The word menstruation comes from the Latin word for month, menses, indicating the frequency with which most women bleed: about once a month. Generally speaking, a normal cycle is anywhere from 21-35 days, with 28 being the average length. However, during the first years of menstruating, cycles can vary in length and be few and far between, lacking the usually predictable pattern of older females. Each cycle is divided into four stages.
Each month, the body lines the uterus (womb) with a mucous membrane, called the endometrial lining, in preparation to receive a fertilised egg.
During this stage, called ovulation, an egg is detached from one of the two ovaries before proceeding into one of the Fallopian tubes heading for the uterus (womb), a journey that may take a few days. Some women experience a slight pain during ovulation, but most don’t notice anything in particular. Ovulation takes place about 12-14 days before the next period starts.
If the egg meets a sperm on its way to the uterus (womb), the woman can become pregnant. But if it doesn’t, the body will notice and take action to dispose of the mucous lining and expel the unfertilised egg and fluids – and that’s the period.
The period begins and the woman starts to bleed. This can last 2-8 days, though the average is 3-5 days.
This is repeated next month for an average of 400 times until the woman reaches menopause, which is when menstruation stops completely, and generally occurs around the age of 50.
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