Menstrual cycle in girls
Menstruation, or period, as it is more commonly known, is a normal part of the reproductive process. Menstruation is essentially the shedding of the lining of the womb, which happens once a month, or every 28 days, as part of the reproductive cycle.
When a girl reaches the age of puberty, the ovaries start to release an egg every month. If the egg if unfertilised, i.e. if the girl does not get pregnant, then the egg, along with the lining of the uterus, is shed from the body through the vagina. This process is called the menstrual cycle.
Girls usually start menstruating anytime between the ages of 8 and 16. The bleeding lasts for about 5-7 days, and the flow is different for every woman. Some girls experience intense symptoms like cramps and pain, while others do not feel anything except some discomfort. Since the menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones like oestrogen and progesterone, it can even affect your mood.
Menstruation cycle and phases
The menstruation cycle begins with the rise of the levels of oestrogen, or the ‘female hormone’. This hormone is responsible for ensuring the lining of the uterus is thick enough to support the pregnancy, if it happens. At this time, an egg in one of the ovaries reaches maturity, and is dispelled from the ovary. This is called ovulation.
The egg travels down the fallopian tube, towards the uterus. This journey takes a few days, during which, a woman can get pregnant if she has sexual intercourse. On reaching the uterus, the egg embeds itself there. If it remains unfertilised, it breaks apart, and is discarded from the body, along with the uterine lining.
Follicular phase – During this first phase of the ovarian cycle, the ovarian follicles are stimulated by the FSH hormone, and they mature and get ready to release an egg. The latter part of this phase overlaps with the proliferative phase of the uterine cycle.
Ovulation phase – In the second phase, the mature egg is released from the ovarian follicles into the oviduct. The egg is then swept into the fallopian tube by the fimbria and starts travelling down towards the uterus.
Luteal phase - The final phase of the ovarian cycle is the start of menstruation. In the absence of fertilisation, the hormone levels fall, the egg disintegrates, and the period starts.
Proliferative phase – In this phase, oestrogen causes the lining of the uterus to grow. This happens alongside the maturity of the follicles, as the uterus prepares to receive the egg.
Secretory phase - Corresponding to the luteal phase of the ovarian cycle, during this phase, the body prepares to support pregnancy by increasing blood flow and uterine secretions, and reducing the contractility of the smooth muscle in the uterus to ensure the egg is firmly planted.
Before the onset of menstruation, your body will prepare for the period, and give you signs that it is going to start. These symptoms are collectively called premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or premenstrual tension (PMT), as they are emotional, psychological, and physical all at the same time.
Some of the symptoms include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Headache including migraine
- Pain, especially backache
- Feeling of being low or depressed
- Lack of concentration
- Tenderness in the breast, or even some swelling
- Slight weight gain
- The tendency to binge eat
Most of the time, these symptoms will disappear as soon as the periods start. Sometimes though, they can continue into the period, when the bleeding occurs. They soon disappear though, until the next cycle begins.
Factors like stress, smoking, unhealthy lifestyle and lack of nutrition, high caffeine consumption, and a family history of PMS contribute to the kind of symptoms you have, their intensity, and duration.
Simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in alleviating the milder symptoms, and the discomfort they cause.