Women normally menstruate every month. However, the menstrual cycle range can be different. Throughout the cycle, not many people know that there is a process that occurs gradually in the womb. In fact, knowing it can help you predict your period in the following month.
What is the Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle is a monthly process characterized by a series of changes in the body and female reproductive organs. In this process, there are two main things that will happen, menstruation or pregnancy. Every month, the ovary releases an egg during a process called ovulation.
At the same time, hormonal changes will help prepare your uterus as a place for babies to grow and develop. If the egg that has escaped and has not been fertilized, the uterine lining will decay. Decaying the lining of the uterus through the vagina is called menstruation. In the menstrual cycle, there are four phases that occur:
- Menstrual phase
- Follicular phase or pre-ovulation
- Ovulation phase
- Luteal phase
Hormones that Affect Menstrual Cycle and Phase
The menstrual cycle is very complex and controlled by many hormones produced by a number of glands in the body. The following is the hormones that play a role.
Estrogen is responsible for regulating the cycle and plays a role in the growth of the uterine lining. If the egg is not fertilized, estrogen levels will decrease and menstruation happens. But if the egg is fertilized, estrogen works together with progesterone to stop ovulation during pregnancy.
Progesterone triggers the lining of the uterus to thicken and prepare before pregnancy. In addition, progesterone also prevents the uterine muscles from contracting which can prevent the egg from sticking.
When pregnant, progesterone will stimulate the body to create blood vessels in the lining of the uterus. The aim is to feed the fetus that will grow later. If the woman is not pregnant, the attached corpus luteum will be damaged. So, it will reduce progesterone levels in the body.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
This hormone helps stimulate the ovaries to produce estrogen. During the menstrual phase, the surge of the luteinizing hormone causes the ovary to release an egg during ovulation. If fertilization occurs, this hormone ill stimulates the corpus luteum to produce progesterone to thicken the lining of the uterus.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
FSH is a hormone that helps the growth of follicles in the ovary and releases eggs. Follicles produce estrogen and progesterone in the ovaries to keep menstrual cycles regularly. When a woman does not have enough of this hormone, she will tend to be more difficult to get pregnant.
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH)
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is a hormone that controls and stimulates the release of LH and FSH. This hormone is released from the hypothalamus in the brain.
The menstrual phase is divided into four stages. They are:
1. Menstrual phase
Menstrual phase is the first stage. This phase begins when the ovary cells released from the previous cycle are not fertilized. This makes estrogen and progesterone levels go down. A thicker uterine lining that has been prepared to support pregnancy is no longer needed.
Finally, the uterine lining decays and comes out in the form of blood called menstruation. In addition, the vagina will also secrete mucus and uterine tissue. In this phase, you will experience a variety of symptoms and can be different in each woman. The symptoms are:
- Stomach cramps
- The breast feels tight and painful
- Mood changes easily
- Getting angry easily
- Feeling tired and weak
- Back pain
In one cycle, the average menstruation lasts for 3-7 days. However, some women can also experience menstruation for more than 7 days.
2. Follicular Phase (pre-ovulation)
This phase begins on the first day of menstruation. On your first day of menstruation, the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) begins to increase. This hormone encourages the pituitary gland increased levels of the hormone lutein (LH) and FSH. FSH is responsible for stimulating the ovaries to produce 5-20 small bags called follicles and each follicle contains an immature egg.
In the process, only the healthiest egg will eventually mature, while the remaining follicles will be absorbed back into the body. Mature follicles will trigger estrogen surges to thicken the lining of the uterus. The thickened uterine lining is conditioned to create a nutrient-rich environment for the embryo (future fetus) to grow.
This phase lasts around 11-27 days depending on your monthly cycle. Generally, women experience the follicular phase for 16 days.
3. Ovulation Phase
In this phase, the ovulation process begins. Ovulation usually occurs in the middle of the cycle about 2 weeks or more before menstruation. Ovulation is the process when the ovaries release a mature egg cell. The egg then moves to the fallopian tube to the uterus to be fertilized by sperm. The life span of an egg cell is usually only about 24 hours to meet the sperm.
The ovulation phase is the best opportunity during the menstrual cycle for you to get pregnant. After 24 hours, the egg that does not meet the sperm will die. When ovulating, women usually experience thick and sticky vaginal discharge.
4. Luteal Phase
The increased hormone in the fourth phase of menstruation is to keep the lining of the uterus thick and ready to be implanted with a fertilized egg. If positive pregnant, the body will produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This hormone helps maintain the corpus luteum and keep the uterine lining thick forever.
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But if you are not pregnant, the corpus luteum will shrink and be absorbed by the lining of the uterus. Then, estrogen and progesterone levels will slowly decrease making the uterine lining eventually disintegrate. In this phase, you will experience symptoms called premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The symptoms are:
- Swollen and sore breasts
- Moods change easily
- Gain weight
- Feel like to keep eating
- Hard to sleep
The luteal phase usually lasts for 11 to 17 days. However, the average woman experiences it for 14 days.