What Does Your Period Say About Your Health ?

Women worldwide have been going through menstruation for a better part of their life. With pre-menstrual stress, menstrual stress, and post-menstrual stress, most women are lucky to get at least a week of sanity. Menstruation is often considered taboo in many societies and is discussed in hushed tones.

Despite the availability and accessibility to information, most people, including women, are unaware of proper period health, hygiene, and its effect on their general well-being. Period myths and superstitions are still deeply rooted in the minds of many, and menstruation remains an underexplored discourse topic. 

Unraveling the Health Story Behind Your Period

Menstruation is not a topic that is limited to the female population. It is a monthly bodily process that immensely affects a woman’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Thus, a discussion on menstruation must involve people from every gender identity.

Menstruation is a normal part of a woman’s life and a complex bodily process. It is natural and is controlled by the various hormones in a woman’s body. The pituitary gland and the ovaries produce these hormones and are responsible for ovulation, fertilisation, and periods. 

Menstruation and period blood

Menstruation occurs from the time the body starts to prepare itself for conception and pregnancy. The female body anticipates monthly fertilisation and prepares the uterus for the same. The body thickens the uterine wall lining to accommodate the fertilised egg so that it grows into a foetus in the womb. When fertilisation fails, the hormones in the female body signal the same, and the thick uterine wall begins to shed itself. This is called menstruation or periods. Menstrual blood consists of blood and the uterine wall tissue. It comes out of the vagina through the cervix once the uterus sheds.

Most women get their periods around the age of 10 –  15, which usually lasts until age 50 – 55. These ages vary from individual depending on the woman’s physiological, hormonal, and environmental factors, including lifestyle. The frequency, flow and colour of periods vary between women due to many factors such as age, bodily and hormonal changes, stress, and lifestyle. 

What are the signs of a healthy period?

Increasing lifestyle changes such as stress, insomnia, improper intake of healthy food and lack of exercise, and exposure to multiple environmental constraints that add to the same are causing adverse effects on the female menstrual cycle.

Due to this, it is vital to understand what a healthy period is and how it affects the female body. Since menstruation differs between individuals, the critical step to understanding a healthy period is first to know yourself and to familiarize yourself with your periods. 

signs of a healthy period

Regularity: The primary indicator of a healthy period is its regularity. Menstruation is a monthly process that, on average, lasts from 3 – 7 days. As mentioned, menstruation occurs as the uterus sheds its lining every month. The uterus takes 21 – 35 days every month to form this lining. Once it begins to shed, the process lasts 2 – 7 days, varying between individuals. Some women experience infrequent menstruation in which they do not menstruate monthly. These are irregular periods, and the menstruation takes longer than two months to occur.

In some cases, women experience frequent menstruation. In this situation, they may bleed more than once a month. Both conditions indicate abnormal periods and demand immediate medical attention. While these may be due to lifestyle, physiological, and psychological factors, they may also show underlying illnesses such as endometriosis, PCOD, PCOS, etc.

Many women experience irregularity in their menstrual cycle during their first few periods in their teenage years and as they near menopause in their 50s. This is quite common and is often naturally regulated by hormones. The irregular flow between periods is also a cause of concern.

Blood flow: The quantity of blood flow is another indicator of a healthy period. While it varies between individuals, a hefty flow of blood throughout the menstrual cycle and a complete lack of the same demand immediate attention.

Blood flow often ranges from mild to moderate to heavy and can even vary during the menstrual cycle. Blood flow after the usual menstrual cycle also indicates an underlying medical condition. Very heavy blood flow that requires you to change your menstrual products every two hours is also not a sign of a healthy period. Blood flow accompanied by sizable clots is also quite concerning.

These may be due to problems with reproductive organs or hormones, infections, blood disorders, contraceptives or certain medications. Bleeding after menopause may also indicate uterine polyps, which may turn cancerous.   

Painful periods: Cramping, fatigue, joint pain, tenderness of the breast, headaches, and such are often common symptoms associated with menstruation. However, excessive pain, especially in the pelvic region, abdomen, joints, vaginal and vulvar region, may indicate some medical concern and requires medical attention.

A healthy period is usually comparatively pain-free, though some discomfort may exist. Cramps or pain that starts well before the menstrual cycle and lasts even after the same is not a sign of healthy periods.  

Fatigue: Excessively or consistently heavy periods, with extreme fatigue, lack of appetite, rapid heartbeat, and pain, are indicators of underlying distress and do not indicate a healthy period. A consistent and excessive loss of blood can even lead to anaemia.

Other bodily difficulties: Other physiological difficulties, such as painful diarrhoea, constipation, migraines, chronic pains, and pain during intercourse, often indicate illnesses like endometriosis and are symptoms of an unhealthy period.  

Colour of period blood: Healthy period blood is bright red. The colour of this blood usually varies during the menstrual cycle ranging from light red to bright and lastly to brown as the cycle nears its end and the blood ages. The colour of the blood darkens with oxidation. A bright red or crimson steady blood flow with fewer clots indicates a healthy period.

Pink or light blood colour is usually frequent during the start of a period. Still, it may indicate anaemia, low blood count, significant weight loss or an unhealthy diet. Dark brown or dark red blood is expected towards the last days of a period as the blood ages and undergoes oxidation. Still, consistently dark blood may even indicate early pregnancy. While common in periods, orange blood may indicate the possibility of infection. Black and grey blood indicates vaginal blockage and bacterial vaginosis, respectively. It is always prudent to track the colour of your regular period to understand changes.      

Toxic shock syndrome: It is a fatal illness caused due to bacteria. It comes from open wounds, injuries etc., which have been plagued with bacteria. In women, TSS may be caused by unhygienic menstrual practices where women do not frequently change their menstrual products, such as tampons, pads, or cups.  

Pre-menstrual stress/ tension: Pre-menstrual stress may result from cyclic, hormonal, emotional, and mental stress, including depression. This stress manifests as physical, emotional, and mental discomforts during periods making the menstrual cycle a daunting experience for women. 

Menstrual Cycle Length and Irregularity: What It Says About Your Health?

The menstrual cycle begins on the first day of the period. As mentioned before, the menstrual cycle lasts for 2 – 7 days. The interval between two menstrual cycles is usually 20 – 35 days. It consists of four phases. The first phase is the menses phase and indicates the cycle duration when the uterus is shedding the lining. It usually lasts for 2 – 7 days.

The second phase is the follicular phase. In this phase, the uterus begins to rebuild the lining with the help of hormones like estrogen and follicular stimulating hormone.

During this phase, the follicles in the ovaries grow and mature into an egg. The third phase is ovulation, which happens 14 days after the end of the period. In this phase, the ovary releases the egg for fertilizations. The final phase is the luteal phase.

Here the egg travels via the fallopian tube into the uterus for fertilizations. Progesterone level rises in the body, and the uterine lining called endometrium is ready for pregnancy. If pregnancy occurs, the fertilized egg attaches itself to the endometrium, called implantation. If not, the estrogen level decreases, and the endometrium begins to shed, leading to periods. 

  • An irregular period may be due to one or a combination of causes. 
  • Periods lasting more than seven days
  • Periods lasting less than two days
  • Duration between periods more than average cycle length (90 days)
  • Bleeding or spotting between two menstrual cycles
  • Periods accompanied by severe pain and other discomforts
  • Passing large and sizeable blood clots
  • Extremely heavy bleeding that results in a need to change the menstrual product within every two hours or less
  • Bleeding lighter or heavier than usual
  • Sickness after using menstrual products like pads or tampons

Any change in the usual menstrual cycle length indicates an underlying illness and requires the care of a physician.

Menstrual Blood Characteristics: Color, Flow, and Clotting

Menstrual blood is a bodily secretion that is part of the menstrual process. It consists of blood, bodily secretions, and the endometrium, the uterine wall lining. The colour of period blood ranges from light pink to dark brown depending on various factors, as discussed before.

Menstrual Cycle Length and Irregularity

A healthy period of blood is generally crimson or bright red. While menstrual blood will contain some clots, these are usually small, large clots are a matter of concern. Every cycle, a woman loses about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood. Suppose a woman loses more than that. It signifies some illness. Further excessive blood loss can even lead to low blood count and anaemia. 

As mentioned before, the colour of period blood varies between women and even during the cycle. It may start light and become darker for some women. Nevertheless, the colour of period blood is an indicator of general health. While a light blood colour such as pink indicates that the blood is mixed with cervical fluid, it also shows low blood count and anaemia. Black, grey and orange blood usually means an underlying infection or illness. Pink and orange blood may also indicate pregnancy. 

The menstrual blood usually contains clots that are the uterine lining. These clots are often mixed with the blood and are coin-sized. However, larger clots are considered abnormal. Such large clots usually indicate uterine fibroids, polyps, bleeding disorders and illnesses. 

Further, ensuring no foul smell during and after periods is also imperative. While a healthy period does smell metallic, it will not smell pungent or rotten. Such changes in smells are usually indicative of some infection. 

Menstrual Pain and Cramps: Causes and Treatment Options

Menstrual pain is called dysmenorrhea. While periods are usually accompanied by slight cramping and discomfort, painful periods and severe cramping are not part of a healthy period. Cramping during periods is caused by a hormone called prostaglandins.

Menstrual Pain and Cramps Causes and Treatment Options

This is made in the uterus. It contracts and expands the uterus and helps to push the endometrium out of the body during periods. This varies in intensity ranging from frequent spasms to dull, consistent pain.

However, severe pain and other bodily distresses are often caused by illnesses such as endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, or adenomyosis. Certain contraceptives like IUDs may also cause immense pain in the first few months after insertion. 

The usual period pain and cramps begin at the start of the cycle and usually remain during menstruation. If the pain extends even after the cycle, it becomes a cause for concern. Normal cramps are caused due to the hormones released and the contraction of uterine muscles. On the other hand, they are caused due to infection or the endometrium growing in places other than inside the uterus or due to non-cancerous growths. 

General treatment for normal period cramps are:

  • Drinking hot water or beverages
  • Taking plenty of rest
  • Keeping a hot bag on the abdomen and pelvis
  • Taking pain-killers
  • Exercise
  • Massage
  • Warm bath

⚠️ In the case of severe dysmenorrhea, it is best to consult a physician and determine the source of the pain.

Hormonal Changes and Mood Swings During Your Period

Often menstruation is coupled with mood swings and hormonal changes. Most even experience stress, changes in a heartbeat, bodily discomfort, fever, vomiting, bloating, nausea, lack of appetite and pain, amongst other symptoms.

Hormonal Changes and Mood Swings During Your Period

While some of these can be managed by proper diet and appropriate rest, it still becomes difficult for many women to navigate through their periods successfully. The hormonal changes are mainly caused due to fluctuations in estrogen levels and other hormones in the body. It regulates the menstrual cycle and causes ovulation, fertilisation, and other processes.

Mood swings, on the other hand, are a result of pre-menstrual stress. Most women experience sleeplessness, anger, irritability, and depression during their periods due to PMS. This often interferes with daily tasks and leads to aggravation of symptoms. Sometimes PMS is also a result of illnesses like endometriosis.  

Menstrual Hygiene: Tips for a Healthy and Safe Period

The health of the menstrual cycle affects the overall health of a woman. This is not limited to physical health but also psychological health. To ensure proper health, it is imperative to practice good period hygiene. Some tips for a healthy and safe period are listed hereunder. 

  • Proper cleanliness and basic hygiene
  • Use of good menstrual products like sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual cups, or disks
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol
  • Exercise
  • Proper and healthy diet
  • Safe sexual practices

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, menstruation remains underexplored despite the progress made in education, literacy, and information technology.

Women in many countries lack access to basic hygiene and menstrual products. Due to this, they are forced to discontinue their education and become marginalized.

The lack of education on menstruation for all genders results in discrimination and lack of care. Menstruation is a taboo subject in many countries, and a menstruating woman is kept afar with limited resources. The existence of the pink tax also makes it difficult for women to access menstrual products as they have to pay more for them. People from all genders must be given proper menstrual education.

Women must be encouraged to understand their menstrual cycle and to track the same. This will allow for the easy diagnosing of illnesses. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do all women menstruate?

Yes. All women begin to menstruate between the age of 8 – 15. On average, they menstruate till 50 – 55 years of age.

2. Is menstruation the same for all women?

While the biological process of menstruation is the same for all women, the regularity, flow, colour, and accompanying symptoms vary between women. No two women experience periods the same way.

3. What is dysmennorhea?

Dysmenorrhea is a painful menstrual cycle. While it is common for women to experience pain during periods, insufferable pain or discomfort that interferes with daily life and causes other physical, emotional, and mental distress is a cause for concern. While the former is called primary dysmenorrhea, the latter is secondary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea can be easily self-managed, but secondary dysmenorrhea would require medical intervention.     

4. Why is it essential to track the menstrual cycle?

It is pertinent to track the menstrual cycle as this will allow us to monitor our period health—changes in flow, regularity, consistency, colour, symptoms, etc., point towards underlying medical conditions. If diagnosed early, it becomes curable or easily manageable.

5. Why are menstrual products expensive?

Menstrual products are often quite expensive. This makes accessing these products difficult for people from all economic categories. Hence, women are pushed towards a phenomenon called period poverty. Most of the time, specific taxes are levied upon these products. These taxes are called pink taxes. This makes menstrual products expensive for all people. 

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