While menstruation is part of a normal cycle in healthy women within a fertile age range, many women suffer from irregular menstruation. A typical menstruation cycle lasts about 28 days, but cycles between 21 and 35 days are also considered to be "normal." The cycle begins on the first day of bleeding (also known as a period) and ends on the day before the next period begins.
Once a female becomes accustomed to having periods, they learn how to distinguish the various signs of each phase of the menstrual cycle. These phases are:
- Preovulation - This is the time frame following the period. Most women will feel "fulfilled," with a renewed sense of strength and energy.
- Ovulation - This occurs two weeks after the period. Some women feel an acute pain on one side of the lower abdomen and may notice an increase in vaginal secretion or flow.
- Postovulation - This phase takes place a few days before the period begins. It produces more psychic and physical changes, to the point that many women may suffer from premenstrual tension, or PMT. The most common symptoms of this syndrome include feeling melancholoy and close to tears, difficulty in concentrating, swelling in the lower abdomen, and an increase in oil in the hair and skin.
During the bleeding phase, hemorrhage is the principal characteristic. The period can last between 3 and 7 days. While the amount of blood lost can vary from one woman to the next, the average loss is equivalent to about one teacup per day. Ninety percent of the blood is expelled during the first three days of this bleeding phase.
Other symptoms during bleeding include pain in the back and legs, cramping pain in the lower abdomen, nausea, feeling faint, diarrhea and vomiting.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Although many women feel some discomfort in the days preceding their monthly period, not all women suffer from premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. In order to call the condition PMS, specific symptoms must be present in addition to the characteristics described above in the premenstrual phase. They include:
- Swelling in the head, abdomen and fingers
- Tension in the breasts
- Migraine headaches
- Appetite changes, such as craving for sweets
- Acne or urticaria
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in sexual interest
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Stiffness in the muscles
- Back pain
Psychological changes can include tiredness, depression, anxiety, tension or restlessness, tearfulness, melanchology, irritability, aggressiveness and difficulty in concentrating.
Most of the symptoms begin in the days before the period starts and end as soon as the bleeding begins. The symptoms are more frequent in women over the age of 30 and those who have already given birth to at least one child.
Although the most acute cases of PMS may require medical treatment, most women can try a few simple techniques for getting through these cycles. They include:
- Diet - Eating a healthy diet that is rich in fruit and green vegetables. To avoid swelling, reduce salt intake and eat a little more sugar than usual to help regulate the glucose level when feeling short of energy.
- Exercise - Regular exercise helps the mind and body cope with the changes of the menstrual cycle.
- Relaxation - Avoid stressful situations. Learn relaxation techniques. Take a walk or read an absorbing book to take the mind off the troubling symptoms.
Some of the most common irregularities are:
- Amenorrhea - This is the absence of two or more consecutive menstrual cycles.
- Proiomenorrhea - This condition is when cycles last less than 25 days or if menstrual bleeding begins more than 5 days late.
- Opsomenorrhea - This describes cycles that last more than 35 days or if the period starts more than 5 days early.
There are also terms for duration irregularities: polymenorrhea is menstrual bleeding that lasts more than 8 days, and oligomenorrhea is menstrual bleeding that lasts less than 3 days.
Quantity irregularities include: hypermenorrhea, a considerable increase in the amount of menstrual bleeding and hypomenorrhea, a decrease in the amount.
Irregularities can also occur in the rhythm of blood loss. This condition can include periods that start very intensely, usually caused by lesions that bleed on their own. Menstruation that occurs predominantly at night has often been considered a symptom of uterine cancer. Some menstruation is interrupted for one or more days. The cause is usually endocrine related.
Many women suffer from heavy periods. Sometimes this is not an indication of anything being wrong. Heavy periods can happen when a woman has missed a contraceptive pill, after a birth, or if the woman is close to menopause.
If a heavy period occurs for no apparent reason a physician should be consulted. Women who feel unusually tired during a period may be anemic.
The "star" food for women who need to regulate their hormones and menstrual cycle is flaxseed, which contains good phytoestrogen, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Ground, organic linseed can be sprinkled over food, particularly oatmeal or porridge.
Other supplements that can be very beneficial include:
- B-complex vitamins - These boost the body's ability to cope with stress and are important for adrenal and thyroid function.
- Magnesium - This is a calming mineral that also helps the body cope with stress.
- Antioxidants - These nutrients help to protect the cells from free radicals.
- Agnus castus - This herb helps balance the action of the pituitary gland to restore hormonal balance.
- False unicorn root - This herb helps normalize ovarian function.
- Siberian ginseng - This herb is an adrenal tonic.
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- Servan-Schreiber, D.(2006). The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages. London : Rodale
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