Q: What is menstruation?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Menstruation is the time of the month when a woman bleeds. It is the body’s way of shedding the uterine lining. The menstrual cycle occurs on average in periods of 21 to 35 days and is marked by shifts in hormone levels.
Q: What happens during this cycle?
Marla Ahlgrimm: At the beginning of the cycle, estrogen levels begin to rise. Estrogen, also known as the “female hormone,” is essential in allowing the lining of the uterus to thicken and grow. Once a woman ovulates, her egg travels through the fallopian tube, alternating month-to-month. Her hormone levels rise in preparation of pregnancy. If conception does not occur, this uterine lining is released through a small opening in the cervix and expelled through the vagina.
Q: What are some common issues with menstruation?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Two of the most common issues women face are amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea. The former is lack of a menstrual period for three cycles and may be the result of pregnancy, breast-feeding, excessive exercise, eating disorders or stress. Dysmenorrhea is on the opposite end of the spectrum and involves heavy and painful periods, which are triggered by an excess of the hormone prostaglandin. Dysmenorrhea and amenorrhea may also be caused by more serious medical conditions and should be discussed with your primary care physician or OB/GYN.
Q: When does a girl experience her first menstrual cycle and when do periods stop altogether?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The age of onset depends upon the particular female and her environment, with the average onset age in the United States being 12. Women typically menstruate until around their 50th birthday, when they are no longer considered of childbearing age. A girl who has not had her first period by the age of 15 or a woman that has not entered into menopause by the age of 50 should consult with their doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.