We hear a lot about the menstrual “cycle”, many times as if it were a clockwork mechanism. And we say that a woman who has menstruation (colloquially known as “the rule”) every four weeks is “regular”, as if something abnormal happened to women who are not so “regular”. In fact, the word “rule” also refers to this regularity. But most women will not have their next period again after the exact same number of days as the previous one.
The menstrual cycle
Most girls have their first menstruation between the ages of 10 and 15, but there are some who have it sooner or later. This first menstrual period is called menarche or menarche.
Doctors often talk about a women’s menstrual cycle – the number of days between the beginning of one menstrual period and the beginning of the next menstrual period – and they often state that it is a 28-day cycle. But this 28-day figure is just the average that doctors use. The length of a woman’s menstrual cycle varies: some women have it as long as 24 days and others as long as 34 days. And girls can see that the length of their cycles differs from month to month, especially during the years immediately after menarche.
The day a girl starts menstruating is day 1 of her menstrual cycle. At the beginning of the menstrual cycle, the pituitary gland signals the ovaries to begin preparing one of the eggs they contain to release later. And that ovum begins its maturation process. At the same time, the inner lining of your uterus thickens, preparing to nest for the fertilized egg (in the event that the girl becomes pregnant).
On about day 14 of a 28-day cycle, the egg is released (called “ovulation”). The egg advances along the fallopian tube until it reaches the uterus. If this egg is not fertilized by a sperm, it begins to break down. After approximately 2 weeks, both the ovum and the lining of the uterus leave the girl’s body in the form of menstruation and the whole process begins again; that’s why we use the word “cycle.”
All of this seems very clear and orderly. But it is possible that a girl’s body does not follow this scheme exactly. It is not uncommon, especially during the first two years after menarche, to skip menstruation or have irregular menstrual cycles. Factors such as a woman’s health, rapid changes in her body weight, or stress can make things even more unpredictable. This is because the part of the brain that regulates the menstrual cycle is influenced by factors such as those just mentioned.
Menstrual periods do not have to be regular to be normal
For some girls, menstrual periods come like clockwork. There are others whose periods differ slightly in date in consecutive months. Many girls have regular menstrual periods most of the time, but occasionally skip a period or have an extra period when experiencing stressful times. In fact, you may have noticed that when you go on a trip or when you have a major change in your usual schedule or schedule, it takes longer for your period to come. This is all perfectly normal.
It is also normal for the number of days a girl’s menstruation lasts to vary from one period to another. Sometimes you will only menstruate for a couple of days, and other times your period will last for a whole week. This is because hormonal concentrations in the body vary between cycles and these concentrations influence both the amount of blood that is eliminated during menstruation and its duration.
So how can you tell if your period is coming? If your cycle is irregular, you may prefer to pay attention to the clues your body will give you. Those clues include the following:
- back pain or stiffness
- harder and swollen breasts or breast discomfort
- exacerbation of acne
- disturbances in sleep pattern
- emotional ups and downs
In most cases, irregular periods are part of the completely normal changes of adolescence. There will be a time when, as you get older, your menstrual cycle will take on a recognizable and predictable pattern. It is something that usually happens about three years after menarche.
However, some girls may develop irregular menstrual periods, or stop having periods because they take certain medications, exercise too much, have too low a body weight, or eat insufficient calories. Others may have menstruation irregularities due to their hormonal imbalances. For example, thyroid disorders, in which the levels of thyroid hormone in the blood are too high or too low, can cause these types of irregularities.
Some women have irregular menstrual periods because their bodies produce an excessive amount of androgens, a hormone that increases muscle mass and favors the growth of facial hair and darkening of the voice in men, as well as the development of pubic hair and the increased height in women. When a woman has excessive amounts of androgens in her blood, she may also experience hair growth on her face, chin, chest, and abdomen; sometimes excessive amounts of this hormone are associated with excessive weight gain.
If you have any of these problems, or if your menstrual periods are irregular for three years or more, see your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe hormones by mouth (by mouth) or other medications and / or recommend that you make some lifestyle changes that will help you have regular periods.
It is very important that you go to the doctor if you have sex and miss a period, which could indicate that you are pregnant. You should also go to the doctor if you start having periods that last more than seven days, if your period comes more often than every 21 days less often than every 45 days, or if your periods are accompanied by severe abdominal pain or cramping. Also inform your doctor if you bleed between periods.
In the meantime, if your periods are irregular, try to always carry some pads or tampons in your backpack, just to have them on hand in case your period comes when you least expect it.