What if you could keep tabs on your hormonal health throughout your reproductive life? What if more awareness was placed on your menstrual cycle, so you knew when to visit your GP with concern, instead of having a hormonal health condition fly under the radar for years, only to have to deal with the issue later in life once you try for a baby.
Well, there has been a movement to include the menstrual cycle as a vital sign as it can give indications of physiological abnormalities. Just as elevated blood pressure can be a warning sign of an increased chance of a heart attack. So your menstrual cycle can be an indicator of your hormonal health.
What are vital signs?
They are measurements of your bodies normal functions that can be used to detect or manage medical conditions. For example, measuring vital signs can indicate if you are at an increased chance for heart attack, cardiovascular abnormalities, anxiety, respiratory disease, fever or hypothermia. (2020 The Johns Hopkins University).
The idea that the menstrual cycle could be a vital sign makes absolute sense, it is a normal bodily function that can be measured on a monthly basis.
Imagine your menstrual cycle as your monthly report card giving you an indication of your reproductive health and wellbeing.
Now that is health sovereignty!
As a woman whether you want to conceive in your lifetime or not having a healthy menstrual cycle is part of having a healthy functioning body. The menstrual cycle is associated with fertility and fertility is vitality and who doesn't want vitality!
The menstrual cycle is made up of four phases
1. Menses: The bleeding phase, is when your uterine lining sheds
2. Follicular: When dormant follicles develop to be released at ovulation
3. Ovulation: An oocyte (egg) is released from the follicle and swept into the fallopian tubes
4. Luteal: The uterine lining thickens readily for implantation.
Let's take a deeper look at menstruation what's normal and what's not.
Menstruation is the beginning and the end of your menstrual cycle. At the end of the luteal phase if pregnancy has not occurred there will be a drop in progesterone (pro-gestation) and declining levels of other hormones, this tells your body that conception did not occur and the uterine lining which had just gotten all juicy and plump ready for implantation will shed from the uterus, this is why you bleed.
The first full day of bleeding is classed as day one of your menstrual cycle, what you are noticing here is a mixture of blood, fluids and skin.
Day 1 of your cycle begins on the first full day of bleeding, not the days of light spotting which can occur pre-menstruation. Bleeding should last between 3-7 days
How much blood you produce is subjective to the individual and ranges from 25 to 80 mL a period with "normal" menstruation being around 50mL. Heavy bleeding can be a sign of fibroids or endometriosis and very light and scanty bleeding can be a sign of low oestrogen. Regular pads and tampons hold 5mL, super tampons hold 10mL and menstrual cups hold 30mL.
Bright red/cranberry - this is a healthy colour of menstrual blood.
Dark red/burgundy - could indicate inflammation in the body.
Brown - endometrial lining not shedding away completely which then oxidises
Light pink/watery - hormonal imbalance or perimenopause.
Small clots are common in menstrual blood. Clots that are larger than a 10c piece may be a sign of low iron, endometriosis, or anticlotting issues.
Endometrial cells which thicken in the uterus during your cycle also produce prostaglandins which are hormones involved in inflammation, wound healing, and muscle contraction. When the endometrium sheds the prostaglandins are released and cause muscle contractions which enable the flow of blood from the uterus. A normal and clever mechanism our body is designed to perform. However, if there are excess prostaglandins this can cause dysmenorrhea also known as a painful period. More about this in another article.
This is the beginning of understanding your menstrual cycle, there are many more markers you can attune yourself with to ensure your monthly cycle is healthy and your reproductive health is vital. Taking a note or your mood, energy levels, as well as changes in digestion and sleep, can all be indicators of your hormonal health.
What do you do now?
Start by recording your monthly cycle, whether that is in an app such as Kindara (my favourite because you can personalised details and symptoms for the whole month). If you discover anything that seems "unnormal" to you. Get in touch with a qualified practitioner who understands menstrual health to support you bringing your cycle back into balance