Portfolio of Hope

I’ve only, very recently, started having periods (in the last 3 months, to be exact- that’s just 3 ‘proper’, regular periods I’ve had, despite me being nearly 21). Most people my age who started their period at the ‘average’ age of 12, will have had approximately 96 (that’s based on them menstruating every month from their ‘starting’ age of 12, to their current age of 21). Evidently then, I have missed out (if that’s the right term of phrase) on a hell of a lot of periods, and so I am, ultimately, lacking a hell of a lot of knowledge regarding them, too. As my period has just returned again this month, I thought that I would dedicate todays post to answering some of my own questions, as I will do in the paragraphs below… I hope that they will help any of you out there who might feel that your questions have gone unanswered, too. So, lets get straight into the Q&A of; ‘why does this happen in the lead up to my period?’

In the lead up to my/our period, why do I/We?

Q) Experience really bad stomach cramps (a dull, constant ache in the lower abdomen).
Did you know that; almost 90% of women report regularly experiencing painful episodes of stomach cramping in the few days immediately prior to the start of their period? That’s a lot of women, and so you would be forgiven for assuming that most women know why they experience such a feeling every single month. Surprisingly, however, an overwhelmingly large number of women don’t know why they get such cramps. And so, for all these women, here’s an explanation on the very topic of cramps…

Women experience cramps in the days leading up to their period (typically one to two days before, though sometimes three to five days before), as the uterus tightens and relaxes simultaneously, thus causing mild to, sometimes sharp, pains. During this sequence of events, a chemical, ‘prostaglandin’, is released, with this chemical serving to increase the overall intensity of one’s cramps/contractions.

In terms of what some of the steps we can take to ease our stomach cramps are, they include; partaking in exercise (to increase the circulation of blood to the skin and relax cramped muscles), staying hydrated (to prevent the body from retaining water and subsequently becoming bloated), avoiding tight clothing (to reduce the risk of the stomach being compressed and subjected to additional discomfort), and; relaxing in a hot bath or getting in bed with a hot water bottle pressed against your stomach for quick soothing relief.

Q) Get an ‘upset stomach’/stomach cramps?
As outlined in the answer to the previous question (why do we experience cramping before getting our period?), its because of the hormone/chemical, ‘prostaglandin’, which is released just before our period commences. The role of this chemical is to help the uterus shed its lining/break down, something which it is able to do via muscle contractions (this including contractions in the intestines). Such contractions can subsequently lead to a range of GI symptoms being felt, including diarrhea/more frequent bowel movements.

Q) Get ‘weird’ cravings?
During menstruation, levels of estrogen, as well as levels of Cortisol, experience extreme fluctuations. When the level of cortisol in the body is high, the inbuilt ‘fight or flight’ mode is activated, causing us to become more metabolically charged. This, subsequently, sees our appetite increasing as a direct result. When this happens, we tend to gravitate to more carb ‘heavy’, high fat foods. It is for this reason why, research shows that the most common cravings women report having on their period is ‘salty foods’ (e.g. chips), and chocolate…

Q) Have no appetite for a couple of days, and then a massive appetite a few days later?
Because of the hormone changes that occur during our period, we can experience moments of extreme hunger, and then moments of having no appetite at all, and vice versa. The former (extreme hunger) is the most common change to appetite felt, however the latter can also occur in some people too, due to reasons such as nausea, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

Q) Notice changes to the breasts (aching, lumps, marks, itchiness etc.)?
When hormones fluctuate as our period commences, the breasts become more sensitive, thus translating to them being more prone to irritation and itching. This sensitivity occurs as a result of a decline in estrogen levels.

Another reason for the itching can be due to the fact that our breasts can enlarge slightly at our ‘time of the month.’ As the skin stretches around the breasts as they increase in size, this can cause one to feel an urge to scratch the surrounding area.

Q) Experience a ‘stabbing pain?’
Not dissimilar to the symptoms experienced with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), the medical term for the sharp pain one gets ‘up their bum’ when they are on/due on their period, is ‘proctalgia fugax.’ This pain, a pain which I can liken to someone shoving an extremely sharp knife up my bum, is one that our hormones are, yet again, responsible for causing. The same hormones that cause the uterus to contract and shed its lining (Prostaglandin) also cause contractions around the the anal canal, with the release of prostaglandin being responsible for these contractions which, ultimately, lead to muscle spasms in the bum being felt.

Q) Experience dramatic mood changes (feeling really low one minute and then not being able to stop laughing at everything, funny or not, the next).
During our period, as we have already established by now, our hormones are a bit (okay, a lot), ‘all over the place.’ Estrogen, and the fact that it dips so drastically when it is our ‘time of the month’, is mainly to blame for the mood swings that so many of us find ourselves going through every month, the reason for this being because estrogen is closely linked to serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone/brain chemical.) Consequently then, when our estrogen levels drop, so too do our serotonin levels, causing us to feel low and depleted of energy, and vice versa (when estrogen levels rise our serotonin levels rise again, too…)

Q) Break out in lots of spots
Just before the commencement of our period, the hormones estrogen and prostestrogen drop, triggering the sebaceous glands to secrete more sebum (an oily substance). However, too much sebum can result in pores becoming blocked and subsequently leading to breakouts/acne.

Q) Get blood ‘clots’ on the first few days of a ‘heavy’ period
Blood clots that occur during a period are comprised of the following: blood cells, tissue from the lining of the uterus, and proteins in the blood. In terms of how these components come together, they are detailed in the steps below…

1- The endomerital cells that line the uterus strip away and leave the body.
2- The body releases proteins that cause the blood in the uterus to coagulate, the reason for this being to prevent the blood vessels in the uterine lining from continuing to bleed.
3- The coagulation proteins within the blood clump together, resulting in blood clots being formed, and released.

Blood clots are, although sometimes disturbing to see, usually no cause for concern, and are, in fact, just a healthy, natural part of menstruation, as they serve a very important purpose- with their thick, jelly like texture serving to prevent too much blood from escaping.

Because of their purpose, clots tend to only occur when the flow is heavy (usually in the first day or two). So, next time you see a clot and think ‘ew, disgusting’, remind yourself of what they are doing for you- they are, quite literally, keeping you alive, stopping you from, essentially, bleeding to death.

Q) Suffer with really bad headaches/migraines
Migraines that occur when we are on our period (a.k.a. ‘hormone headaches’), are caused, like every other symptom of menstruation, by changes in our hormones. Most likely to develop in the 2 days leading up to a period, or the first 3 days during a period (these being times when estrogen levels tend to be at their lowest), migraines are reported as being a regular period symptom by more than half of all women (this statistic being according to research conducted by the National Migraine Centre).

So, as this post comes to an end, I hope its been informative and insightful for you, as it certainly has been for me! 🙂

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