Menstruation is one of the signs of puberty. The purpose of menstruation is to prepare the women's bodies for pregnancy and childbirth. Every month, the lining of the uterus thickens to receive and nourish a fertilized egg (if a woman becomes pregnant). If, however, the egg does not become fertilized, the uterus lining is shed. This process of shedding the lining is called menstruation.

A woman's first menstrual period generally occurs between the ages of 9 and 16. The first period is called menarche. There is no way to predict when a girl will have her first period; the age at which her mother started menstruating can give a rough estimate. There is a theory that when the amount fat in the girl's body reaches a certain level, it gives the body the permission to proceed menstruating. Women who lose a lot of their body fat through athletic training may therefore, start menstruating late or menstruate infrequently. Inaddition, women who lose most of their body fat through starvation, like women with anorexia, stop menstruating. Girls who are under-nourished start their periods later than girls who are well fed. The length of each period varies. Some girls menstruate for only 3 days and some for as long as 7 or 8 days.However, the average menstrual period is 5 days. For the first year or two, periods are often irregular. For women in their 40s or 50s, the periods becomeirregular again and eventually stop. This process is known as menopause.

The biological cycle that leads to menstruation starts in the hypothalamus, agland in the brain. It releases a special hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone Releasing Factor (FSH-RF) that stimulates the pituitary, another gland in the brain. In response to this chemical signal, the pituitary secretestwo different hormones called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) into the blood. These two hormones cause the follicles to begin to mature. The follicles are little sacs in the ovaries that carry the woman's eggs. The follicles ripen over a period of seven days, and while doingso, they secrete another hormone, estrogen into the blood. Estrogen causes the lining of the uterus to thicken. When the estrogen reaches a certain levelin the blood, it signals the hypothalamus in the brain to release yet another hormone called the Luteinizing Hormone Releasing Factor (LH-RF). This hormone, in turn stimulates the pituitary to secrete the Luteinizing Hormone (LH).The surge of LH triggers the mature follicles to burst open and release an egg. This process is called ovulation. Ovulation takes place midway in a woman's monthly cycle.

Midway between ovulation and menstruation, the follicle from which the egg burst becomes the corpeus luteum (yellow body). It produces the hormone estrogen and another hormone progesterone that is necessary for the maintenance of apregnancy. Progesterone causes the surface lining of the uterus, the endometrium, to thicken and become covered with mucus. The uterus is now well prepared to receive the fertilized egg and maintain a healthy pregnancy. If however, fertilization (the process where an egg and a sperm unite) does not occur,the blood flow to the uterus lining is stopped. The shedding of this blood along with the endometrial lining forms the menstrual flow.

Women can experience a variety of symptoms before, during, or after the monthly period. Common complaints include backache, stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, breast tenderness, irritability, and other mood changes. Some women experience positive sensations such as relief,release, euphoria, invigoration, creative energy, and increased sex drive. The symptoms that occur before or during menstruation are collectively called the "Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)." The hormones in our body are extremely sensitive to diet and nutrition. Hence, the negative symptoms of PMS are often attributed to poor nutrition. PMS does not affect every woman. Some women are not affected at all or only occasionally. In some women, the symptoms are mild and in others they can be severe and require medical intervention.

It is common to experience problems with menstruation from time to time. Theproblems can be related to the length of the period, its frequency, the amount of flow, or other symptoms related to the monthly cycle. The normal amountof fluid during one menstrual period varies from several ounces to less thanone ounce. Most women have monthly cycles that are around 28 days. However, even if a woman has only three or four cycles a year, she can still be healthy, normal, and capable of producing a baby. Factors like significant weight loss can alter the monthly cycle. In addition, it can also be affected by emotions or changes in routine and stress levels.

Menstrual blood generally clots in the uterus and these clots dissolve beforepassing to the vagina. Sometimes, however, the clots will pass through the cervical opening before dissolving. It is also normal for the flow to change color from bright red to a dark brown. When menstrual fluid is exposed to air,menstrual odor occurs. Women use a variety of things to absorb their menstrual flow. Disposable pads or sanitary napkins and tampons are the most commonly used products.

Menstruation is neither a curse nor an illness, nor is it shameful or dirty.It is, in fact, a sign of good health, a sign that the body is functioning normally. In the United States, there is no official celebration, like a birthday party for the first period. However, several other cultures around the world have big celebrations for a girl's first period--she is congratulated on becoming a woman.

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