The 4 Stages of The Menstrual Cycle
The average person’s menstrual cycle is around 28 days long. For some it might be longer, others it may be shorter but one thing everyone with a period has in common is that a lot is happening behind the scenes in the body long before your period arrives each month.
The menstrual cycle is controlled by a number of different glands and the hormones that these glands each produce. The main gland in charge is the pituitary gland which is found just beneath the hypothalamus region of your brain. The pituitary gland produces chemical signals which prompt the ovaries to produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. All the glands and structures that control the menstrual cycle are linked so the activity of each one affects the others.
What are the phases of the menstrual cycle?
Menstruation, otherwise known as your period, is the elimination of the thickened lining of the uterus (endometrium) from the body. Menstrual fluid contains the endometrium, blood and mucus.
2. Follicular Phase
The follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends at the start of ovulation. The pituitary gland releases a follicle stimulating hormone. This prompts the ovary to produce about 5-20 follicles (small nodules or cyst type growths) which sit on the ovary’s surface. Each follicle contains an immature egg and only 1 of these follicles will mature into an egg. The follicles stimulate the growth of the uterine lining in preparation for a potential pregnancy
Ovulation happens when the mature egg is released from the surface of the ovary. During the follicular phase there is a rise in estrogen. The hypothalamus in the brain senses this high level and releases a chemical called gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone prompts the pituitary gland to produce hormones, which triggers the ovulation.
The egg is funnelled into the fallopian tube and towards the uterus. The life span of the egg is only around 24 hours and unless it meets a sperm, it will die.
4. Luteal phase
During ovulation, the egg bursts from it’s follicle but leaves the follicle shell behind on the surface of the ovary. The follicle shell is transformed into a structure called the Corpus Luteum (CP). The CP releases progesterone and a little estrogen to maintain the thickened uterus wall.
If a fertilised egg implants in the uterus, it will produce hormones that are necessary to maintain the CP. This includes the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (HCG) which is what is picked up by a urine pregnancy test. Maintaining the CP is important because it maintains the thickened uterus wall and means the pregnancy can progress.
If pregnancy does not occur then the CP dies. The sudden drop in progesterone causes the uterine lining to fall away and menstruation starts.
The cycle then starts all over again. Isn't the human body amazing?
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