In order to understand and maintain personal health, a woman benefits from becoming more
knowledgeable of the menstrual cycle in order to understand what is normal and when a visit to
your OB/GYN is merited. Girls typically begin having menstrual periods between the ages of
eleven and fourteen; however, the onset of menstruation (menarche) can occur as early as age
ten or as late as age seventeen. Menstrual periods are often irregular during first two years. Each
woman’s body will establish its own regular menstrual cycle which can vary between every 24 to
The length of menstruation varies in relation to each woman’s lifestyle and age. Data indicate that
women in their 20s have longer periods than women in their 40s. Women who drink alcohol on a
regular basis have more frequent periods, and women who exercise and are thinner have cycles
of shorter duration. It is important to remember that each woman is unique and many factors
contribute to the length and frequency of menstrual periods. However, the average cycle is six
days, and women who take birth control pills tend to have shorter, predictable periods.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a physiological and psychological stress on the body leading to
mood swings and depression that can occur before the onset of a period. Data indicate that PMS
seriously impairs 3-5% of women but many women are at least moderately affected by the
Most women experience physical symptoms with menstruation including bloating, breast pain,
slight temporary weight gain, agitation, insomnia, gastrointestinal distress, and headaches.
Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) commonly occur as well and are caused by a uterine
hormone called prostaglandin. Several things can be done to alleviate dysmenorrhea including:
– Regular exercise helps decreases the severity of PMS.
– Ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) are effective pain-relievers.
– Heat relaxes sore muscles, such as a hot water bottle applied to the abdomen, a hot bath
or a heating pad.
– Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
– Eat food low in salt to reduce water retention.
Extremely heavy periods (menorrhagia) and the absence of periods (amenorrhea) can occur
for a variety of reasons. Women experiencing either situation should consult their physician.