Following our recent blog about the scientific and social support for considering periods as the fifth vital sign, let’s keep the period positivity going and discuss why #MenstruationMatters at every stage of a woman’s life.
Getting your first period -- known as “menarche” (US National Library of Medicine, 1995) -- is a pretty significant life event for many women. I got mine on picture day in seventh grade and I’ll never forget it. I remember every single detail of that day even down to what I was wearing (flared jeans and a maroon v-neck sweater). While your first period is certainly a very important occasion, once we’ve become seasoned “period pros”, if you will, I think we tend to take our cycles for granted until our lifestyles and life choices begin to change (i.e. family planning; TTC or TTA). For me, once I adjusted to having a regular period, it became something that just happened: something I didn’t look forward to every month if I’m being completely honest. I wanted to get it over with, you know? Now that I’m in my early thirties, my health and wellness has become much more of a priority. I want to be mindful of what my body is trying to tell me.
Your period evolves during every stage of womanhood. As we get older, our cycle continues to adjust based in part to normal age-related hormonal changes. In an exclusive interview with Redbook Magazine, Alyssa Dweck, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, confirms “There's an unspoken rule among doctors [https://www.redbookmag.com/body/health-fitness/a39093/surprising-period-facts/] that a woman's period tends to change through the decades." Dweck adds that "Your cycle is often an indicator of what's going on in your health and in your life, and there are many transitions between your 20s, 30s, and 40s."
Let’s learn more about what’s common about menstruation, what might be cause for concern and why it matters at every stage - beginning with the adolescence age.
Clinicians should educate girls and their caretakers (eg, parents or guardians) about what to expect of a first menstrual period and the range for normal cycle length of subsequent menses.
Once girls begin menstruating, clinicians should ask at every preventive care or comprehensive visit for the patient’s first day of her last menstrual period and the pattern of menses.
What May Be Cause for Concern
According to the Lehigh Valley Health Network, many menstrual conditions can affect adolescent girls, requiring the clinical care and attention of a physician or other health care professional:
Amenorrhea. A menstrual condition characterized by absent menstrual periods for more than three monthly menstrual cycles. Amenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary (Lehigh Valley Health Network, 2018).
Primary amenorrhea – menstrual periods have not started by age 15.
Secondary amenorrhea – menstrual periods which had been present are now absent (for a minimum of three months).
Dysmenorrhea. A menstrual condition characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain associated with menstruation. Dysmenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary (Lehigh Valley Health Network, 2018).
Primary dysmenorrhea – painful menstrual cramping and other symptoms, including back pain, thigh pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, that accompany menses
Secondary dysmenorrhea – painful menstrual periods caused by a medical condition (e.g. endometriosis)
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Most teens experience some unpleasant or uncomfortable symptoms during their menstrual cycle. For some, the symptoms are significant, but of short duration and not disabling. Others, however, may have one or more of a broad range of symptoms that temporarily disturb normal functioning. These symptoms may last from a few hours to many days. The types and intensity of symptoms vary between individuals (Lehigh Valley Health Network, 2018).
Why It Matters
Menstruation for American girls typically begins around age 12, but periods are possible as soon as age 8 (Mayo Clinic Tween and Teen Health, 2017). That's why it's important to discuss this topic early and often to prepare girls for what to expect. The Mayo Clinic suggests children are interested in and more likely to understand practical information as opposed to biological details and medical facts. Parents and doctors are advised to explain when menstruation is going to happen, what it's going to feel like and what to do when the time comes (Mayo Clinic Tween and Teen Health, 2017). The Identification of abnormal menstrual patterns in adolescence may improve early identification of potential health concerns for adulthood. It is critical for clinicians to have an understanding of the menstrual patterns of adolescent girls, the ability to differentiate between normal and abnormal menstruation, and the skill to know how to evaluate the adolescent girl patient (ACOG Committee Opinion, 2015).
Have you had the #MenstruationMatters conversation with the young girls in your life? We’re happy to help answer any questions that may come up during your discussion. Reach out to Kindara directly at email@example.com for additional information and resources. Keep up with Kindara on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for new blog alerts and look for more from our #MenstruationMatters series! Coming soon: Why Periods Are Important In Your 20s.