Getting your period is not exactly a pleasant experience — few look forward to experiencing bloating, headaches and fatigue.
But there’s more to your menstrual cycle than just a week of discomfort. It actually lasts a month and repeats again and again. Thus, you’re pretty much always being affected by your cycle. Dr. Staci Tanouye is a licensed OB-GYN and she spoke to In The Know to demystify what’s actually going on in your body during your menstrual cycle.
“Many people are confused by the menstrual cycle and think it’s just limited to your period, those few days that you bleed once a month,” Dr. Tanouye tells In The Know. “In reality, it’s a very complex system of communication between the brain, the ovary, which then talks to the uterus and lasts the entire month.”
The ovaries and uterus each have separate cycles that occur in three phases.
“They talk to each other and interact, but their phases are separate,” she says. “The ovarian phases of the menstrual cycle start with the first half, which is the follicular phase.”
Next, the follicle develops which causes ovulation during the middle of the ovarian cycle.
“The second half of the ovarian cycle is the postovulatory phase where the ovulation happens,” she says. “The ovary that’s left over is waiting to see if a pregnancy will occur.”
Dr. Tanouye says that during its cycle, the ovaries are “talking” to the uterus to tell it what to do. The uterus also has three phrases. It starts with menses or your period where “everything cleans out and recycles itself.”
“Then it moves into the proliferative phase with the ovaries telling the uterus to start growing its lining and preparing for when the ovaries ovulate,” the doctor explains. “That triggers the uterus then to go into the secretory phase where the lining of the uterus is also preparing for a potential pregnancy.”
After that, the entire cycle repeats itself from the beginning. The first few days of your period tend to be when hormones are at their lowest. That’s usually what causes you to feel tired and have headaches.
“Then as our estrogen starts building, we start feeling more energized and feeling better,” Dr. Tanouye says. “After that ovulation occurs, progesterone and estrogen start kind of rising together, we get more hormonal symptoms with that thing, such as bloating, fatigue, moodiness.”
The doctor encourages people to track their periods as well as all of their symptoms throughout the entire month. Your OB-GYN can then view your symptoms and correlate them to what’s happening in your body.
“While every menstrual cycle is unique, we also have a lot of similarities to each other,” she says. “So don’t forget, we’re all in this together and we can all relate to each other if we just have each other’s back.”
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