The Ovulation Cycle: Basics Of Menstruation For You

Ovulation Cycle Basics For You

The ovulation cycle is a major physiological process in a woman’s body.

There is more to this cycle than the obvious monthly menstrual flow which you are probably familiar with!

It is also called the menstrual cycle, menstruation cycle, female fertility cycle, ovarian cycle or the female reproductive cycle. Colloquially, many women call it the ‘monthlies’.

This article reviews the basics of the menstruation cycle which I have found useful in my years of educating woman on menstruation topics.

The Female Ovulation Cycle

The ovulation cycle is a series of normal (physiological) changes occurring in a woman’s body, most remarkable in the genital organs, in view of normal reproduction. The cycle is geared towards preparing the female body for the conception of a pregnancy. It is a prerequisite for normal fertility in a woman.

These changes occur sequentially (one leading to another) and concurrently (same time in different
organs) in the genital organs like the ovaries, uterus, cervix and vagina as well as in other non-genital organs like the breasts and skin.

Note these facts:

  • The ovulation cycle is not the same as menstruation. Menstruation or menstrual flow is one of the phases or changes that occur during the course of the ovulation cycle. It is indeed the most noticeable and remarkable change that occurs during the entire cycle.
  • The term cycle implies there is a repetition of changes after a specific period of
    time called the cycle length. The body changes begin from a start point, go through a series of processes and return to the initial start point if pregnancy does not occur. Pregnancy is the single end point that brings the cycle to a halt to enable the development of the embryo.
  • The menstrual cycle length can range from 21 to 35 days. The average is 28 days as shown in the diagram above. You should bear in mind though that 28 days is an average and not the case for every woman. It is the duration often used for education purposes. It may be as long as 45 days for teenagers around menarche or women approaching menopause.

Menstrual Or Ovulation Cycle

Many synonyms exist for the ovulation cycle, such as the menstrual cycle, menstruation cycle, monthly cycle and fertility cycle. This may be partly because there are many processes going on within the cycle and each of these appellations focuses on a particular aspect of it.

Menstrual focuses on the menstrual phase, ovulation cycle focuses on the process of ovulation, while monthly focuses on its average 28 day length.

The most common terminology is the menstrual cycle probably because the menstrual flow or menses, is the most remarkable, visible feature of the entire cycle. The appellation ovulation cycle, ranks second in popularity as it relates to the process of ovulation which determines one of the most important parts of the cycle i.e.
fertility period. A good number of women seek information on the cycle because of pregnancy-related questions.

The menstruation cycle in humans is technically not the same as the reproductive or fertility cycle. This is because there are some lower mammals which also have reproductive or fertility cycles in which the “menstrual blood” does not flow out but is reabsorbed into the body. Such fertility cycles are therefore not menstrual cycles in nature but are called estrous cycle.

Menstrual Cycle Changes

Menstrual cycle changes are body changes that occur as the cycle progresses. As noted above, the most remarkable of all the changes is the outburst of menstrual blood during the menstrual phase. However,
there are many other changes occurring in the ovaries, the tubes, cervix and other non-genital organs like the breasts and the skin.Some women may also experience some subtle changes in their sexual desire and attractiveness at specific phases of the cycle.

What Causes The Ovulation Cycle Changes?

The body changes might be appealing. However, there are processes “behind-the-screen” producing these florid changes. The main “players” behind these processes are the menstrual hormones. Hormonal changes
precede and produce the body changes.

What are hormones? Answer is quite simple. They are chemicals that act as messengers in the body. They are produced by one organ of the body and carry a specific message to another organ of the body. Think of a mail delivery man. Each mail he delivers carries a specific message. Imagine one of these mails contain a specific instruction for the receiver of the mail to give a certain amount of money to the mail delivery man. When the receiver receives the mail and reads it, he then carries out the instructions contained in the mail. This is simplistic illustration of the way hormones work in
the body. They carry a specific message from one organ to another and cause the receiving organ to undergo the changes specified by the message delivered by the hormone.

There are 5 hormones involved in the processes of the ovulation cycle. They are

  1. Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone( GnRH) GnRH is produced by a structure of the brain called the hypothalamus and acts on another structure of the brain called the pituitary gland. It causes the pituitary to produce other hormones called gonadotrophins hence its name gonadotrophin-releasing hormone.
  2. Follicle stimulating hormone( FSH)This is one of the gonadotrophin hormones produced by the pituitary gland. It acts on the ovaries and causes development of the follicles.
  3. Luteinizing hormone( LH)This is the second gonadotrophin hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It also acts on the ovaries and is the hormone of ovulation
  4. EstrogenThis is the main female hormone. It is produced by the ovaries and act on
    several different organs including the genitals and makes the female body what it is.
  5. Progesterone This is the second principal female hormone. It is produced by the ovary and acts mainly on the genitals.

Menstrual Cycle Phases

The different changes that occur during the ovulation cycle occur in phases. For simplicity and better understanding, the cycle is divided traditionally into 4 phases: menstrual (menstruation), follicular,
ovulation and luteal.

Though the menstrual phase is considered the beginning of the cycle, it is actually the beginning of the end of cycle that is just ended!

  1. Menstrual phase. This is considered the first phase of the ovulation cycle. The first day of menstrual blood flow (Day 1) is the first day of the cycle. Mild menstruation symptoms like lower abdominal pain may be present.
  2. The Follicular phase.The Follicular phase follows the menstrual phase and occupies Day 1 through Day 14 for the 28-day cycle. It basically involves development of several follicles, one of which contains the ovum or the egg to be released. The follicles also produce estrogen.

3. Ovulation phase . This is the short interval between the luteal and follicular phases. Ovulation is the release of the ovum or egg from the developing follicles in the ovaries. It is the central process of the fertility cycle and therefore receives its due attention amongst many women.

4. Luteal Phase. This is the phase between ovulation and the next menses and occupies Days 15 through Day 28 of the 28-day cycle. It normally lasts 12 to 16 days,
with an average of 14 days. A Luteal phase length of at least 10 days is required for maintenance of an early pregnancy.

Menstrual Cycle Problems

Abnormalities of the menstrual cycle are common and may affect the cycle length, regularity or any of the different phases. Common problems include absent menses, menstrual cramps, heavy bleeding and premenstrual syndrome.

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