3 Things You Don’t Know About Your Period That You Should

Article by Taylor Bell /
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June 14, 2016 /
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Though most women experience having a period at some point in their life, stigmas surrounding period talk and exaggerated and untrue portrayals of menstruation in the media keep a lot of women (and men) in the dark about what actually happens during the time of the month.
“The regularity, normalcy and uneventfulness of real life menstruation is rarely portrayed on screen,” Dr. Lauren Rosewarne told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Instead, it’s treated as traumatic, embarrassing, distressing, offensive, comedic or thoroughly catastrophic.”

While discussion about PMS and other embarrassing things related to periods tend to dominate narratives about menstruation, there are other important aspects to consider.

Here are three important things to know about periods that aren’t commonly discussed in media.

1. Just because a woman is bleeding, it doesn’t mean she is menstruating.

Ovulation is the key to fertility. Without it, it’s pretty near impossible to get pregnant naturally.

During ovulation the most mature egg is released from a woman’s ovary and into the fallopian tube to get fertilized. It then travels down to the uterus and into the vagina. If the egg is not fertilized, then the uterus lining will shed, which results in menstruation. However, bleeding can still occur even in women who aren’t menstruating. According to the American Pregnancy Association, women who experience bleeding even without producing an unfertilized egg experience what is called an anovulatory cycle.

Although the bleeding may resemble a period, it is “not a true period, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The bleeding is caused by “a buildup in uterine lining that can no longer sustain itself or by a drop in estrogen,” according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Failure to ovulate is usually attributed to an imbalance in hormones, which can be caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder that disrupts ovulation and fertility in women. Women with PCOS ultimately produce more male hormones called androgens. These hormones interrupt the ovary’s ability to completely release an egg into the fallopian tube. Instead of the egg being released, a sac of fluid forms on top on the ovary, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Multiple cysts, like pearls, eventually form all over the ovaries. Currently, there is no cure according to the PCOS Awareness Association.

According to Medical News Today, “70 percent of ovulatory fertility issues is related to PCOS.”

2. “Irregular periods” are actually pretty regular.

First of all, a “regular” period doesn’t necessarily mean a woman menstruates every 28 days; this is just the generally expected time cycle for menstruation to occur. In reality, anything from 21 to 35 days is considered regular, according to Mayo Clinc.

However, when the interval between a cycle widely varies, then it’s considered irregular. About 30 percent of women experience these true irregular periods, said Amy Autry, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics-gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview with Everyday Health.

Although having irregular periods can be an indication of larger health problems such as PCOS, it’s not always a sure sign that a woman or her partner should start worrying.

For example, two major causes of irregular periods are stress and birth control.Stress can throw off your hormone balance, which can actually stave off your period. And birth control can temporarily stop a period from occurring all together, and “prevent hormone changes that cause cramping and bleeding,” according to Mayo Clinic. In addition, suddenly getting off birth control can totally throw you cycle for a loop. If you’ve recently stopped taking the pill, it can take “as long as six months for you body’s normal menstrual cycles to return,” Bustle reported.

3. You can fight cramps before they happen.

Getting cramps is no fun, but one of best ways to fight them is by taking an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen before they even begin. Ibuprofen helps stop the production of the hormone prostaglandins, which is what causes cramps in the first place. As ATTN: previously reported, prostaglandins signal the uterine muscles to contract in order to shed the lining of the uterus that has thickened during the course of the cycle.

But to really avoid cramps altogether, women should take ibuprofen or aspirin the moment menstruation begins, according to Lauren Streicher, an OB-GYN and associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school.

“The mistake everyone makes is that they think they should use as little medication as possible,” Streicher told BuzzFeed. “If you start to take medication the day before you get your period or the minute you see that first drop of blood, not only will it dramatically decrease cramping, but it will also decrease bleeding.”