Questions You May Have About Menstruation

July 23, 2021

When it comes to menstruation you may have many questions or wonder if your experiences are considered “normal.” With that being said we will cover a couple of topics here. Plus, talk about both PMS and PMDD.  Do you know if you suffer from PMS or PMDD?  Also, if you have children, how should you address these topics with them?  

Why do we call it menstruation?

So, why do we call it menstruation or menstrual cycle?  Basically, in Latin “mensis” means “month.” The Old English equivalent was “monaðblot” which is essentially “month-blood.”

What is considered a “normal” period?

You may have learned in conversation with family members or friends that everybody’s period is a little different.  Some people experience periods that last only two to three days and it is very light.  Maybe they don’t really have cramps or they don’t experience PMS.  Then you talk to some that have extremely heavy periods and it can last up to seven days.  With that, they experience horrible cramps, backaches, and migraines. 

When your friend tells you they tend to cry at what seems to be the smallest things.  Like the time they had this overwhelming craving for a chicken sandwich with waffle fries and a chocolate milkshake.  They hopped in the car and drove to the nearest Chick-fil-A only to find out that it was closed…and it’s Sunday.  So she just parked the car and became a sobbing mess with giant alligator tears all over her favorite hoodie (note to self – do not have PMS on a Sunday). Yes, PMS is very real.

Ultimately, the menstrual cycle, which begins on the first day of one period to the first day of the next, isn’t the same for every woman. Menstrual flow might occur every 21 to 35 days and can last two to seven days. For the first few years after menstruation begins, long cycles are common. However, with age menstrual cycles can tend to shorten and become more regular.

Your menstrual cycle might be regular and about the same length every month.  Or it can be somewhat irregular, and your period might be light or heavy, painful or pain-free, long or short, and still be considered “normal.”  Truly, it comes down to what is considered “normal” for you.

Do I have PMS or PMDD?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)  can have signs and symptoms that include:  mood swings, breast tenderness, food cravings, fatigue, irritability, and depression. Three out of four menstruating women have experienced some form of premenstrual syndrome.

Symptoms can be somewhat predictable. The physical and emotional changes you experience with PMS can vary from mild all the way to intense.  Generally, OTC medications can help to reduce your symptoms.  Talk to your doctor about your experience and they will be able to point you in the right direction.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe, sometimes disabling extension of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Although PMS and PMDD both have very similar physical and emotional symptoms, PMDD causes extreme mood shifts that can disrupt daily activities and damage relationships.

In both cases, PMDD and PMS, symptoms usually begin seven to ten days before your period starts and continue for the first few days of your period.

Both PMDD and PMS can cause bloating, breast tenderness, fatigue, and changes in sleeping and eating habits. In PMDD, however, at least one of these emotional and behavioral symptoms stands out:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety or tension
  • Extreme moodiness
  • Marked irritability or anger

The cause of PMDD isn’t exactly clear. Underlying issues of depression and anxiety are common in both PMS and PMDD, so it’s possible that the hormonal changes that trigger a menstrual period worsen the symptoms of mood disorders.

When to talk to your children about menstruation?

Yes, children.  Both boys and girls need to have a basic understanding of what a menstrual cycle is.  Of course, it is up to your discretion when that time is.  It may be best to introduce the topic of menstruation gradually.  

For instance, your son or daughter asks you, “What’s the big blue box that says tampons on it?”  Whether it be at home or in the aisle of the grocery store.  This would be a good time to briefly describe what they are used for.   If they ask you in the store you may want to wait until you get in the car.  Especially, if you or your child gets easily embarrassed or if you don’t want an audience. Keep in mind that this topic is nothing to be ashamed of and relay that to them.  It is simply just a part of life.  Try to keep the dialogue as open as possible and reintroduce it in phases.  There is no need to have just one big discussion about it.  After you get through the first few sentences your child may completely tune you out and ask if they can have chicken nuggets for dinner tonight.  

If you do have a daughter, it may be best to have a period kit available for her before she has her first period.  Stock up on different types of feminine products like pads, tampons, period panties, OTC medication to reduce symptoms, and a little pouch to keep these things in her handbag or backpack.  

It is important to have discussions about menstruation and other sexual health topics with your doctor and/or children (if you have children).  These topics play a big role in your overall health.  Although they are not always the easiest conversations, there is no reason to shy away from them.  

At OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch, we provide a variety of services. No matter your age or medical history, we’ll help you feel comfortable and answer all of your reproductive health-related questions. Call us today to schedule an appointment.