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Questions and Answers

Menstruation and Health – What to Expect and What You Should Know about your Period

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Menstruation (also called being on your period) is a natural process that many people’s bodies go through. This process helps prepare the body for a possible pregnancy.

While many of us think of periods as bleeding, that is only one part of the process. People who menstruate may notice a variety of symptoms that go along with it. While everyone’s body is different, for many people the basics of menstruation are the same.

What happens during your period?

If you get periods, you may notice them when you start bleeding from your vagina. Some people may experience cramping, bloating, and other discomfort before this bleeding begins.

Only about 35% of the discharge that comes out of your vagina during your period is blood. The rest is tissue and cells from the lining of your uterus, as well as vaginal fluids. In the days leading up to your period, the blood, tissue, and cells line the inside of your uterus. This lining grows as your Fallopian tubes prepare to and then release an egg.

If the egg is fertilized, it becomes a pregnancy, and the lining will nourish it as it grows. If it’s not fertilized, your body disposes of it by expelling it through your vagina. Scarleteen has a more thorough description of this process at this page.

How do I know if my period is “normal”?

Everyone’s body is different. Not everyone who has a vagina menstruates. Not everyone who menstruates can get pregnant. Not everyone who menstruates does so on a regular basis. Not everyone who menstruates has the same physical anatomy. Your period may feel different from how other people describe their periods, and you may get your period sooner or later than other people you know. This doesn’t always make your period or your body abnormal.

If you’re concerned about your health, it’s always good to talk to a doctor who you can trust. They can tell you more about how your individual body works and what to watch out for.

Does menstruation always hurt? What if it hurts a lot?

Not everyone experiences cramping and discomfort during their periods, but many do. Often people manage this with over-the-counter medication like Aspirin or Motrin.

If your menstrual cramps make it difficult for you to function, it’s a good idea to see a gynecologist. Cramps accompanied by nausea, a fever, or blacking out can be a sign of a more serious condition. Some common conditions which cause this kind of pain include endometriosis and ovarian cysts. Intense period pain is often managed with hormonal birth control or prescription painkillers. Some people use exercise, massage, or heat therapy to help manage their pain as well.

How much should I bleed? How do I know if I’m bleeding too much?

While it can look like you’re losing a lot of blood during your period, most people don’t lose that much. The average person only loses a few tablespoons of blood per menstrual cycle. Some people can bleed a lot during their periods, while others only bleed a little. Bleeding that starts and stops a lot is sometimes called “spotting”. Spotting can also be a normal part of some people’s menstrual cycles.

If you’re going through more than two “heavy” pads every hour, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible. This can be a sign of injury or illness.

Understanding your body and listening to the signals it sends you is important. It can be helpful to keep track of your periods in a day planner or calendar. If you notice any changes to your cycle that have you concerned, you can see a doctor or gynecologist.