Aunt Flo isn’t going anywhere, so maybe it’s time you got to know her a bit better.
Assuming you had your first period around 12, you should be pretty familiar with the monthly bleeds by now. Whether you’re one of the lucky ones who sail through yours with ease, or if you’re more like the vast majority of us who suffer from cramps, bloating and hormonal pimples, periods are here to stay. Here are 15 lesser-known facts that may both shock and intrigue you.
1. YOU’LL EXPERIENCE MANY PERIODS IN YOUR LIFETIME
According to a survey of over 1,000 women published in the journal The Lancet, a woman living in an industrialised country can expect to have roughly 450 periods in her lifetime.
For comparison, women living in prehistoric times only had an average of 160 periods. This is likely because in modern times, we start menstruating earlier, have fewer pregnancies, give birth later, spend less time breastfeeding, and ultimately enter menopause later than our ancestors.
2. YOU CAN GET PREGNANT WHILE ON YOUR PERIOD
Newsﬂash: Menstruation is by no means a natural form of birth control! Though rare, it’s still possible to get pregnant if you have intercourse while you’re on your period – and especially if you’re near the end of your bleed. Sperm can live for up to a week inside your vagina, potentially fertilising an egg if you ovulate soon after your period ends.
3. MENSTRUAL BLOOD IS NOT THE SAME AS NORMAL BLOOD
The reason why your period blood feels thicker and gooier than normal blood is because it’s mixed with lining that’s shed from your uterus. This is also why you sometimes pass out clumpy blood clots during heavier ﬂow days.
Also, if you’ve noticed that your pad is collecting lots of darkish or almost black blood towards the end of your period, don’t panic. This is perfectly normal and happens when the blood is older and not being pushed out from the body as quickly.
4. YOU BLEED LESS THAN YOU THINK
When you’re menstruating, you probably feel like you’re bleeding tons. Realistically, the average amount of blood lost during one period cycle is just around 60ml. That’s enough to ﬁll about one and a half shot glasses. Medically, someone is considered to have heavy periods if she regularly loses more than 80ml of blood during one cycle.
5. PERIOD SYMPTOMS ARE EERILY SIMILAR TO EARLY PREGNANCY SYMPTOMS
Whether or not you’ve actually conceived, your body will still release the hormone progesterone after you ovulate. Your progesterone levels are at their highest roughly ﬁve to seven days after ovulation.
If you’re pregnant, your body will continue to produce progesterone even after that. If you’re not, progesterone levels will start to drop so your period can come. Because of the progesterone surge, PMS symptoms and early pregnancy symptoms can look pretty similar – cramps, breast tenderness, fatigue, light spotting, and bloating.
6. A LIGHT BLEED MAY MEAN YOU’RE PREGNANT
Before you heave a sigh of relief or disappointment when you see a bit of blood on your undies, know this: light blood ﬂow or spotting can also be a sign of implantation bleeding. This usually occurs six to 12 days after conception but is nothing to worry about. It happens when the embryo implants itself in the lining of your uterus. What’s more, this is often accompanied by mild cramping.
7. YOU MAY SUFFER FROM LOW IRON DURING YOUR PERIOD
Women are already naturally more prone to iron-deﬁciency anaemia than men, and this becomes even more pronounced when you have your period. Those who suffer from heavy periods are at a higher risk of this because of the blood they lose during each menstrual cycle. If you constantly feel dizzy and weak during your period, try loading up on iron-rich food like red meat, beans or ﬁsh.
8. YOU CAN BLEED FROM YOUR EYES DURING A PERIOD
This sounds like a plot from some horror movie, but women who have a rare condition called vicarious menstruation can actually bleed from their eyes, ears, mouths or other oriﬁces during their period.
However, there is nothing to worry about as the bleeding is harmless and thought to be due to surging oestrogen levels in one’s bloodstream during menstruation. In a case study published in Ophthalmic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, a woman suffering from vicarious menstruation had her condition controlled with birth control pills.
9. HAVING YOUR PERIOD CAN WORSEN ASTHMA ATTACKS
Asthma sufferers, be careful not to overexert yourselves when on your period. According to research published in the journal Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine, 19 to 40 per cent of asthmatic women reported attacks while on their period. Study authors think this is because lung function tends to be weaker and the nasal passages are more hyperactive to histamine due to hormonal ﬂuctuations during menstruation.
10. PERIOD EUPHEMISMS ARE EVERYWHERE
In a survey by period-tracking app Clue, researchers polled over 90,000 women from 190 countries and found that more than half of them use some sort of slang or euphemism when talking about their periods. You’re heard the common ones like “shark week” and “crimson wave”, but the French actually have a phrase that refers to periods as VOO – Vaginally Out of Order.
11. YOUR VOICE CHANGES DURING YOUR PERIOD
A small-scale German study has found that women’s voices tend to be higher as their ovulation approaches. However, researchers are unable to determine whether this increases attractiveness to males.
12. YOU GO THROUGH A LOT OF PADS IN YOUR LIFETIME
According to a study by the Rochester Institute of Technology in the US, the average woman goes through between 12,000 and 15,000 pads, tampons, and panty liners in her lifetime. This is not only a considerable environmental concern (since pads and liners tend to have plastic bits and packaging that aren’t biodegradable), but a huge ﬁnancial commitment as well.
Instead, consider switching to reusable menstrual cups that cost $33 each at www. freedomcups.org/shop, which gives a cup to a woman in an underprivileged community every time one is bought.
13. DISNEY MADE A SHORT FILM ON PERIODS
Called The Story Of Menstruation, this 1946 ﬁlm was a crash course on what girls needed to know about their periods. According to the ﬁlm’s IMDB description, it’s “a basic explanation of the purpose and process of menstruation, told largely with diagrams (and completely avoiding the subject of sex).”
14. YOU’LL SPEND MORE MONEY WHILE YOU’RE ON YOUR PERIOD
Does retail therapy become more attractive to you during “shark week”? Well, your hormones might have something to do with it. Researchers from UK’s University of Hertfordshire surveyed 443 women aged 18 to 50 on their spending habits and found that those on their periods tend to be more impulsive and show signiﬁcantly less control than women at other phases in their cycle. This was linked to overspending and buyers’ remorse.
15. DO PERIODS SYNC OR NOT?
This has been long debated, with science unable to deﬁnitely prove the co-relation and women everywhere claiming their period cycles start to sync with the cycles of their roommates or close friends over time. Though it seems so, a small-scale study of 186 Chinese women living in dorms for over a year found that the cycles of those who lived in groups did not sync up.
When you’re menstruating, you probably feel like you’re bleeding tons. Realistically, the average amount of blood lost during one period cycle is just around 60ml.
O PERIOD, WHERE ART THOU?
Depending on the stage of life you’re in, a late period can either be very good or very bad news. But here’s the thing: you do not have to whip out a pregnancy test straightaway just because it hasn’t come yet. There are many other factors that can cause a period to be late – and they don’t have anything to do with baby making. Take stock of your health by ruling out these pointers ﬁrst. And don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your gynaecologist to weed out any underlying conditions, too.
YOU’RE TOO STRESSED
On average, a woman’s cycle will last 28 days or so, but stress can cause this to ﬂuctuate from month to month. If you’ve been under a lot of pressure at work recently or are going through an emotionally trying period like the death of a loved one, you may notice that your period is later than usual. This is likely because heightened cortisol levels can interfere with hormones, like oestrogen and progesterone, causing your cycle to go out of whack.
Dealing with prolonged periods of extreme stress can even trigger a condition called secondary amenorrhoea where your monthly period just stops altogether. Get your menstrual cycle back on track by minimising and managing the stressors in your life. Also take some time out to focus on nourishing your body through healthy food, regular exercise and good company.
YOU’RE NOT EATING ENOUGH
Your new diet may be working wonders for you when it comes to shedding kilos, but it’s time to think twice if your period starts getting irregular. When you go on a restrictive diet, where you don’t consume enough calories or cut out entire food groups, you put yourself at risk of nutritional deﬁciencies.
That, combined with sudden weight loss, can cause your period to go MIA. Instead of going on a crash diet, opt for a more sustainable and healthy eating plan. After all, it’s not just the numbers on the scale that matter, but eating well and fueling your body with the right foods.
YOU’RE EXERCISING TOO MUCH
Exercising is great for you on so many levels and we’d never advocate putting your workouts on the back-burner. But if your sweat sessions are packed back to back and you’ve noticed that your periods are becoming very light or pulling a disappearing act, you might be pushing your body too hard.
Intensive exercise regimes coupled with a low body weight can cause your body to think that it’s in starvation mode. It registers what it’s going through as a high-stress situation and may start to switch off non-vital bodily functions in order to survive.
Since menstruation is part of the reproductive process, it gets side-lined since it’s considered non-essential (compared to say, your respiratory or digestive functions). Consider switching to lower-impact activities for a start and speak to your gynaecologist about a plan that will get your period back.
YOU MIGHT HAVE A HORMONAL DISORDER
If your periods are consistently irregular and you’ve noticed unusual hair growth or acne, it’s best to speak to your doctor about the possibility of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In Singapore, it is the most common endocrine disorder and affects 5 to 15 per cent of women in their reproductive years.
Those suffering from the condition typically exhibit menstrual irregularities due to the higher presence of androgens (male hormones) in their bodies. This can affect ovulation and make it more difficult for a woman to conceive. Thankfully, there are ways to contain PCOS even though it’s not a curable condition. Consult your gynaecologist for a suitable treatment plan.
YOU’RE GOING THROUGH EARLY MENOPAUSE
Early menopause may be a sign of premature ovarian failure, a condition where your ovaries stop functioning normally before the age of 40. According to experts at the National University Hospital Women’s Centre, common symptoms include missed periods, hot ﬂashes, vaginal dryness, irritability and decreased sexual desire.
Women who suffer from premature ovarian failure may also be at risk of infertility and osteoporosis since oestrogen plays an important part in maintaining strong bones.
YOU TRAVEL A LOT
Exploring new countries and cultures is awesome, but the actual ﬂying from place to place? Not so much. And when it comes to international travel, there’s no way around the fact that crossing different time zones takes a huge toll on your body.
When you’re in another country, your circadian rhythm is affected because all regularity regarding your sleep-wake cycle gets thrown out the window. It may be 10pm local time but only 10am back home. As a result, your body becomes exposed to light changes at different times of the day and this can screw up your internal rhythms and trigger hormonal changes.
YOU’RE NOT SLEEPING REGULARLY
On that same note, sudden changes in your sleep pattern – say, if you started working the graveyard shift or you’re constantly pulling all-nighters at the office – can also affect your menstrual cycle. A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that female shift workers were likelier to experience menstrual irregularities and overall longer menstrual cycles. The reason? An out-of-sync circadian rhythm again.