More Than A Period
Gaining an appreciation for your menstrual cycle.
Disclaimer: Amber’s Care should not replace medical advice. If you have questions about the following statements, please consult a doctor.
You might roll your eyes at the idea of appreciating your menstrual cycle, and I don’t blame you. For those of us with dysmenorrhea, talking about periods can conjure up painful experiences, not-so-fun doctor visits, and emotional turmoil.
Understanding your menstrual cycle, and the phases that occur all year-round, can help you better understand your pain and how your body is operating. Every woman and young girl should be educated about her cycle because it is a huge part of her life. Starting around ages eleven to fourteen, and ending only after menopause (usually around your 60s), your menstrual cycle is something that will affect you for a long time.
While dysmenorrhea is horrible, your menstrual cycle is not. It’s actually amazing what our bodies can do.
Your menstrual cycle is a complex system made up of phases. These phases prepare the body for pregnancy, and dispose of the lining that is created (endometrium) when it realizes you’re not pregnant. Different hormones aid this process.
According to Better Health Channel, there are four phases in your cycle: menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation and luteal phase.
Menstruation typically lasts from three days to one week. During this time the endometrium, which is a thick lining of the uterus, passes through the vagina. When you bleed during your period you are eliminating not only blood, but endometrial cells and mucus.
Did you know? Dysmenorrhea, defined as “painful menstrual cramps of uterine origin” is said to be the result of uterine prostaglandins. Uterine prostaglandins are chemicals that cause painful period cramps. When the prostaglandins get into your bloodstream, it causes headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Those with severe dysmenorrhea are said to have more prostaglandins in their menstrual blood. This applies to secondary dysmenorrhea as well, but there are other factors involved with secondary period pain.
The follicular phase begins on the first day of your period and it ends at ovulation. This is where the hormones come in.
The pituitary gland lets out the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which causes your ovary to create five to 20 cysts (or follicles). Each cyst has an immature egg and as the cyst grows, the lining of the uterus gets thicker to prepare for potential pregnancy. The growth of the cyst causes a rise in estrogen.
Did you know? High levels of estrogen are linked to endometriosis. Endometriosis is a chronic inflammatory disease where endometrial-like tissue grows outside of the uterus. During the follicular phase, estrogen causes your regular endometrium lining to grow, but it also causes the endometrial-like tissue to grow, which results in pain.
This rise in estrogen triggers the brain to let out the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which causes the pituitary gland to create “raised levels” of luteinizing hormone (LSH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). The “raised levels” of LSH is what causes ovulation.
Ovulation begins around two weeks before menstruation and ends after 12-24 hours. During this phase, a mature egg breaks open from its cysts, and the residue from the busted cyst remains on the “surface of the ovary”. Once released, the egg is sent to the uterus where it can meet a sperm. If it doesn’t connect with a sperm (meaning you don’t get pregnant), the egg dies.
This leads us to the luteal phase. The luteal phase comes after ovulation. As mentioned before, during ovulation the egg breaks open from its cysts and the residue from the busted cyst remains on the “surface of the ovary”. For about two weeks, the cyst forms into something called corpus luteum.
Corpus luteum is a cyst that “makes your uterus a healthy environment for developing a fetus.”
If you become pregnant, the egg will produce the hormones needed to “maintain the corpus luteum.” If you don’t become pregnant, the corpus luteum dies, progesterone levels drop, and the lining of the uterus starts to break down. The shedding of this lining is what we call our period, or menstruation. The entire cycle described is our menstrual cycle.
It’s amazing what our bodies can do, despite the dysfunctions that cause us pain. Knowing the different hormones and phases involved in your cycle can be the first step to finding out ways to support your cycle and alleviate pain.
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