Menstrual cycle
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Menstrual cycle: 9 important facts everyone should know

Even if you’ve missed the topic on menstrual cycle in health class, as long as you are female, you will get a visit from Aunt Flo when you hit puberty until the day you go into menopause. Many women spend their entire lives dealing with their monthlies and all the frills that come with it but never really understand the reasons for anything that is happening to them.

They know that at a certain point of the month they are moody, have trouble sleeping, get food cravings, cramps in the lower abdomen and back, bloating, breasts tenderness and acne. Another time, they feel aroused often and yearn to be touched sexually.

They may have intercourse with a male around this time and two weeks later they experience another batch of symptoms including nausea, constipation, bloating, changes in discharge and spotting. These may make them wonder if they are about to have their period, if they are pregnant or have a serious medical concern.

The menstrual cycle is complexed and different for every woman. Some females get pregnant just after having unprotected sex once. Other women in their late 30s and early 40s learn about their menstrual cycle because they want to figure out why they are having difficulty trying to conceive. Women can save themselves the surprises and heartbreaks if they know these 9 important facts about their menstrual cycle.

9 facts to know about menstrual cycle

1. Regular cycles from 21 to 45 days are normal

The common menstrual cycle lasts 28 days however a cycle that is regular and lasts anywhere between 21 to 45 days is normal. Even if your cycle is 35 days one month and 37 the next, it is still considered normal. An irregular menstrual cycle is when one cycle is 26 days, another is 31, you have no periods for two months and then you have one.

Track your cycle on a calendar to learn how yours work by recording the date when a period begins. The next time you have a period, record that date as the start of your next menstrual cycle. After 4 months of doing this, you will see if you have a regular or irregular cycle.

2. Ovulation starts in the middle of the cycle

Getting pregnant or preventing pregnancy is dependent on ovulation which happens in the middle of your menstrual cycle. Women with a 28-day cycle who are trying to conceive or trying to avoid getting pregnant, count 14 days to know when they are most fertile. This tells them it is either time to have a lot of sex or no sex at all.

Before you track your ovulation window, you should know the length of your menstrual cycle. If you have a regular one, then this should be easy. If your cycle is 26 days, then count 13 days to know when you are most fertile. If you have an irregular cycle and you have no idea when you ovulate, then you can read number 5 on discharge to see what it tells you about ovulation.

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3. Sperm that’s inside you before ovulation can get you pregnant

A woman’s fertile window in the menstrual cycle is the only time she can get pregnant but it does not mean the only time she should or should not have sex. In a 28-day cycle, she is most fertile between days 13 and 15, but let’s say she has sexual intercourse on day 10, she can still get pregnant.

Why? This is because sperm can live up to 5 days inside a woman. The sneaky sperm waits around for the egg to be released to fertilise it. This explains why some couples are surprised when they get a positive pregnancy test even though they engaged in sex before the woman’s fertile window started. It also explains why some couples who believe they are having sex during the estimated fertile window are unsuccessful with pregnancy. The woman may have ovulated later than the last cycle and the sperm would have died by the time she ovulated.

4. Irregular menstrual cycle is caused by stress, medication, weight loss, PCOS and more

The menstrual cycle is regulated by the complex interaction of hormones: luteinising hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Even though a woman may have a regular cycle, there are many factors that can cause her period to behave differently.

Stress makes a hormone called cortisol which interferes with the brain causing delayed, light or no period at all. Medications such as hormone replacement, blood thinners, antidepressants, aspirin and chemotherapy can interfere with your menstrual cycle. Rapid weight loss or weight gain can affect the production of the hormones needed for ovulation and cause an irregular cycle. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, thyroid problems, uterine fibroids, endometriosis and cervical cancer can cause irregular periods. A Pap Smear and ultrasound will help you to detect if you have any serious medical concerns.

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5. Discharge tells a lot about you during your menstrual cycle

Women can look at the fluid on their underwear and have an idea of what is going on with their bodies. Clear and watery discharge is normal and can keep the vagina lubricated. Arousal mucous increases during foreplay to prepare the vagina for painless intercourse. When you are about to ovulate, your mucous is clear and slippery. Your mucous increases slightly during early pregnancy.

However, if your cervical mucous is thick and you feel itchy, you may have a yeast infection. Brown or bloody discharge between periods can be a sign of implantation, early miscarriage, fibroids, endometrial or cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about concerns you may have about changes to your discharge.

6. Symptoms are similar for PMS, ovulation, pregnancy and PCOS

Sometimes it is very difficult for a woman to tell whether she is going through PMS, ovulating, experiencing early pregnancy signs, or having a regular moment with hormonal imbalance. This is because the symptoms of these occurrences are very similar.

Common symptoms experienced during hormonal changes are mood swings, feeling anxious or irritable, tiredness or trouble sleeping, bloating, nausea, constipation, breast tenderness, headaches and acne. Women with PCOS know all too well that using ovulation and pregnancy tests are the only accurate ways to confirm their status.

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7. Your period affects your body odour

According to Healthline, hormone fluctuations cause you to smell differently. Research has found that women at high fertility within their menstrual cycle actually put out a different, perceived to be more attractive, scent to men than those at low fertility in their cycle.

Some women on their period may notice the blood smells metallic, rotten, sweet, fishy or like body odour. These scents can affect the overall way that a woman smells which people around her may find repulsive. Taking daily showers and making sure you change tampons, liners, or pads every few hours are proper hygiene habits that can help combat the usual odours associated with menstruation.

8. Folic acid plays a crucial role in your menstrual cycle

Folic acid is a B vitamin that the body needs to prevent certain types of anemia including iron deficiency anemia that is common with heavy periods. This type of anemia causes you to feel tired all the time, weak, dizzy or short of breath. Women who are pregnant or might become pregnant take folic acid to prevent serious birth defects such as spina bifida.

Folic acid is normally found in foods such as dried beans, peas, lentils, oranges, whole-wheat products, liver, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach. It helps your body produce and maintain new cells, and also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Eat foods rich in folic acid or take a supplement to ensure you have a healthy menstrual cycle.

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9. Period symptoms are similar to implantation

Many women who are anxious to know if they are pregnant or not can be confused with the symptoms that are similar for both period and early pregnancy. A woman may see light bleeding on day 1 of an estimated menstrual cycle and assume that her period has started but this can also be a sign of implantation bleeding which happens when a fertilised egg nestles into the uterine lining.

She may also experience cramping, sore breasts, constipation or diarrhoea, feel bloated or gassy, and have headaches and mood swings. All of these are also symptoms of both period and implantation taking place. To tell the difference, you must know that implantation bleeding has a pink or brown colour that is light spotting for 1 to 3 days with no clotting and mild cramps. Menstrual bleeding however starts off pink or brown, changes to bright red, has a strong flow, may form clots, lasts up to 5 to 7 days and cramping is more intense and lasts longer.

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