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What is Menstruation?

Updated on February 12, 2013
Menstrual Cramps
Menstrual Cramps

An Easy to Understand Guide to Menstruation

The most basic definition of menstruation is that it is a normal female bodily function where the endometrium sheds.

Endometrium is the lining of a woman's uterus, and a uterus is typically referred to as a womb.

Menstruation occurs on a monthly basis (unless pregnancy occurs), and it continues throughout a woman's reproductive years (approximately 12 - 53).

What Happens During Menstruation?

Estrogen is the female hormone.Among many other things, estrogen makes the lining of the uterus (womb) thicken and grow.

The lining of the uterus is the place that will nourish an embryo if you become pregnant. In case you did not catch it above, the uterus is also called the womb.

While the lining of the uterus is growing, an egg or ovum, in one of your ovaries will start to mature.In the middle of the 28-day cycle, the egg (s) leaves the ovary; this process is called ovulation.

It is relatively important for you to know when you are ovulating, because a woman is most likely to get pregnant during ovulation or 3 days before.

When the egg leaves the ovary, its next stop is the fallopian tube, and then it is on to the uterus (womb).The hormone levels in your body will rise and start to prepare the lining of your uterus to host an embryo (pregnancy).

If you have sexual intercourse and become pregnant, the egg has been fertilized by the man’s sperm cell, and it attaches to the uterine wall.

If you have sexual intercourse and do not become pregnant, or if you simply do not have sex at all, the egg will not be fertilized, and it will break apart.When this happens, your hormone levels will drop, and the thick uterine lining will begin to shed - this “shedding” is the flow of blood during your menstrual cycle.

Menstruation Myths
Menstruation Myths

Menstruation Myths

Throughout history, there have been many myths about menstruation.A lot of the myths have been negative, but studies show that young women today typically have a more positive attitude about their monthly cycle.Some of the more prevalent myths include:

  • Women should not be physically active during menstruation
  • Women who are menstruating are unclean
  • A perm or a relaxer will not work if it is done while a woman is on her cycle
  • A woman cannot go swimming on her period
  • A woman will not get pregnant if she has sex during her period
  • A woman should not have sex during her period

All of the statements above are untrue, but these particular myths still exist.

Growing Up: It's a Girl Thing: Straight Talk about First Bras, First Periods, and Your Changing Body
Growing Up: It's a Girl Thing: Straight Talk about First Bras, First Periods, and Your Changing Body

Grade 4-8-A slimmed-down version of Jukes's It's a Girl Thing (Knopf, 1996) that explores puberty firsts such as bras and periods. The author imparts the essential information vital to a young woman's early development. Speaking with the sensitivity of an older, trusted sister, Jukes assures readers that the changes, or lack of, in their bodies are perfectly normal.


Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

PMS is a broad term that covers a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms that occur before each menstrual period.

Mood swings, irritability, depression, fatigue (overall feeling of being tired), a craving for sweets, tender breasts, and a general lack of emotional control are all said to be symptoms of PMS.

For some women, the symptoms are light and brief and they do not cause any big issues, but for some women, PMS symptoms can so difficult until they significantly affecta woman’s day-to-day activities.When this happens, PMS may be diagnosed by a health care professional as being Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).

Abnormal Periods

As I mentioned earlier, some women have no problems with their menstrual cycle, and other women have major issues.

When a woman suffers from unusually high pain she before and/or during her cycle, the condition is known as dysmenorrhea (dis-men-o-rea).The associated pain usually comes in the form of severe menstrual cramps.

Some women also experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, extreme irritability, and nervousness.

Besides severe menstrual pain, another condition that might exist is called amenorrhea (a-men-o-rea).Amenorrhea is the absence of menstruation.

Medical or hormonal issues can cause amenorrhea, and so can the use of anabolic steroids to enhance physical performance (such as in the case of female athletes).

Traditional Menstrual Discomfort Remedies

You can reduce some of the pain of menstrual cramps, and discomfort from other PMS symptoms, by getting regular exercise and decreasing the amount of foods you eat containing lots of salt, like pickles, bacon, chips, etc.

You can also reduce some of the pain and PMS symptoms by taking medicine specifically made for menstruating women, such as Midol.Other common painkillers may work on the pain of menstrual cramps as well (acetaminophen {Tylenol}, naproxen {Aleve}, ibuprofen {Advil}).

Severe pain, such as the pain from dysmenorrhea, requires prescription medication.

If at any time you feel pain, or discomfort, or if you have questions about your menstrual cycle, it is best to contact a health care provider.

If you feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about these issues in person, try contacting a teen hotline in your local area, or nurse helpline.

If you cannot find a local teen hotline, you can contact the national Boystown hotline, and they may be able to assist you or provide you with a number to contact.The 24 hour number to reach Boystown is 800-448-300 (and no, Boystown is not just for boys, they help young men and women with issues they may be facing)

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

If you have ever been curious enough to read the back of a tampon box, you might have read something about toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

TSS is caused by toxins that are produced by bacteria.Symptoms include fever, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, red skin flush, and low blood pressure.

Because TSS progresses rapidly, it can cause death.This is why women with any combination of these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately.

The best way to avoid TSS is to switch to lower absorbency tampons, or only use high absorbency tampons (Super and Super Plus) on days where your flow is extremely heavy, like the first few days.

You can even avoid using high absorbency tampons altogether by using a regular tampon, combined with an extra absorbent maxi pad.

Menstrual Synchrony

Something that is very interesting to learn about is the phenomenon called “menstrual synchrony.”It basically means that when two menstruating women live in close proximity (the same household), they tend to develop similar menstrual cycles.

Many researchers believe that the phenomenon is triggered by the monthly reoccurring smell (possibly subconscious) of blood.

Common Euphemisms (Slang Terms) for Menstruation

"Menstruation" is a word that sounds so formal; and, it can be somewhat of an embarrassing topic to talk about in casual conversation.

To help cut through some of the touchiness of the word, and it's rather unattractive physical process, people have adopted many slang terms and phrases over the years - here are a few:

  • Visit from Granny Red
  • Clean up on Aisle One
  • T-Minus 9 Months and Holding
  • Visit from Aunt Flow
  • Shark Week (this one is my personal favorite)
  • Rag Week
  • Riding the Cotton Pony
  • Crimson Tide Game Day
  • That Time of The Month
  • On The Rag

Important Info

*I am not a medical professional, it is important to always seek professional medical assistance in the event of an emergency, or if you feel that something does not “feel right” about your personal health.


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    • Drjacki profile image


      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Good information!


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