A menstrual period is vaginal bleeding that occurs at the end of the menstrual cycle. Each month, the female body prepares itself for a possible pregnancy. The uterus develops a thicker lining, and the ovaries release an egg that can be fertilized by sperm.

The average female will have their first period between ages 11 and 14. Periods will continue regularly (usually monthly) until menopause, or about age 51.

Menstrual health and complications

The average menstrual cycle is 24 to 38 days. The typical period lasts four to eight days.

Monthly or regular periods are a sign your cycle is normal. Your body is working to prepare for a possible pregnancy. Some people don’t have regular periods. Intense exercise or certain medical conditions can lead to irregular periods.

Breast tenderness is another common period symptom. It can peak in the days just before menstruation starts. A surge in the hormones estrogen and progesterone leads to enlarged breast ducts and swollen milk glands. The result is soreness and swelling.

Meanwhile, period pain (also called dysmenorrhea, aka “cramps”) is another common symptom. More than half of menstruating people experience some pain around their period, with some estimates saying as much as 84 percent.  

Prostaglandins are the cause of this pain. These are chemicals that trigger muscle contractions in your uterus. These hormones help the body shed the excess uterine lining, which can cause pain and cramping in the first days of your period.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

This is a series of symptoms that typically occur in the week or two before the start of a period. Symptoms can include:

  • headache

  • fatigue

  • bloating

  • irritability

PMS affects as many as 3 in 4 women, reports

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

PMDD is similar to PMS, but is more severe. It can cause:

  • depression

  • tension

  • severe mood shifts

  • lasting anger or irritability

Experts estimate about 5 percent of women experience PMDD.

Poor menstrual hygiene

Poor menstrual hygiene is also a health concern during your period. Blood and tissue loss during a period can lead to bacterial issues. This can pose a serious health issue when or if menstrual products aren’t available or basic sanitation utilities aren’t accessible, such as clean water.


Each year in the United States, people spend upward of $2 billion on menstrual products. In their lifetime, the average menstruating person uses almost 17,000 tampons or pads.

This is both a personal cost to the individual and an environmental cost to the planet. Many of these products don’t easily degrade in landfills.

However, more than 16.9 million American women live in poverty and may struggle with access to menstrual products and medications that treat symptoms.

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