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World Menstrual Hygiene Day: What About Menstruation?

The 28th of May is World Menstrual Day, or otherwise known as, Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Why are we talking about it? Of course, because it is the other side of menopause for women: the menstrual cycle. All women, so we are talking about 50% of the total population, have a period that can begin from between 10-16 years old, this is called menarche, and ends with menopause, when you are between 50-51 years old (but can vary). So, we are talking of about thirty five to forty years of menstruation. We have something like four hundred and eighty menstrual cycles each one of us, excluding pregnancy of course, which will diminish the total number of cycles. There are some aspects to be considered, and the reason why there is a world menstrual hygiene day to educate us on this important part of our lives. This topic along with menopause, is still a huge taboo in many countries (men hate talking about it….you know I always blame them). Talking about it, raises awareness and understanding.

First of all, what does it mean to have a healthy period? Let’s start by saying that your menstrual cycle says a lot about your health, so it is very important to understand what is normal and what should alert you to speak to a doctor. The menstrual cycle is a process that has different phases. Each month, one of the ovaries releases an egg, and this process is called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn’t fertilized, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) sheds through the vagina. This is a menstrual period. Hormonal fluctuation takes place through the menstrual cycle, with effects that are different for each and every woman. Having said that, what is a normal cycle?

The menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of the period, until the first day of the following one. The length is variable between women, and it is considered normal everything between 21 and 35 days which lasts anything between 2 and 7 days. For the first months after the menarche, periods are usually irregular and longer. Then they adjust with time. Your menstrual cycle may be regular, about the same length each month, or somewhat irregular, and your period might be either light, heavy, painful or pain-free, long or short, and still be considered normal. Within a quite broad range, “normal” is what’s usually normal for you, considering changes that happening with age, pregnancy, stress also certain medications. Moreover, certain types of contraception could interfere with your period, and also, approaching menopause can also.

What are then the syndromes associated with unhealthy periods?

Endometriosis.

Is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally constitutes the lining of the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — are able to grow outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. In very rare cases, endometrial tissue may spread beyond pelvic organs. Since endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, this cannot be eliminated with the menstrual cycle causing the tissue to be trapped inside the body. This causes inflammation and other problems, including painful periods and fertility problems. Luckily many treatments are available to help this issue.

PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)

This is an endocrine system disorder. Women with PCOS may have irregular periods and also enlarged ovaries containing smaller collections of fluid — called follicles — located in each ovary. This is visible during an ultrasound examination.

Premature Ovarian Failure (now called Insufficiency)

Premature ovarian failure refers to the loss of normal ovarian function before the age of 40. It can occur as early as 16-17 years of age. Women who have premature ovarian failure, may have irregular or occasional periods for years.

PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease)

This is in infection of the upper part of the reproductive organs and can cause irregular menstrual bleeding. It is usually an infection that spreads from the vagina. Luckily it can be easily treated.

Uterine Fibroids.

Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous growths of the uterus. They can cause heavy menstrual periods and prolonged menstrual periods. So, if your periods change all of the sudden it’s better having a scan and seeking medical advice to determine if you have fibroids.

Eating disorder

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, or extreme weight loss and increased physical activity can disrupt menstruation, as your body is trying to save energy for survival.

These are just some of the problems associated with unhealthy periods. Most of them can be treated to cure the symptoms and make your periods regular again. Some of them are irreversible, such as Premature Ovarian Insufficiency, which can lead to early onset menopause. Some others have to be accepted and embraced like endometriosis. So, if you think you have any of these anomalies due to very strange patterns with your periods or extreme pain during your period it’s better to speak to you doctor right away.

Lastly, as we said in the first part of the article, women can have up to 480 menstrual cycles during their lifetime. That means using a lot of tampons/pads which are detrimental for the environment. Moreover, they are often treated with chemicals that are harsh for the vulva (if you are using pads) or vagina (if you are using tampons) microenvironment. Are there more sustainable alternatives? Of course they are. We have: washable pads, menstrual cups, and specific underwear that can be used during menstruation.

Washable pads, are simply pads in cotton or very absorbent fabric that can be washed. They are a little bit bulkier, but environmentally friendly and also they are more economical.

Menstrual cups are a good alternative also, especially for women who are used to wearing tampons. It is pretty cheap and reusable making them environmentally friendly also.

Then we have specific underwear. This is a very recent alternative, which consists of underwear that come in a range of different styles from boy-shorts to thongs, including two patented technologies. The first one absorbs different amounts of blood, and the other absorbs different amounts of urine. This underwear is made of anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, absorbent and leak resistant fabrics.

So, there are alternatives. It is just a matter of finding the one that works best for you.