Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Chicana and Chicano StudiesLatino Health Issues

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The Menstrual Cycle

When will it happen?
How long will it last? How often will I get it?
How to Deal
Menstrual Problems
Being Healthy

Hola! My name is Brenda. Mis amigas y yo decided to create this webpage because we were once in your shoes--we had to deal with our period for the first time and had no clue what was going on! Please let me know what else you would like to see here! email me at

We developed this website for a class at Arizona State University , where we go to school. We hope that this website will give you information about your menstrual cycle or can direct you to the right place to find information.

las amigas- Girls socializing

Every woman has gone through it. For some of my friends and I, our moms only told us parts of what was going to happen, but none of them told us what to expect!

  • What is happening and why?

During puberty, several changes occur in your body. Puberty can happen between the ages of 9-17 and usually happens first in girls than in boys. Puberty is associated with changes in your body- from breast enlargement, hair growth, and changes in your body like shape and growth. These changes are being controlled by hormones in your body. Some of us have had to deal with changes such as acne and bigger hips to match our mothers'!

Certain hormones cause changes in your internal reproductive organs to get them ready to go through menstrual cycles and someday perhaps have a baby.

The menstrual cycle is a dramatic example of the delicate balance and interactions maintained by your body. A series of complex feedback interaction among several organs and hormones stimulate the release of a mature egg from your ovary. This is called ovulation . The ovaries usually release only one egg a month. The egg travels down the fallopian tube on its way to the uterus .

In the meantime, the uterus has prepared itself by growing a thick inner lining of blood. This lining will be very important if you have a baby. If you have sex with a man and your egg is fertilized by his sperm, the fertilized egg may implant itself into this lining, and pregnancy will begin. Otherwise, the lining starts to come off after a few days and leaves your body as "menstrual flow" through the vagina. This is the "bleeding" that lasts about five to seven days and is called your "period."

  • When will it happen?

The first period-the first bleeding- occurs at around ages 11-15 (although some girls get it earlier and some later) and is called menarche (me-nar-kee). The blood comes from inside the body in the uterus, flow out of the cervix, down the vaginal canal , and finally outside the body. Having your first period means you are capable of getting pregnant. Once you start having periods, you know that an egg you have been carrying inside your body since birth is mature and ready to be fertilized.

Most girls start having periods around the same age that their moms did, so you might want to ask your mom how old she was when she started. This is a good way to start talking to your mom about puberty.

  • How long will it last? How often will I get it?

This may change from woman to woman, but on average, from 4-7days. At first, most women have "irregular" periods, meaning they don't have them every month, or at the same time from month to month. Most women become more regular after a year, although some women never do. Most women's cycles are between 28 and 32 days long.

  • How to deal

Women in different cultures have handled their menstrual flow in many ways. Since earliest times, women have made tampons and pads from available materials, often washing and reusing special cloths or rags. Most women use commercial sanitary napkins and tampons. Directions come with the products or ask a fellow woman!

Many of us were scared or even embarrassed when we first started to menstruate. Depending on how you grew up, and how you, your parents, friends and family approach menstruation, it could influence how you feel about menstruation. Beginning and ending menstruation will always be different for each person-welcomed by some, not by others. We do know that as we feel better about our bodies and learn more about ourselves, our experiences of our cycles can change. During times when we feel good about ourselves, we may experience our periods as self-affirming, creative and pleasurable. Or at times, we may feel frustrated and blue. Some of us pay less attention to menstruation than others.

  • Menstrual Problems

Many women undergo some physical or mood changes, or both, during or before their menstrual cycles. In many cases the changes are minor. Yet many women experience menstrual problems that range from mild discomfort to acute pain. It is important to recognize that these problems exist and we can deal with them-from planning on getting more sleep or taking time out to relax.

Cramps: Some girls sail right through their periods without any discomfort, but for others menstrual cramps are a fact of life. Cramps may sound scary and feel awful, but they're really just a sign that your body is working well. When you start your period, your body releases hormones called prostaglandins (pra sto glan dins), which cause your uterus to contract, and this can cause cramps. If these substances weren't released it would be very difficult for the uterine lining (menstrual fluid) to leave your body. To relieve cramps, experts recommend a healthy diet, as described below, especially cutting down on caffeine. We have found that drinking hot, herbal tea like chamomile can relieve cramps. Also, regular exercise and physical activity always help relieve strass, cramps, and tension.

Dietary Tips for Cramps:

Eat green, leafy vegetables or take 500 mg. of magnesium each day.

Eat whole-grain cereals, or take moderate doses of vitamin B complex.

Include a tablespoon of essential fatty acids - such as cold"pressed olive oil.

Decrease your intake of saturated fats - meat and dairy.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) - is a catchall term to identify a myriad of physical and psychological symptoms that can occur several days before each menstrual period. As many as 200 premenstrual symptoms are listed in medical and research literature. Typical symptoms include bloating, breast swelling, and pain. Psychological symptoms include irritability, tension, depression, mood swings, and a feeling of a lack of emotional control.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)- is a disease that may cause a person to go into shock, occurring most commonly in menstruating women. TSS is caused by a bacteria and symptoms include fever, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, red skin flush, dizziness, and low blood pressure. This disease is associated with using highly absorbent tampons. It is advised to use regular instead of super-absorbent tampons, to change them three to four times during the day, and to use napkins at night.

  • Being Healthy:

Pelvic Examination and Pap Test - The clinician inserts a metal or plastic speculum into the vagina. When opened, it separates the walls of the vagina, which normally are closed and touch each other, so that the cervix can be seen.

You may feel some degree of pressure or mild discomfort when the speculum is inserted and opened. You will likely feel more discomfort if you are tense or if your vagina or pelvic organs are infected. The position of your cervix or uterus may affect your comfort as well. If a metal speculum is used, you may feel the chill of the metal. Most clinicians lubricate the speculum and warm it to body temperature for more comfort. Talk with your clinician about any discomfort you feel.

Once the speculum is in place, the clinician checks for any irritation, growth, or abnormal discharge from the cervix. Tests for gonorrhea, human papilloma virus, chlamydia, or other sexually transmitted infections may be taken by collecting cervical mucus on a cotton swab. These tests may not be done unless you have a concern about infections and ask for testing. Be sure to talk with your clinician if you have symptoms or concerns about your sexual partner(s).

Usually a small spatula or tiny brush is used to gently collect cells from the cervix for a Pap test. The cells are tested for abnormalities the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells. You may have some staining or bleeding after the sample is taken.

As the clinician removes the speculum, the vaginal walls are checked for irritation, injury, and any other problems.

Pap tests can detect the presence of abnormal cells in the cervix, infections and inflammations of the cervix, Pap tests cannot identify specific sexually transmitted infections, but they may detect symptoms.) , thinning of the vaginal lining from lack of estrogen commonly related to menopause.
The cell sample will be sent to a laboratory. The results will be sent back to your clinician within a few weeks. Pap tests need to be repeated if there is too much blood present for an accurate reading or if there are not enough cells to be examined.



Information for this site was obtained from the following sources:

Our Sexuality, Eighth Edition, by Robert Crooks and Karla Baur

Every Woman's Health: The Complete Guide to Body and Mind by 15 Women Doctors by D.S. Thompson.

Women's Health: Body, Mind, Spirit: An Integrated Approach to Wellness and Illness by Marian C. Rondon, R.N., D.Ed., HNC.

Woman's Health and Medical Guide, Edited by Patricia J. Cooper, Ph.D.

Contemporary Women's Health: Issues for Today and The Future, by Cheryl A. Kolander, HSD, CHES


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This site was created by Brenda Flores in fulfillment of requirements for the course CSS 335: Latino Health Issues taught by Dr. Szkupinski Quiroga at Arizona State University, Spring 2004.