Oh, sure, it was all snickering fun back in junior high health class when you first learned about feminine reproduction. But now you’ve been surfing the crimson wave (thanks Cher Horowitz!) for decades — and your period remains an annoying and often-painful mystery. Before you start frantically Googling symptoms and wait for the words “early menopause” to pop up, read this period primer. (And, of course, address pressing issues with your gynecologist.)
1. PMS Can Be Remedied
Moodiness, exhaustion, cramping, migraines, diarrhea, anxiety and clumsiness are all very real signs of hormonal changes. Instead of grinding through it, be extra vigilant about your body. (Tip: Cardio can help raise endorphins and make you feel better.) Also, start using anti-inflammatory pills the day before your period or the minute you see blood. An ibuprofen can block the production of prostaglandins — which cause those horrible cramps. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol too, if you can stand it.
2. An Irregular Cycle Is … Pretty Regular
Is your clockwork-like period running late? That’s common, especially for anyone who remembers the 1980s. A woman’s period tends to change through the decades as reproduction winds down. As you age, the levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones that careen around your body during a menstrual cycle stop following their normal patterns and trigger changes, per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Lifestyle alterations can also affect these hormones, as can weight fluctuations, childbirth, a miscarriage and breastfeeding.
3. Sorry, You’re Getting Heavier
Bleeding also increases as you get older (fun!), due to a condition called adenomyosis. The glands prevent the muscle from properly contracting during the period. As a result, vessels that run through the uterine wall are not properly squeezed shut. Hence, a heavy period. Unusually runny flows can disrupt your life if you’re on your feet all day and might be a symptom of fibroids or polyps. The average woman loses about six teaspoons of blood during a period, but who’s going to sit on a toilet with a measuring cup? You’re the expert. If it feels different to you, talk to a doctor.
4. Don’t Sweat the Small (or Smelly) Stuff
Relax! With a few exceptions, the questionable things you notice during your period are totally normal. Weird color? Bright red blood means active bleeding; brown means it’s been sitting around in your body. Odor? It’s not uncommon, given that your vaginal pH levels can get thrown out of whack. Extra sensitivity down under? Yep, pain receptors change during your period. Plan bikini waxes accordingly.
5. Menopause Isn’t What You Think
A skipped period or the onset of hot flashes is likely just the start of perimenopause, the precursor to you-know-what. This can start in your late 30s and last anywhere from eight to 10 years. You haven’t reached the finish line — i.e., run out of eggs — until you’ve stopped menstruating for at least a full year. When can you throw away the tampons for good? Ask your mom when her period stopped. In this case, a beloved human is wiser than any medical book.
Everyone needs a girlfriend!
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