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Period: What it reveals about health

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 210 views

The female period , also called days, rule, menstruation or menstrual bleeding, begins at the age of about 13 and lasts until around the 50th birthday. It is a sign of fertility – and that no egg cell has been fertilized. Read here what exactly a period is, what is considered normal and what you can do about menstrual pain.

what is the period

The female period describes the days of the month when women bleed from the vagina. It is part of the so-called menstrual cycle. This takes an average of 28 days.

Menstruation is controlled by female sex hormones. Every month they prepare the female body for a possible pregnancy , ensure that an egg cell is produced and the lining of the uterus is built up. The egg nests in the latter and is supplied with nutrients there.

If the egg remains unfertilized, it dies. Some of the lining of the uterus peels off and comes out along with some blood – causing the muscles of the uterus to contract and relax. This phase lasts around three to five days. If the woman takes hormonal contraceptives, she can postpone her period. For example, by not taking a break from taking the pill .

A woman will have her period up to 500 times in her life, depending on when it starts, stops or is interrupted due to certain factors. These include hormonal changes, malnutrition and competitive sports.

Missing periods: causes

In addition to pregnancy and breastfeeding, there are a few other reasons why you don’t have a period. If the menstrual period stops for more than six months, or for a period of three cycles after the woman has already had a regular period, doctors speak of (secondary) amenorrhea. Among other things, it has the following reasons:

(Premature) menopause/menopause

During menopause , the body changes hormone production. This also has an effect on the period, in that the follicles, i.e. the shells in which the egg cells mature, become fewer and fewer.

In most women, the bleeding slows down, becomes irregular, and then stops completely by the age of 50 or 51. This last bleeding is menopause. That is normal.

In some women, however, the ovaries stop working before the age of 40. Even with such premature menopause, the period stops.

competitive sport

Women who exercise very ambitiously often no longer get their period. This is probably due to the fact that the body does not have enough energy reserves for this. The metabolism shuts down to save energy. This also affects the energy for ovulation.

eating disorder

In the female body, the systems that control reproduction, appetite and eating behavior are closely linked. Accordingly, disturbed eating habits often dry up the period.

For example, in anorexic women and girls who have already had a regular menstrual cycle, amenorrhea occurs because the body loses the fat stores it needs to make reproductive hormones.

In women and girls with binge eating (binge eating disorder), experts suspect hormonal dysregulation as the reason for menstrual disorders.


Personal crises, emotional distress and constant stress can also lead to missed periods. Why this is so has not yet been finally clarified.

However, experts suspect that the concentration of hormones in the pituitary gland (gonadotropins) is reduced in the event of emotional stress, which also slows down the production of the hormones necessary for ovulation.

Missing periods during puberty

Missing a period during puberty is a bit different. It’s normal for girls not to have a period before they hit puberty. They usually get their first when they are 13 or 14, sometimes earlier, sometimes later.

If the period is still overdue at the age of 16, it is primary amenorrhea, the absence of a period without having had a period before. A doctor should clarify the cause.

Signs that your period and ovulation are coming

Probably the most well-known harbinger of the period is premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In the days before the period, it causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, exhaustion, affected women become hypersensitive, irritable, sad to depressive or feel exhausted.

Breast pain is also common before the period or a feeling of tension in the breasts. This is probably due to the fact that water is retained as a result of the change in hormones .

However, a woman who wants to become pregnant should be less interested in the start of her period than in the time of ovulation. Around this stage she is fertile and ready to conceive. This is around 12 to 16 days before your period and can be determined by the following factors:


The cervical mucus, i.e. the mucus that flows from the cervix to the vaginal opening, changes in color and consistency. If the cervical mucus is milky before your period, it will become clearer around ovulation. Instead of being sticky and viscous, it is then liquid and pulls strings.

On the other hand, if the discharge comes before your period and is pink or brownish, this is often a sign that your period is about to start.


The cervix tightens before your period, but during menstruation it is closed and further forward in the vagina. You can feel it with your finger. After that it loosens up again, on the fertile days it is soft and slightly open. It moves higher in the vagina.

body temperature

The body temperature after waking up (basal body temperature), which is usually around 36.5 degrees Celsius, increases slightly after ovulation and remains higher until the next period. Anyone who measures daily, keeps a temperature diary and at the same time checks the cervical mucus has a very reliable tool in the temperature method to determine the fertile days.

Period: duration and irregularities

Medical textbooks assume a cycle length of about 28 days. In fact, menstruation rarely follows this exact schedule. It is therefore normal for some women to get their periods every three weeks, while others only get them every five weeks.

However, if changes occur two to three cycles in a row and/or there are large deviations from the usual cycle length, go to a doctor to be on the safe side. In addition, there are other irregularities in the period:

bleeding between periods

Intermenstrual bleeding occurs in addition to normal menstrual bleeding. It can be spotting or significant additional bleeding. Slight intermenstrual bleeding is usually harmless and can be stress-related – the hormone balance then runs on the back burner. Intermenstrual bleeding while taking the pill indicates that the estrogen content of the pill is too low.

If you have heavy bleeding between periods, it is important to see a doctor. They can be an alarm signal for cysts (fluid-filled cavities) in the ovary or polyps (growths of mucous membrane) in the uterus.

bleeding after menopause

The period is actually no longer an issue, but suddenly bleeding occurs again? Then you should definitely see a doctor. The bleeding can be an indication of polyps or cancer. The former are usually harmless and rarely degenerate, but are removed as a precaution.

Spotting instead of period

If spotting occurs instead of the period, this can have various causes. Spotting is usually harmless. For example, it can trigger a pregnancy, contact bleeding through sex or medical instruments at the gynecologist’s are also possible, as well as hormonal fluctuations, stress or hormonal contraceptives such as spirals or the pill.

There are also some diseases that cause spotting, for example:

  • Fallopian tube or ovarian inflammation
  • Endometriosis (uterine lining grows outside the uterus)
  • (benign) uterine tumors
  • Cervical cancer

In these cases, you must see a doctor.

Period: what is normal?

Some women bleed profusely, some hardly at all. Some have darker blood, others lighter. The period sometimes lasts only three days, sometimes almost a week. The menstrual period is something individual, but there is a framework that is considered “normal”. You can use the following characteristics as a guide:

Period: strength

Normally, a woman loses about 60 milliliters of blood during menstruation. That’s about a third of a cup. Lighter bleeding often occurs in the first few weeks of pregnancy or while taking the pill.

Hormone fluctuations caused by stress are also sometimes to blame. In addition, weak bleeding can also be age-related, for example because estrogen levels are falling.

Heavy or long menstrual bleeding may be a side effect of the IUD. But high blood pressure or hormonal imbalances are also possible triggers. Always have heavy bleeding checked out, as it can also be a symptom of more serious illnesses, such as ulcers or cancer.

Period: color

The menstrual blood is usually medium red. On the other hand, a dark red color and thick fluid are signs of high estrogen levels. It is responsible for the uterus building up a thick mucous membrane, which leads to heavy, dark menstrual bleeding when it is shed. This is often the case in the final period before menopause.

But fibroids (benign tumors) that grow inside the uterus can also cause dark bleeding. Light pink bleeding is often a sign of low estrogen levels. The cause can be starvation, but high alcohol consumption also plays a negative role here.

Severe menstrual pain

Menstrual pain (medically called dysmenorrhea) affects many women and manifests itself in different ways. It is usually cramping pain in the abdomen and back that is accompanied by discomfort, nausea and circulatory problems. Complaints such as diarrhea or headaches often accompany this menstrual condition.

Although the pain is often very uncomfortable, it is usually not a medical concern. However, if the pain gets worse with each cycle, the doctor should check for fibroids (benign tumors) or endometriosis (growth of the lining of the uterus outside the uterine cavity).

What to do if you have problems with your period?

Two thirds of all women complain about more or less frequent symptoms during their period. They can often be cured with home remedies, but sometimes a doctor’s visit is indicated.

  • Medication : If the symptoms are too severe, you can also take a painkiller. Drugs with butylscopolamine, for example, help against cramps.
  • Vital substances : Magnesium has a muscle-relaxing effect and prevents abdominal cramps.
  • Medicinal plants : The roots of the black cohosh help with menopausal symptoms in particular, but have also been proven to treat PMS symptoms that occur before the onset of menstrual bleeding.
  • Schuessler salts : Magnesium phosphoricum is the painkiller among the Schuessler salts and is said to help against menstrual cramps.
  • Warmth : Warmth is a blessing, whether it’s in the bath or in a hot-water bottle. Tip: Mix warm water with healing earth and spread the mass on a cloth. Lay it on its stomach and cover it with a dry towel. Now rest 30 minutes.

Pregnant despite having a period: is that possible?

It is common for women not to realize they are pregnant because they continue to bleed. However, this is not a menstrual period. It’s not possible to be pregnant despite having a period.

Once the egg cell is fertilized, the corpus luteum, a hormone-producing cell cluster that would otherwise regress, remains. It produces progesterone, a female sex hormone.

This thickens the uterine lining and prevents it from breaking down. If it is maintained and the corresponding hormone production is maintained, the woman will not get her period.

Bleeding is particularly common in the first trimester of pregnancy. There are various reasons for this:

  • For example, in some cases bleeding occurs when the egg implants itself in the lining of the uterus.
  • Even if the vessels in the vagina, which have a higher blood supply, are injured during sex or a medical examination, there may be a little bleeding from the vagina.
  • The pregnancy-related hormonal changes also sometimes cause bleeding.

These causes of bleeding during pregnancy are usually harmless. Other reasons you should seek medical attention include:

  • Infections of the cervix or vagina
  • A molar pregnancy in which the development of the embryo is disturbed. The cells from which it is supposed to arise are faulty or non-existent. Instead, the cells that make up the placenta and amniotic sac overgrow.
  • An ectopic pregnancy, in which the egg implants outside of the uterus rather than in the tissues of the uterus. This usually results in an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening for the woman.
  • Bleeding can also be an early sign of miscarriage.

Postpartum period: when will it start again?

Once the baby is born, the mother’s body begins the process of regression and the associated hormonal changes. For example, it slows down the production of the sex hormones progesterone and estrogen, and boosts the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), both of which are involved in ovulation.

When exactly the period starts again after the birth also depends on whether the young mother is breastfeeding. Then your body produces the hormone prolactin longer, which is responsible for milk production and blocks ovulation.

Accordingly, it takes women who are not breastfeeding about two to three weeks after giving birth until they get their menstrual period again, and about eight weeks for mothers who are breastfeeding, depending on how the recovery progresses.

When to the doctor?

A doctor’s visit is always in order when the period differs from what you are used to, for example if:

  • the pain gets worse with each cycle or the pain comes on suddenly
  • you get spotting and bleeding between periods
  • the period is significantly heavier or lighter than usual
  • You suddenly bleed again after menopause
  • the length of the period changes noticeably
  • you notice foul-smelling, yellowish discharge
  • You have not had a period for several months in a row, even though you have had them regularly.

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