What Constitutes a Normal Period?

Oh, How We Waited

Remember how we wait with baited breath for our first period? If our friends started menstruation before us, then we're just a tiny bit jealous (or a bigger bit). The first period was the moment in time when we transitioned from being a girl to being a woman - regardless how old we were chronologically. Although the average age for menstruation to begin is generally 12 or 13, some girls begin much younger and others don't experience menarche until they are 14 or 15. However, if menstruation doesn't begin by the age of 16, a visit to the doctor is necessary. There may be an underlying condition that is stopping things, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It's best to get it checked out to be sure everything is okay.

Menstruation is Different for Each Woman

Menstruation is different for each woman and it can even vary a lot from month to month, yet still be normal. Generally, a menstrual cycle can vary from three weeks (21 days) to five weeks (35 days) without it being a cause for concern. The average period lasts between five and seven days, although some may be shorter or a little bit longer. If a period lasts for more than seven days, it could signal a problem and should be checked out just to be sure. When you are counting the days of your period, the first day of bleeding is counted as day one.

It takes some time for menstruation to settle into a rhythm and you won't ovulate for about two years after you start bleeding. So, during that two year period, particularly, there will be variations in the amount of menstrual flow and the timing of menstruation. Your periods may be heavy or light, and if you are using oral contraceptives, then they can have an impact upon the regularity and amount of flow you experience as well. It is not uncommon to pass clots of tissue during menstruation. Most often they are just part of the endometrium (uterine lining) that are being sloughed off because you aren't pregnant. Unless there is a lot of heavy bleeding and cramping that accompanies the clotting, it is nothing to be concerned about. During normal menstruation you will lose between two and eight tablespoons of blood. That seems hard to believe because it seems like it is a lot more.

When to Be Concerned About Your Period

Occasionally we feel concerned about our menstrual cycle for one reason or another. However, what we may think is an abnormal period is really normal menstruation. Having said that, there are times when we may be having abnormal periods. Here are some signs and symptoms of abnormal periods. If you are experiencing any of these, check in with your doctor:

· if your period cycle is longer than 31 to 35 days apart or it is closer than two weeks from day one until the next period begins

· if bleeding is so heavy you have to change pads or tampons every couple of hours

· if your period lasts for more than seven days

· if you begin having intense cramps. It is normal for a woman to have some cramping during menstruation (and some women never do get cramps), but it isn't normal to have severe cramping. This could indicate a problem that needs addressing.

· if you are younger than 11 or if you are a woman who is post-menopausal, then you need to see a doctor if you have uterine or vaginal bleeding.

· if you are 16 or older and haven't had a period yet it is important to find out the cause. Your doctor can check to determine the problem.

Don't Worry, But Get It Checked Out

There are some things that may cause you some concern but are probably nothing to be worried about:

· blood clots, actually just clots of tissue sloughing from the uterus lining, are normal and happen during menstruation. If there are huge clots and lots of bleeding, there's a problem, otherwise it is normal.

· you've started your period and then you've missed a couple or they're irregular for the first two or three years. This is normal. Your body is working out its functions and until you are ovulating regularly, your period may be irregular.

· if you are really active in sports or your diet isn't quite enough to sustain menstruation, you may have irregular periods. Your doctor will probably encourage you to eat more and to tone the activity down just a bit.

Menstruation signals the beginning of the reproductive years, when a woman will bear children. It usually lasts from early teens through the mid-50s. It is an amazing process and one that involved hormones, glands, and several organs. You can learn about the menstrual cycle by reading our article on the menstrual cycle in this section.

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