More Than Menstruation—The Four Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle
Your period is more than just a week-long experience of using a menstrual cup, wearing pads, or putting in tampons. Your body undergoes important changes all month long that can affect everything from your mood to food cravings and how you sleep.
There are actually four phases of your menstrual cycle.
The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period, which means it overlaps with the menstrual phase. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is released, stimulating your ovaries to produce as many as 20 follicles, each of which contains an immature egg.
During this time, the healthiest egg matures and the rest of the follicles are reabsorbed into your body. It lasts an average of 16 days and ends when you ovulate.
Symptoms you may experience during this time include:
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As estrogen levels rise, your pituitary gland eventually releases luteinizing hormone (LH), starting the process of ovulation where your ovary releases a mature egg. Ovulation typically happens midway through your menstrual cycle. It is the only time during your cycle when you can get pregnant.
It comes with symptoms that can include:
A slight rise in basal body temperature
A thicker vaginal discharge
During this stage, progesterone and some estrogen are released to ensure your uterine lining is ready, should a fertilized egg be implanted. If an egg is implanted, your body will produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which a pregnancy test can detect. If not, the corpus luteum is resorbed, causing decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone.
This phase lasts approximately 14 days. If you aren't pregnant, some symptoms you might experience during this phase include:
Although the menstrual phase is technically the first phase of the menstrual cycle, it's also the culmination of the previous three phases. The thickened lining of your uterus is not needed if an egg has not been implanted, so it is shed as a combination of blood, mucus, and tissue.
Average menstrual phases last between three and seven days. During your period, you may experience symptoms that include:
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Every Menstrual Cycle is Different
Although every woman goes through every phase during their menstrual cycle, how it is experienced differs for every woman. Some experience regular cycles, while others experience irregular cycles. The duration of the menstrual phase can vary greatly, and so can the symptoms that are experienced.
Dealing with the menstrual cycle can make living life difficult for women who frequently deal with skipped or irregular periods, who bleed for more than seven days, or for those who experience severe symptoms.
From polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) to uterine fibroids and other conditions, there are many reasons why your period may feel unbearable. Starting a telehealth visit can help you get to the bottom of your symptoms. You may also be able to get a prescription for birth control, which can help you experience more predictable periods with more manageable symptoms.