Those of us who are lucky enough to have regular menstrual cycles with only mild menstrual symptoms probably don't think much about the inner workings of the female reproductive system or the menstrual cycle. Women who do experience menstrual problems are more likely to investigate. Whichever category you fall into, when you do learn more about menstruation, you may be surprised by the sheer number and complexity of the processes which take place in a woman's body each month.
The Reproductive System
To understand the menstrual cycle, we first need to know the organs of the reproductive system and the roles they play in creating and releasing an egg cell each month, and in flushing out a woman's uterus when she has her period at end of the menstrual cycle. The ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vagina are all important parts of this system. A number of hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone also have important functions.
Menarche is the name given to a girl's first period. In the West, girls are starting to menstruate earlier and earlier, due to our abundant sources of nutrition, which are thought to have brought down the age of puberty in females. Anywhere between the ages of 10 and the mid teens, a girl will usually have her first period. She may need some advice at this stage about sanitary protection, as well as reliable information about the onset of her fertility and the responsibilities that this entails.
Cycle Problems And Normal Cycles
Once a girl has been menstruating for a year or two, her menstrual cycles will hopefully fall into a pattern that is normal for her, which will continue until she reaches menopause (usually in her 50s). The length of the menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman. Some women have irregular cycles. These can often be controlled using medication, but some women choose to live with the irregular patterns. If an underlying disorder of the reproductive system is causing the irregularities, or other menstrual problems, medical treatment may be required.
Fertility And Contraception
The menstrual cycle controls a woman's ability to become pregnant. If you have a regular cycle, then keeping track of it will let you know when you are most fertile (there is only a small window of fertility per cycle). Having your period at the end of each cycle is the definitive proof that you didn't conceive in that month. Alternatively, some women track their cycles for the purpose of preventing pregnancy. Unprotected sex can be avoided at the most fertile point of the cycle. This method of contraception is, however, difficult to implement correctly, and is certainly not recommended for any woman for whom pregnancy prevention is an absolute necessity.