Understanding the Menstrual Cycle and Alleviating Symptoms

Posted at 7:07 PM on Jun 3, 2024

Northwest Family Clinics – Menstrual Cycle

Aunt Flo, that time of the month, lady time, or period—whatever you prefer to call it—can be a dreaded time for many women. Whether you're a teenager experiencing your first period or someone who's had them for years, understanding your cycle and knowing how to alleviate symptoms can make a world of difference. So, let's dive in and demystify this monthly visitor.

What is the Menstrual Cycle?

The menstrual cycle is a natural process that prepares your body for pregnancy each month. It's regulated by hormones (chemical substances that act as messenger molecules in the body) and typically lasts about 28 days, although it can range from 21 to 35 days for many women.

Phases of the Menstrual Cycle:

Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5): This is when your period occurs. The lining of the uterus sheds, resulting in menstrual bleeding. You might experience cramping, fatigue, and mood swings during this time.

Follicular Phase (Days 1-13): Overlapping with the menstrual phase, this phase continues until ovulation (when your ovary releases one mature egg). To do this, the pituitary gland in the brain releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates an ovary to mature one of its many follicles, which then releases a mature egg when the time is right. 

Ovulation (Day 14): Around the middle of your cycle, when the time is right, luteinizing hormone (LH) is released from the Pituitary Gland in your brain (often called the LH surge), which causes the mature egg to be released from the ovary. This is when you're most fertile.

Luteal Phase (Days 15-28): After ovulation when the mature egg is released, the empty follicle left behind in the ovary transforms into something called the corpus luteum, which produces a hormone called progesterone. This hormone thickens the uterine lining, preparing it for a possible pregnancy. If the egg isn't fertilized, the corpus luteum breaks down and goes away, leading to a sudden drop in progesterone, which signals the start of your next period. Additionally, the premenstrual cycle typically occurs during this phase, which spans from ovulation to the start of menstruation. This phase lasts about two weeks, but the most noticeable symptoms usually appear in the last few days before menstruation begins.  Most women are familiar with various premenstrual symptoms (PMS).

Common Menstrual Symptoms

Northwest Family Clinics – Menstrual Symptoms

Many women experience a variety of symptoms throughout their cycle, especially during the menstrual and premenstrual phases:

  • Cramps (Dysmenorrhea) are caused by the uterus contracting to shed its lining.
  • Bloating, which hormonal changes can lead to water retention.
  • Mood swings, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone can affect your mood.
  • Fatigue, due to hormonal shifts and blood loss.
  • Headaches as changes in hormone levels can trigger migraines or tension headaches.

Alleviating Menstrual Symptoms

While menstrual symptoms are common, they don't have to be unbearable. Here are some tips to help you manage them:

Pain Relief

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help reduce cramps and inflammation.
  • A warm bath or a heating pad on your lower abdomen can relax muscles and alleviate pain.
  • Some find relief with herbal teas like chamomile, ginger, or peppermint, which can soothe cramps and improve digestion.

Dietary Adjustments

  • Drinking plenty of water can reduce bloating and help with overall hydration.
  • Incorporate foods high in magnesium (nuts, seeds, leafy greens) and vitamin B6 (bananas, potatoes) to ease symptoms.
  • Limit caffeine and sugar, as these can worsen bloating and mood swings, so it's best to consume them in moderation.


  • Engaging in regular physical activity can help reduce the severity of menstrual symptoms. Exercise releases endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and mood lifters.
  • Gentle yoga or stretching can improve blood flow and ease muscle tension.

Stress Management

Hormonal Birth Control

  • These can regulate your cycle, reduce the severity of menstrual symptoms, and even lighten periods. Speak to your healthcare provider to see if this option is right for you.

When to Seek Help

While it's normal to experience some discomfort during your period, severe pain or other significant symptoms could indicate an underlying condition, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If you experience any of the following, it's important to consult with your doctor:

  • Extremely heavy bleeding
  • Periods that last longer than seven days
  • Severe pain that doesn't respond to over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Symptoms that disrupt your daily life

Understanding your menstrual cycle and knowing how to alleviate symptoms can empower you to take charge of your health and well-being. Remember, every woman's cycle is unique, so what works for one person may not work for another. Don't hesitate to contact your doctor for personalized advice and support. Here's to smoother cycles and feeling your best all month long!