What is the difference between a period and a menstrual cycle?
If you’re somebody who menstruates chances are you have heard - or even used - the term ‘menstrual cycle’ to describe your period. These terms are often used interchangeably but the truth is the period is just one part of the menstrual cycle. Yes, that’s right! There’s a lot more to the menstrual cycle than just the time of the month where you bleed. Let’s dive in, shall we?
What is a menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle is the term given to the number of hormone-driven chances the female body goes through in order to prepare for a possible pregnancy. Two hormones that play an important role in this are oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen is involved in repairing and thickening the uterus lining whilst progesterone maintains the uterine lining. The menstrual cycle can be divided into four stages:
Menstruation or the menstrual phase
- Follicular phase
- Luteal phase
The menstrual cycle in a nutshell
The menstrual phase starts when an egg from the previous cycle isn’t fertilised (a baby isn’t made). Hormone levels start to drop, the uterine lining breaks down along through the cervix and the vagina. This is a period.
Follicle stimulating hormone stimulates egg cells in the ovaries to grow. Each egg grows into a follicle and produces oestrogen. A dominant egg emerges.
Ovulation is when the mature egg is released.
Whether fertilisation takes place or not the follicle still releases an egg. The follicle closes and forms a hormone secreting structure called the corpus luteum. If a pregnancy doesn’t occur, it reabsorbs into the body. Hormone levels decrease which triggers menstruation and the cycle begins again.
What is a normal cycle?
Although everyone is different and develops at different rates, a period that happens every 21 to 35 days is considered a typical regular cycle. For the period itself, most people find it lasts 3 - 5 days on average.
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