What is Menstruation?
Menstruation is the normal part a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle in which blood and tissue are discharged from the lining of the uterus. The menstrual blood is released from a tiny opening in the cervix and travels out of the body through the vagina. It is commonly called menses, menstrual period, period and women often also refer to it as Aunt Flo.
The onset of menstruation occurs at puberty, around the age of 12 and is known as menarche. Girls may even start menstruating from as young as 8 years while others may start as late as 16 years. Menstruation usually occurs every 28 days in women of reproductive age. However, every woman’s period is different. Some women may experience light, moderate or heavy periods while the length of period may differ for others.
Most menstrual periods last from three to five days but women often also experience very irregular periods, especially the first few years after menstruation has begun. Periods may also be associated with range of troublesome symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, bloating, breast soreness, water retention and severe cramping.
What Causes Menstruation Problems?
Menstruation is the part of the menstrual cycle, the process which helps a woman’s body gets ready for the possibility of pregnancy each month. The average cycle is 28 days long and starts on the first day of a period. The menstrual cycle can range from 21 days to 35 days. The brain, pituitary gland, uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and vagina all work together to make the menstrual cycle occur.
The ovaries produce two important hormones, progesterone and estrogen. The pituitary gland also produces hormones, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). At the beginning of the menstrual cycle, levels of estrogen rise which causes the lining of the uterus to grow and thicken. An egg (ovum) starts to mature in one of the ovaries.
Around day 14 of a normal 28-day cycle (middle of the cycle), the egg leaves the ovary and this process is known as ovulation. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, the egg starts to pass through the fallopian tube to the uterus.
Levels of progesterone, the dominant hormone in the second half of the cycle rise and prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy. If the egg becomes fertilized by a sperm cell and attaches itself to the uterine wall, then pregnancy occurs. If pregnancy does not occur, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, and the extra thick lining of the uterus is shed. This shedding of the lining of the uterus occurs during the menstrual period.
There are many menstrual disorders that vary in severity and these include:
Good hygiene is very important during menstruation. Bathe or shower regularly but avoid using douches or feminine deodorants as these products can irritate the vaginal area and increase the risk for infection. There are two commonly used products to deal with menstrual flow and these include sanitary towels (napkins) or tampons. Sanitary towels should be changed every few hours, even if there is only a small amount of blood flow.
Tampons should be changed several times (every 4 hours) during the day – it should not be used overnight and a sanitary towel is generally recommended. A tampon that is kept in the vagina for a long period without changing may cause a bacterial infection and increase the risk for toxic shock syndrome. Scented sanitary towels, panty liners and tampons should also be avoided as these may irritate the genital area. Young girls may prefer using sanitary towels instead of tampons – they may find inserting and removing tampons uncomfortable especially if the hymenal ring is still intact.
Help for Menstruation Problems
Various over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin or ibuprofen) can alleviate menstrual pain and cramps. If menstrual cramps are severe, a low-dose oral contraceptive may be prescribed. If you suffer from secondary dysmenorrhea, the underlying cause will have to be treated first and treatment options may include antibiotics for an infection or surgery to remove fibroids.
There are a number of self-care strategies that can be used to help relieve the discomfort of menstrual pain and cramps. Use a heat pack on your lower abdomen and back, exercise regularly, get plenty of rest and eat a diet that is rich in fresh vegetables, fruit and wholegrains to ease the symptoms of PMS and menstrual cramps. Remember to take time out and be good to yourself. Other treatment options that may also be considered include massage, acupuncture, acupressure, yoga or meditative techniques to relieve pain.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies have also proven to be very effective in relieving the pain and discomfort of menstrual disorders. These natural treatments are safe and gentle for the body, and also encourage overall health and well being. Herbs such as Dong Quai (Angelica Sinesis) promote hormonal harmony throughout the menstrual cycle while Foeniculum vulgare (Sweet Fennel) acts as a liver tonic and promotes water balance.
Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque Flower) helps to support the female reproductive system and Melissa officinale (Lemon Balm) soothes and promotes stable mood and feelings. In addition, homeopathic ingredients such as Calc. carb, Sepia and Belladonna promote normal menstrual flow, a balanced mood and increases physical stamina and energy levels.
More Information on Menstruation Problems
Tips to cope with menstrual problems
There are many ways to help you relieve the pain and discomfort associated with menstrual problems and these include:
- Apply a heating pad or hot water bottle over the lower abdomen and back
- Exercise regularly to help to increase blood circulation and oxygen supply throughout the body
- Monitor your menstrual cycle
- Relax in a warm bath to relieve body aches and pain as well as release tension
- Eat lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains
- Increase your intake of vitamin supplements such as zinc, calcium, magnesium and omega fatty 3 acid
- Avoid drinking caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea and cola
- Keep warm and wear comfortable clothing
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga or pilates
- Massage the lower abdomen and back with aromatherapy or arnica oil
- Reduce your intake of salt as it promotes water retention