Whether you just got it, are going through the thick of it, or you feel it coming to the end, you shouldn’t have to be embarrassed or afraid of what’s happening with your body. Get to know your period better, explore reproductive health, and learn about the things they didn’t teach you in class!
A menstrual cycle is the monthly hormonal cycle that the body undergoes to prepare for possible pregnancy. It is counted from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. The average cycle is 28 days, but still remains “regular” if it ranges between 24-38 days.Ovulation is when your ovary releases an egg so it can be fertilized by sperm to make a baby. Your ovulation cycle length may vary; the time between ovulation and when the next period starts can be anywhere from 7 to 19 days. You can tell you’re ovulating if your discharge becomes more slippery and clear.
It is completely normal and common for your blood to change colors before, during, and after your period!
Bright red blood means that the blood is fresh and flowing quickly. Dark red blood means it been in the uterus for a while but hasn’t been there long enough to oxidize or turn brown. You may see this color towards the end of your period.
Brown blood is typically a sign of old blood, which has had time to oxidize from staying in the uterus longer. When the flow is slow, your blood takes extra time to leave the body. The brown blood may be also leftover from your last period.
Black period blood is blood that is taking extra time to leave the uterus; usually related to brown blood. Black period blood can occur when you first get your period, but your blood clots may also be so dark that they appear black.
Orange blood may also appear during spotting and can be a result of being mixed or tinged with cervical fluid. It may also indicate implantation bleeding, so if the spotting doesn’t turn into a period, consult your doctor.
Pink blood may appear during spotting and can be a result of the blood being mixed with cervical fluid, giving it a lighter red or pink hue. It can also be a sign of implantation.
If you have grayish discharge, consult your doctor as it can be sign of infection or a miscarriage. Blood clots or thinner blood consistency during bleeding is also normal. If you pass clots that are bigger than the size of a quarter, it may be a sign of menorraghia (abnormally long/heavy periods) and you may want to consult your doctor.
Vaginal discharge is a clear or white fluid that comes out from the vagina. The amount and frequency of secretion is normal and common but varies among individuals. It can happen anytime and anywhere. You can wear liners in your underwear to be hygienic if you have more discharge, or are expecting your period-save the undies!If your discharge changes in amount, color, or odor, then you may have an infection and should consult a doctor.
Vaginitis occurs when the vagina gets irritated or inflamed. Side effects include increased amount and/or frequency of discharge, strong odor, green/yellow/gray color. It can be caused by topical irritants (soaps, detergents, chemicals), things that change the pH of the vagina and cause overgrowth of bacteria and yeast.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is an infection of reproductive organs sometimes caused by STDs. Side effects can include unusual discharge in color or odor, mild to severe pain in lower abdomen, burning sensation during urination, vomiting, fever, and shock.
Pads are long and oval shaped and made of organic or synthetic absorbent material. The base has an adhesive strip and sometimes wings to keep the pad in place.
There are a variety of pad lengths and thicknesses/absorbencies ranging from ultra-thin, regular, maxi/super, overnight to maternity. Pads should be replaced every 4 hours or less, or as often as needed. If you are unsure about what type might be good for you, try out regular first, and go to one for less absorbency if you have lighter periods, or one with higher absorbency if you have heavier periods.
Liners are like pads but have much lighter absorbency and can be used in the days leading up to your period, or the lighter times of your period, like at the beginning. Liners can also be worn if you have vaginal discharge.
Tampons are a mass of organic or synthetic absorbent material, usually shaped like a rounded cylinder. They are designed to be inserted into the vagina directly with your hands or with the help of an attached applicator made of cardboard or plastic. The material expands in the vagina to absorb the menstrual blood.
There are a variety of tampon absorbencies, from light, regular, super, and super plus to ultra. Tampons should be replaced every 4-6 hours or less, or as often as needed. If you are unsure about what type might be good for you, try out regular first, and go to one for less absorbency if you have lighter periods, or one with higher absorbency if you have heavier periods. Tampons are great if you want to engage in physical activity such as athletics or water sports, without feeling limited by a pad.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a condition often associated with tampon usage, but anyone can contract TSS through bacteria entering broken skin (i.e. a cut, wound, burn). You are at more risk of getting TSS if you don’t change your tampons as often as you need to.
Menstrual cups are shaped like a bell with a stem and made of flexible medical grade silicone. The stem is used for insertion and removal of the cup from the vagina. The cup is folded and then inserted into the vagina and should sit around the cervix; the stem should sit outside the vagina. Sometimes the cup may need to be lubricated and twisted, or the user may need to flex their vaginal muscles to put the cup into place.
When used correctly, they prevent leaking. Menstrual cups range in size and volume, from 0.5 – 1.4 fl oz. They should be emptied every 4-12 hours or as often as needed. Between each insertion and removal, users should wash the cup with warm or hot water, and a vagina and cup friendly soap. You should sanitize the cup monthly by leaving it in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, and storing it in a natural, breathable material such as a cotton pouch. Cups are great if you want to engage in physical activity such as athletics or water sports, without feeling limited by a pad.
In addition to these widely used sanitary products, there are a few alternatives out there for people with periods, such as THINX, an leak-proof underwear line that can be worn as a supplement to the above products or as a replacement!
There are also numerous menstrual hygiene brands and charitable organizations that help provide products to those in need such as AFRIpads, Cora, Days For Girls, L., Lola, Planned Parenthood, Rubycup, and Sanimart.
Premenstrual Syndrome, best known as PMS, is a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that many women go through after ovulation and before they start their period. The symptoms can range from light and mild to severe.
Approximately 75% of women say they experience mild PMS symptoms in their lifetime, with 3-8% experiencing severe symptoms, diagnosed as Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMS is definitely not just “in your head,” but the result of significant hormonal changes in your body during your period.
|Physical||Appetite changes or cravings, back pains, bloating, constipation, cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, lethargy, sleep problems, tender or swollen breasts|
|Emotional||Anxiety, depression, decreased libido, easy irritability, hostile behavior, mood swings, trouble with concentration, sadness|
Here are some of our suggestions for combating the symptoms of PMS.
Menstrual irregularities and disorders affect up to 14-25% of people who have periods. You don’t have to feel alone if you experience any of these conditions! There are plenty of ways to make your period better; no one should have to suffer through a part of everyday life.
Many menstrual disorders are diagnosed through several processes. You may have a pelvic exam, physical exam, blood tests, imaging tests, and various other tests.
|Amenorrhea||Absence of a monthly period||Some common reasons are ovarian failure, nervous system or pituitary gland problems, poorly formed reproductive organs, sudden or extreme weight loss or gain, a long term illness, over-exercise, depression, stress, or use of certain drugs.|
|Dysmenorrhea||Pain occurring menstruation, cramps||During your period, your uterus contracts to expel its lining. Natural chemicals called prostaglandins which are involved in pain and inflammation trigger the contractions in the uterus. It can also be due to disorders such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, or fibroids.|
|Hypomenorrhea||Short or scanty periods||For some this is normal (less blood flow can be genetic), for others it can be due to medical conditions. It is common side effect of hormonal contraceptive use, but can also be due to stress or low body fat as a result of over-exercise or dieting.|
|Menorraghia||Abnormally heavy or long periods||A common reason is hormonal imbalance, which can be caused by PCOS, obesity, insulin resistance, or thyroid problems among others. It can also be caused by dysfunctional ovaries, uterine fibroids, polyps, adenomyosis, an IUD, pregnancy complications, or cancers. A common indication is soaking through one or more sanitary products per hour for several consecutive hours, bleeding for longer than 7 days, or passing blood clots larger than a quarter.|
|Oligomenorrhea||Infrequent periods, cycles exceeding 35 days||Most often caused by hormonal birth control. It can also be caused by eating disorders, over-exercise, diabetes or thyroid problems, insulin resistance.|
|Polymenorrhea||Menstrual cycle shorter than 21 days||For some this is normal, for others it can be due to medical conditions. One of the most common causes is stress, which affects the hormone levels in the body. It can also be caused by STIs, endometriosis, or menopause.|
Absence of a monthly period. Some common reasons are ovarian failure, nervous system or pituitary gland problems, poorly formed reproductive organs, sudden or extreme weight loss or gain, a long term illness, over-exercise, depression, stress, or use of certain drugs.
Pain occurring menstruation, cramps. During your period, your uterus contracts to expel its lining. Natural chemicals called prostaglandins which are involved in pain and inflammation trigger the contractions in the uterus. It can also be due to disorders such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, or fibroids.
Short or scanty periods. For some this is normal (less blood flow can be genetic), for others it can be due to medical conditions. It is common side effect of hormonal contraceptive use, but can also be due to stress or low body fat as a result of over-exercise or dieting.
Abnormally heavy or long periods. A common reason is hormonal imbalance, which can be caused by PCOS, obesity, insulin resistance, or thyroid problems among others. It can also be caused by dysfunctional ovaries, uterine fibroids, polyps, adenomyosis, an IUD, pregnancy complications, or cancers. A common indication is soaking through one or more sanitary products per hour for several consecutive hours, bleeding for longer than 7 days, or passing blood clots larger than a quarter.
Infrequent periods, cycles exceeding 35 days. Most often caused by hormonal birth control. It can also be caused by eating disorders, over-exercise, diabetes or thyroid problems, insulin resistance.
There are also other menstrual disorders that coincide with irregularities.
ENDOMETRIOSIS occurs when the endometrial tissue that usually lines your uterus grows outside your uterus on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, pelvic tissue, and beyond the pelvic organs. The displaced tissue acts normally during each cycle, and ultimately has nowhere to exit the body, irritating the surrounding tissue and causing severe or painful bleeding.
POLYCYSTIC OVARIAN SYNDROME (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder commonly indicated by high levels of the androgen testosterone, enlarged ovaries with multiple follicles (polycystic ovaries), and the failure of ovaries to properly develop or release the egg during ovluation. PCOS may cause infrequent or prolonged periods. Symptoms include weight gain, diabetes, sleep apnea, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and infertility.
ADENOMYOSIS occurs when endometrial tissue that usually lines the uterus grows into the muscular wall of the uterus. The displaced tissue acts normally during each cycle and an enlarged uterus can cause heavy and painful bleeding.
FIBROIDS are benign, non-cancerous growths in the uterus. Progesterone and estrogen hormones play a part in their growth. Some symptoms of fibroids include heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding, severe menstrual cramps, and infertility.
POLYPS are usually benign, non-cancerous growths attached to the inner wall of the uterus, although some can eventually lead to cancer. Overgrowth of cells in the endometrial lining can be largely attributed to hormonal changes, especially in estrogen levels. Some symptoms of polyps include irregular bleeding, excessively heavy periods, spotting, and infertility.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends visiting the gynecologist at 13-15. You do not have to be sexually active to see a gynecologist. In addition to sexual wellness advice, having routine appointments are essential to discuss your overall personal health and ask questions about getting your first period or being on your period. Make sure to schedule an appointment if:
- You’ve had sex or intimate sexual contact
- You’re sexually active and missed your period
- You haven’t had your period for 3 months since your last period
- You have irregular discharge
- You have consistent problems/irregularities with your period
- You haven’t gotten your period at all
- You’ve had your period for 2 years and it’s not regular
- You’re 21 and have not yet seen the gynecologist
WHY DO I NEED A PAP SMEAR?
Around 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and about 4,000 will die from it. Cervical cancer is the 4th most common cancer in women, but it is also one of most preventable, because it develops over time. Early detection saves lives!
WHAT IS IT?
A pap smear is a procedure to test for cervical cancer in women, done by collecting cells from your cervix. Your doctor will insert a speculum, which holds the vaginal walls so they can clearly see the cervix, into your vagina, and then take cell samples using a soft brush or scraping device called a spatula. During the pap smear, you will feel some pressure or minor discomfort, but don’t worry, you’re all good! Immediately after, you are free to carry on with your day.
WHEN SHOULD I GET ONE?
Doctors recommend getting pap tests at age 21, testing every 3 years. Consult your doctor if you are unsure or have questions.
Menopause is officially diagnosed when you have gone 12 months without having a period. The average age is 51 but can occur between 40-50.
Symptoms of menopause include vaginal dryness, hot flashes, chills, night sweats, sleep problems, weight gain and slowed metabolism, mood swings. Irregularity in your periods in the time leading up to your menopause (perimenopause) may also occur.
Menopause requires no medical treatment, but you may choose to see a doctor to address and manage symptoms that may cause particular discomfort in everyday life.