The menstrual cycle is the series of changes the body goes through to prepare for a possible pregnancy. About once a month, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) starts to thicken. Then an ovary releases an egg. If the egg is fertilized by sperm and attaches to the lining of the uterus (implants), pregnancy begins. If the egg isn't fertilized or a fertilized egg doesn't implant, the uterus sheds its lining. This is the monthly menstrual bleeding, or period. Periods happen from the early teen years until menopause, around age 50.
A normal cycle lasts from 21 to 35 days. Count from the first day of one menstrual period until the first day of your next period to find the number of days in your cycle.
You may have no discomfort during your menstrual cycles. Or you may have mild to severe symptoms. If you have problems, ask your doctor about over-the-counter medicine. It may help relieve pain and bleeding.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Keep track of the day you start your menstrual period each month. Also note how long your period lasts. If your cycle is regular, it can help you predict when you will have your next period.
- To help with symptoms, get regular exercise, eat healthy foods, and try to reduce stress. It may also help to limit food or drinks that make your symptoms worse, such as alcohol or caffeine.
To relieve menstrual cramps
- Put a warm water bottle or a warm cloth on your belly. Or use a heating pad set on low. Heat improves blood flow and may relieve pain.
- To relieve back pressure, lie down and put a pillow under your knees. Or lie on your side and bring your knees up to your chest.
- Get regular exercise. It improves blood flow, which may decrease pain.
- Ask your doctor if you can take anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Start taking the recommended dose when symptoms begin or one day before your menstrual period starts. If you are trying to become pregnant, talk to your doctor before you use any medicine.
To manage menstrual bleeding
- Tampons range from small to large, for light to heavy flow. You can place a tampon in your vagina by using the slender tube packaged with the tampon. Or you can place it with a finger. Change the tampon at least every 4 to 8 hours. This helps prevent leakage and infection.
- Pads range from thin and light to thick and super absorbent. They protect your clothing, with or without using a tampon.
- Menstrual cups are inserted in the vagina to collect menstrual flow. You remove the menstrual cup to empty it. Some are disposable and some can be washed and used again.
Tampons or menstrual cups may work well for activities that you can't use pads, such as swimming. You may have to try different products to find out what is right for you. Whichever you use, be sure to change it regularly. This helps prevent leaking or infection.
When should you call for help?
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.
Where can you learn more?
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