Your cycle

You’ve had it for years, but that doesn’t mean you know much about your period. So here’s the lowdown.


Your Cycle: Fact or Fiction

 

You’ve had it for years, but that doesn’t mean you know much about your period. So here’s the lowdown.

• Everyone’s cycle is—or should be—every 28 days. True or false?

• A period lasts for one week. True or false?

• You cannot get pregnant during your period. True or False?

• You won’t menstruate if you’re pregnant. True or False?

• PMS is all in the mind. True or False?

• You lose a lot of blood during your period. True or False?

• If the blood is an odd colour or there is clotting, it may signal a problem. True or False?

• You should not leave a tampon in overnight; it’s best to use a pad. True or False?

• You can’t have intercourse during your period. True or False?

• The pill can help regulate menstrual cycles. True or False?

Everyone’s cycle is—or should be—every 28 days.

FALSE

Your cycle may not run like clockwork, but a normal cycle lasts 24–35 days. Weight gain, stress and exercise can all affect the length. For those who’ve never fully understood the whole counting process, it goes like this: Day 1 is the first day of bleeding, with the cycle lasting until the first day of the next period. Usually there are 14 days before ovulation and 14 days after. An irregular cycle length is normally not a problem, unless you are trying to become pregnant. In that case, timing is everything.

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A period lasts for one week.

FALSE

A period can last anywhere from a couple of days to a full week. The length of time varies from woman to woman and is dependent on a number of factors, such as the birth-control pill, medications, your size and age and any uterine abnormalities. (For example, the pill lightens menstrual flow, and the production of estrogen/testosterone increases with obesity, which in turn leads to more bleeding.) If your period consistently lasts longer than seven days, see your doctor.

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You cannot get pregnant during your period.

TRUE

You can’t get pregnant during your period—if you have regular periods, occurring when you expect them to occur (that is, every 28 days). Be aware of something known as mid-cycle bleeding, however, says Dr. Douglas Black, head of the division of general obstetrics and gynecology at The Ottawa Hospital. Usually a sign of mild hormonal imbalance, bleeding mid-cycle (Day 14), during the time of ovulation, mimics a period. (See your doctor if it persists with every cycle.) During this time, it’s possible to conceive, so take the necessary precautions to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

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You won’t menstruate if you’re pregnant.

TRUE

Once fertilization has taken place, most pregnant women will not bleed. Sometimes bleeding can occur when the fertilized egg is implanted onto the uterine wall—this can mimic a light period—but during pregnancy there should be no bleeding. If you know you’re pregnant and detect blood, see your physician immediately.

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PMS is all in the mind.

FALSE

And don’t you want to belt the guy who just said that? Premenstrual syndrome affects most women at some point. It’s believed to be caused by many factors, both psychological and endocrinological—one factor being the effects of progesterone, a naturally occurring hormone released into the blood during the second half of the cycle (Day 14 to 28). Increased levels of progesterone are what can bring on those chocolate cravings and mood swings that plague us prior to our period. We may also suffer anxiety, tension, depression and irritability, along with physical symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, weight gain, headaches, pelvic pain and breast tenderness. Depending on your symptoms, you may feel like a water-retaining Wicked Witch of the West or a bleary-eyed Mary Poppins. The key to identifying PMS and navigating it with some sanity, says Dr. Ann Marie Long of the Royal Alexandra Hospital, Capital Health in Edmonton is to remember that these symptoms go away. Get familiar with your own symptoms and you’ll be better able to deal with them.

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You lose a lot of blood during your period.

FALSE

Most women lose about 30 mL, or about two tablespoons, of blood each month. In some cases, it can be as much as 80 mL (about five tablespoons). The quantity is dependent on many factors, including age, physical condition and prescription medications. Excessive blood loss should be checked out by your doctor. Hemoglobin below the accepted level, along with signs of anemia, pallor, chronic fatigue and lack of energy, may signal your iron level needs to be checked.

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If the blood is an odd colour or there is clotting, it may signal a problem.

FALSE

Blood can be either dark or bright, and the appearance of clots is also normal. The colour of your menstrual flow depends on the amount of bleeding, the rate of flow and the contact the blood has with outside air. Dark blood has merely been around for a while, possibly in contact with air in the vagina, and it is not dangerous.

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You should not leave a tampon in overnight; it’s best to use a pad.

FALSE

The hazards have little to do with night or day but, rather, the amount of time your tampon is inserted. Because a tampon should be changed every 6–8 hours, the danger is that you may sleep longer than that. Leaving a tampon in too long can lead to toxic shock syndrome, which is rare but can happen. Symptoms include a very high fever, diarrhea, muscle discomfort, dizziness and a sunburn-like rash. Overall, it is best to use cotton tampons and change them regularly. As for pads versus tampons, it’s a personal decision.

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You can’t have intercourse during your period.

FALSE

You can do it whenever you please! There’s no danger involved there. (Always with protection, of course, unless you’re with a monogamous and disease-free partner.)

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The pill can help regulate menstrual cycles.

TRUE

Gynecologists will often prescribe oral contraceptives to help regulate menstrual cycles. They can also be used to ease PMS and unusually heavy flow. But the pill is not necessarily a silver bullet. “Taking [it] provides very high hormone levels and causes an artificial cycle,” says Dr. Jerilynn Prior, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia and author of Estrogen’s Storm Season: Stories of Perimenopause. Issues such as heavy flow, unpredictability and periods too far apart or too close together, she says, are caused by lack of coordination of the hypothalamus (a master gland deep in the brain), pituitary gland and ovaries. Dr. Prior suggests that taking the natural bio-identical hormone progesterone for the last 14 days of the cycle, or for 14 days on and 14 days off, is a smarter way to deal with the problem (for more information, see Cyclic Progesterone Therapy.

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