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Period Symptoms

Physical and emotional symptoms occur as a result of the menstrual cycle.

Abdominal cramping is one of the more uncomfortable period symptoms. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Abdominal cramping is one of the more uncomfortable period symptoms.

Period Symptoms

As a girl enters puberty and her body changes, period symptoms may become more pronounced. The most obvious of physical symptom is bleeding at the onset of each new menstrual cycle. However, a woman can experience a multitude of other physical and hormonal symptoms each month. Recognizing these symptoms early on will help young women better prepare for the hormonal changes in their monthly cycle for years to come.

Timing

Young girls begin menstruating as they enter puberty. Though the age of onset varies, puberty and menstrual cycles begin on average anywhere from age 12 to age 16. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, menstrual cycles begin approximately 2 to 2.5 years after breast development begins.

Hormonal Changes

A complicated orchestra of hormonal changes occurs approximately every 28 to 32 days in a woman; that process begins with her period. At the onset of puberty, hormones are released that cause the eggs to mature. There are four hormones instrumental in each monthly cycle:

  • Follicle stimulating hormone
  • Estrogen
  • Lutenizing hormone
  • Progesterone


Follicle stimulating hormone encourages an egg (encased in its own follicle) to mature in the ovary. Estrogen builds up during this time, which averages about two weeks. When a woman has built up enough estrogen, a surge of lutenizing hormone occurs, causing the release of the egg, known as ovulation. Just following ovulation, the follicle that held the egg dies off, triggering a release of progesterone. A woman's period begins after this stage, known as the luteal phase, as long as conception has not occurred. Understanding the interaction between hormones is crucial to identifying issues with a woman's fertility, changes in her cycle and menopause.

Specific Period Symptoms

With so many hormonal changes occurring in a woman's body every cycle, it is not surprising that physical changes also appear and generate specific period symptoms or pre-menstrual symptoms for a woman. Though not an exhaustive list, the Mayo Clinic reports these common physical and emotional symptoms of menstruation:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Swollen, tender breasts
  • Insomnia
  • Acne
  • Bloating in the abdomen
  • Fluid retention
  • Headaches, including migraines
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Constipation


These symptoms are collectively known as pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms; however, some of these symptoms occur during the middle of the cycle, not just before menstruation begins. Not all women experience all of these period symptoms. Most symptoms disappear shortly after menstruation begins.

Different Symptoms for Different Women

For most women, individual period symptoms are the same each cycle. Some women may experience mood swings and fluid retention every month, while others may only get a headache each time their period is due. Mood swings due to hormonal surges sometimes cause women to be elated one moment and agitated the next. Swollen breasts and acne flare-ups can occur around ovulation time (in the middle of the cycle) or just before menstruations begins. Bloating, fluid retention and constipation are common problems 3 to 5 days before bleeding.

By keeping a journal or diary of symptoms, a woman can learn within a few months which period symptoms she can expect each cycle. She can also understand the severity of each symptom she experiences. Severity and types of symptoms will enable a woman to understand what is normal for her. This knowledge will also empower her with the ability to flag any serious changes that she can highlight to her doctor if necessary. For a woman wishing to become pregnant, tracking of these symptoms and her menstrual cycle will also give her powerful knowledge and insight into any potential fertility issues.

Treatment of Symptoms

As each woman grows to understand her unique set of period symptoms, she will be able to apply unique solutions to alleviate those symptoms. Some of the most recommended treatments of symptoms include incorporating moderate exercise to alleviate fatigue and irritability, avoiding salt to combat fluid retention and taking a multivitamin supplement. When cramping is severe, a woman may find that taking an over-the-counter NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), such as ibuprofen, will alleviate the cramping. The use of a heating pad in the abdominal area may also provide relief from cramping. According to Family Doctor, women can also alleviate period symptoms by reducing caffeine intake to avoid irritability, getting plenty of sleep and eating complex carbohydrates, fiber and protein.

The most important thing a woman can do is understand her own body and symptoms. This will help her in choosing the best remedy for years to come.

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