Menstrual Cycle | A Guide to the Phases of Menstrual Cycle

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A common question that is frequently asked is “what is the menstrual cycle?” Every month during the years between the puberty phase and the menopause phase, a woman’s body undergoes a series of changes to get herself ready for a probable pregnancy. This series of events (driven by hormones) is called the menstrual cycle or period cycle, which is divided into four distinct menstrual cycle phases or menstruation phases.

During each menstrual cycle, an egg (or ovum) develops and is successfully released from the ovaries present in the woman's body. The lining of the uterus gradually sheds during a menstrual period, following which the cycle commences again.

What are the Various Menstrual Cycle Phases or Menstruation Phases?

A woman’s menstrual cycle is divided into four distinct phases:

  • Menstrual Phase
  • Follicular Phase
  • Ovulation Phase
  • Luteal Phase

The duration of each phase may differ from one woman to another, and it can alter over time.

(1) Menstrual Phase

This is the first stage of the period cycle. it's the time the menstruators get their period

When an ovum or an egg from the previous menstrual cycle does not get fertilized, there is no onset of pregnancy thus the levels of two hormones drop: oestrogen and progesterone.

The thickened uterine lining, which is supposed to support a pregnancy, is needed no longer; hence, it sheds through the passage of the vagina. During menstruation, eventually, there is a release of a combination of mucus, blood, and uterine tissue.

Common symptoms just before and during the 1st few days of the cycle are :

  • Cramps
  • Bloating
  • Tenderness of the Breasts
  • Headaches
  • Mood Swings
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Lower Back Pain

On average, women are in this menstruation phase of their cycle for anywhere between three and seven days. That said, some women may have longer period cycles in comparison with others.

(2) Follicular Phase

When it comes to menstruation phases, the follicular phase commences on the first day of your period and ends when the ovulatory phase begins.

The phase begins when the hypothalamus region of the brain sends a signal to the pituitary gland to release FSH (or follicle-stimulating hormone). This hormone is responsible for the stimulation of your ovaries to produce around 5-20 small sacs known as follicles. Every follicle contains an immature ovum.

Only the high-quality follicle matures. On certain rare occasions, a woman will have two mature ova. The rest of the follicles degenerate

The follicle that is maturing sets off a surge in oestrogen, which leads to thickening of the lining of the uterus which ultimately enables a nutrient-dense environment in the uterus for a fertilized embryo to develop and grow into a pregnancy.

When it comes to menstrual cycle phases, the follicular phase lasts for around 16 days on an average. It may also range from 11-27 days, based on your period cycle.

(3) Ovulation Phase

When oestrogen levels increase during the follicular phase, the pituitary gland begins releasing luteinising hormone (or LH). This is precisely what triggers the process of ovulation.

Ovulation refers to the release of a mature ovum by the ovary. This ovum travels down the fallopian tube towards the uterus to be eventually fertilised by a sperm.

One can become pregnant only during the ovulation phase of your menstrual cycle. Ovulation begins when one experiences the below-mentioned symptoms:

  • A slight increase in basal temperature of the body
  • Thicker vaginal discharge that may have the texture of egg whites

Ovulation takes place at around Day 14 if you have a period cycle of 28 days: exactly in the middle of your menstrual cycle. It lasts for nearly 24 hours. With the passage of a day, the ovum will be shed or it dissolves if it fails to get fertilised.

(4) Luteal Phase

After the follicle releases its ovum, it changes into a corpus luteum which releases two specific hormones: oestrogen and progesterone. The increase in the levels of hormones keeps the lining of your uterus thick and ready for the implantation of a fertilised egg.

In the presence of pregnancy, the fertilized egg will successfully produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This is the specific hormone to be detected by pregnancy tests. It helps in maintaining the corpus luteum, while simultaneously ensuring that the uterine lining stays thick.

If one does not get pregnant, the corpus luteum will eventually shrink away and then be shrunk. This leads to a decrease in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone , which are responsible for the onset of your period. The lining of your uterus will be shed during your menstruation.

During this phase, if you do not get pregnant, you could experience PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) symptoms, which include:

  • Bloating
  • Tenderness or Swelling of the Breasts
  • Changes in mood
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Food cravings
  • Changes in sexual drive
  • Trouble falling asleep

This luteal phase lasts for around 11-27 days, with the average length being 14 days.

Throughout the process of this menstrual cycle, proper care of menstrual health and hygiene is highly important. However, due to the lack of information and knowledge, menstruators have to face hardships till today. Ujaas, which is a menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative by Aditya Birla Education Trust, aims to put an end to period shame and period poverty, which is widespread throughout the country.

Identifying Common Problems

Each woman’s menstrual cycle is different. Some get their period on the same day each month, while others experience some irregularity. Some bleed more heavily or for a longer duration in comparison with others.

Moreover, one’s menstrual cycle may also change during certain phases of your life. For instance, it can get more irregular as you get closer to menopause.

One effective way to tell if you are having any problems with your menstrual cycle phases is to track your periods.

Mentioned below are a few signs that there is a problem with your menstrual cycle:

  • Skipping or complete stoppage of your periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Bleeding for more than 7 days
  • Your periods are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
  • You experience bleeding between periods (which is heavier than spotting).

The Bottomline

Because no two women’s menstrual cycle is the same, what is normal for someone may not be the same for someone else. It is vital to get familiar with your period cycle, including the timing and duration. Lookout for any changes in the menstrual cycle phases or menstruation phases and report them to your doctor, if the need arises.