What you need to know about periods

Half of the world’s population gets a period, and yet menstruation is not a subject that most people talk about openly. That can leave many women feeling that their periods is a topic they should feel embarrassment over.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of or hidden,” Nita Landry, MD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

To shed some light on the topic, Landry breaks down what happens during a woman’s menstrual cycle and how there is a wide range of what’s considered normal.

“Most girls start their periods between the ages of 12 and 14 years,” she says. “And menopause,” which marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle, “typically starts around 51.”

The average menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days, Landry explains. But don’t worry if your cycles are shorter or longer than that. “Cycles that are 21 to 45 days are normal,” she says. If you’re concerned about your cycle length, consult your doctor.

On day one of your period, you’ll start to bleed, which will last for two to seven days. “Hormone levels are low at this point so you may feel a little bit depressed or cranky,” Landry says. “This is a good time to eat healthy because salty and fatty foods can make your cramps worse, and so can caffeine.”

Landry says it’s especially important to get enough sleep during your period. “Because when you don’t, you’re stressed, and that can raise your cortisol levels, which can make your period heavier and more painful.”

Ovulation — when an unfertilized egg is released from the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube where it can then be fertilized by sperm — typically happens around day 14 of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

“Over the next week or so you’ll have some more hormonal changes,” she says, “and sometimes those changes can cause PMS symptoms.” These include bloating, breast tenderness, and mood changes.

Not sure if what you’re experiencing is actually PMS? Try keeping a record of your symptoms, which you can share with your physician. “The key is knowing your body,” she says. “Know how your hormones make you feel and track your symptoms so you can talk to your doctor. If you and your doctor figure out you have PMS that causes depression, an antidepressant might be helpful. And birth control pills can also help with some of those PMS symptoms.”

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