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What is a typical menstrual period like?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Menstruation occurs as the woman's reproductive system prepares her body for pregnancy. A woman produces a hormone called estrogen that makes the walls of the uterus thicken to provide nourishment and safety for the embryo if a pregnancy occurs. When the ovaries release an egg, it travels through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. If no sperm fertilizes the egg, it detaches from the uterine wall and the thick lining is shed. The shedding of the uterine wall is the beginning of the menstrual cycle.

Some girls begin menstruation as early as 8. Others don't begin until the age of 15. The average age for the beginning of menstruation in the United States is 12. For many girls, the appearance of breast growth, sometimes called breast buds, indicates that menstruation will begin within 2 years.

Some menstrual problems may get worse as you get older. Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome—including erratic periods, acne, and symptoms associated with high testosterone such as abundant facial hair—usually appear at puberty and get worse over time, although treatment can help.

However, some menstrual problems may get better as you get older. Teenagers are more likely than older women to get menstrual cramps, for example, but the cramps usually diminish with age and may go away completely after the birth of a child.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.