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What is a typical menstrual period like?

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.

Dr. Dawn Marcus
Neurologist

The menstrual cycle is necessary for reproduction. It typically is divided into the menstruation, follicular and luteal phases. The length of each of these three phases can vary from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle. The average complete menstrual cycle is about 28 days.

During the follicular phase, estrogen gradually increases, and the lining of the uterus thickens. Follicles in the ovaries develop, each containing an ovum, or egg, waiting to be fertilized. After several days of development, one or two follicles continue to develop, while the others shrink and die.

About mid-cycle, a hormone called luteinizing hormone surges, signaling the beginning of the luteal phase. Increasing levels of luteinizing hormone cause the dominant follicle to release its egg. This is termed ovulation. After the egg is released, it lives for 24 hours or less if it is not fertilized. Once released, the rest of the follicle begins to produce the hormone progesterone. This hormone prepares the uterine lining for potential implantation to establish a pregnancy if the egg is fertilized. If implantation doesn't occur within 2 weeks, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This causes the uterus to shed its lining, resulting in menstrual bleeding.

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Flow is generally heavier during the beginning of your period and gradually gets lighter. It is normal to see small blood clots in your period; they may be small pieces of the endometrium. If the clots are larger than a quarter, however, this could be a sign of abnormal bleeding. Similarly, if you have to change your pad or tampon more than five times a day, or if you are soaking through every hour, your bleeding is excessive.

This content originally appeared on doctoroz.com.

During your period, you shed the thickened uterine lining and extra blood through the vagina. Your period may not be the same every month. It may also be different than other women's periods. Periods can be light, moderate, or heavy in terms of how much blood comes out of the vagina. This is called menstrual flow. The length of the period also varies. Most periods last from 3 to 5 days. But, anywhere from 2 to 7 days is normal.

For the first few years after menstruation begins, longer cycles are common. A woman's cycle tends to shorten and become more regular with age. Most of the time, periods will be in the range of 21 to 35 days apart.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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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.