or sleeping is in fact one of the common effects of menstrual cycles. If you are concerned, find our special solutions. sleep, including a relaxing CBD herbal tea , or anti-stress CBD oil .
- Cravings and appetite disorders : The variation in hormones during the menstrual cycle influences, as we have mentioned, the mood of women. This can result in appetite disorders (lack of appetite or increased appetite) and food cravings (women “eat their emotions”).
Menstrual cycles and their activity can have different physiological effects in addition to the pain felt.
- Digestive problems: In the days before menstruation and then during menstruation, many menstruating women experience digestive problems: feelings of bloating and transit problems (diarrhea or constipation). This can add to the pain felt in the lower abdomen.
- Fatigue and weakness: During the luteal phase, many women feel more tired. This results from hormonal variations in women's bodies but also from all the symptoms mentioned in this list: lack of sleep, pain and discomfort, stress.
- Water retention: As their period approaches, many women feel like they are bloating. Water retention can in fact be one of the symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle.
- Night sweats: In the days before menstruation, the body of menstruating people may increase in temperature. This is why you can track your body temperature and use it as a method of contraception or conception. The result is hot flashes (which are one of the symptoms of menopause) and night sweats.
Skin problems are also a symptom of menstrual cycles.
- Hormonal acne and skin breakouts : Acne pimples often appear at puberty but not only that. Some women see acne breakouts (pimples and cysts) appear on their face as their period approaches and within the week of their period. Hormonal acne has the particularity of existing beyond puberty (women can have it up to the age of 40) and of being especially present around the jaw. Most often, acne is not a serious symptom of the menstrual cycle (although it can be a consequence of PCOS) but it can be bothersome in daily life and affect self-esteem.
- Dehydration : Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, particularly estrogen and progesterone levels, can influence skin texture and appearance. Some women may notice changes in the quality of their skin, such as fluctuations in hydration, breakouts, oilier or drier skin.
Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can finally impact sexual desire. Some women therefore have a stronger desire to make love during the ovulation phase and/or the menstruation phase. In contrast, other women may experience a drop in libido and may not feel sexual desire for their partner at certain times in their cycle. Decreased libido is also a symptom quite often mentioned when taking hormonal contraception (hormonal IUD, contraceptive pill, hormonal implant, etc.). Also note: all of the symptoms on this list (lack of sleep, fatigue, pain, migraines or even mood swings) can also influence sexual desire. Find our ideas to boost your libido and some aphrodisiac solutions .
PMS and PMDD, syndromes that combine these symptoms
When concluding this list of symptoms linked to menstrual cycles, it seemed essential to us to talk to you about two syndromes which bring together most of them: premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder . These two sets of symptoms refer to all the symptoms experienced by menstruating people as they approach the menstrual phase, i.e. during the luteal phase.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to a set of physical and emotional symptoms that can occur in some women during the premenstrual phase of their menstrual cycle, otherwise known as the luteal phase. In some women, PMS can last for two or three days before their period while in others, it begins just after ovulation, fifteen days before their period. PMS is common but can vary greatly in severity and types of symptoms experienced.
Symptoms of PMS may include:
- Emotional symptoms: Irritability, unstable mood, depressive episodes or even depression, anxiety and increased anxiety attacks, mood swings, increased sensitivity, difficulty concentrating, problems falling asleep and sleeping;
- Physical symptoms: Intestinal problems (bloating, constipation and diarrhea), menstrual cramps, headaches, muscle or joint pain, fatigue, water retention, sore breasts, increased appetite, acne, etc.
Hormonal variations and hormonal disruptions linked to the menstrual cycle are the cause of these symptoms which differ greatly between women, but also according to their menstrual cycles and throughout their life. Therefore, a majority of women will not have the same symptoms a few days before their period throughout their life.
Concerned about the pain linked to PMS, at Gapianne we looked for non-toxic products that accompany you during difficult days: Vénus herbal tea from Mijane , period oil from Nidéco , specialized food supplements or even a treatment to soothe the sore breasts .
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is also known as premenstrual dysphoric syndrome (PMDS). PMDD is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), characterized by emotional and physical symptoms that are more intense and disruptive than those experienced with normal PMS.
Symptoms of PMDD may include:
- Emotional symptoms: Depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings (rapid mood changes), anger, confusion, increased sensitivity, feelings of hopelessness, etc.
- Physical symptoms: Fatigue, excessive sleepiness, bloating, headaches, muscle or joint pain, water retention, increased appetite, etc.
PMDD symptoms can be so severe that they significantly interfere with daily life, relationships, and overall well-being. Hormonal fluctuations, particularly estrogen and progesterone levels, are thought to be a contributing factor to these symptoms.
The symptoms presented in this list are not unknown to you and are ruining your life? We can only recommend that you consult your healthcare professional. If you don't have one yet, take a look at our directory of caring doctors shared by the Gapianne community . A GP and gynecologist can support you, help you find the medical reasons for your suffering, if applicable, and provide relief. It is not normal to suffer and you have the right to seek solutions and answers.
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