A menstrual period is vaginal bleeding that occurs at the end of the menstrual cycle. Each month, the female body prepares itself for a possible pregnancy. The uterus develops a thicker lining, and the ovaries release an egg that can be fertilized by sperm.
Menstrual health and complications
Monthly or regular periods are a sign your cycle is normal. Your body is working to prepare for a possible pregnancy. Some people don’t have regular periods. Intense exercise or certain medical conditions can lead to irregular periods.
Breast tenderness is another common period symptom. It can peak in the days just before menstruation starts. A surge in the hormones estrogen and progesterone leads to enlarged breast ducts and swollen milk glands. The result is soreness and swelling.
Meanwhile, period pain (also called dysmenorrhea, aka “cramps”) is another common symptom. More than half of menstruating people experience some pain around their period, with some estimates saying as much as 84 percent.
Prostaglandins are the cause of this pain. These are chemicals that trigger muscle contractions in your uterus. These hormones help the body shed the excess uterine lining, which can cause pain and cramping in the first days of your period.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
This is a series of symptoms that typically occur in the week or two before the start of a period. Symptoms can include:
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
PMDD is similar to PMS, but is more severe. It can cause:
severe mood shifts
lasting anger or irritability
Experts estimate about 5 percent of women experience PMDD.
Poor menstrual hygiene
Poor menstrual hygiene is also a health concern during your period. Blood and tissue loss during a period can lead to bacterial issues. This can pose a serious health issue when or if menstrual products aren’t available or basic sanitation utilities aren’t accessible, such as clean water.
This is both a personal cost to the individual and an environmental cost to the planet. Many of these products don’t easily degrade in landfills.
However, more than 16.9 million American women live in poverty and may struggle with access to menstrual products and medications that treat symptoms.
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