The menstrual cycle is a recurring process in which the lining of the womb (uterus) is prepared for pregnancy. When there is no fertilised egg to start a pregnancy, the uterus sheds its lining, which is also known as menstruation. Several hormones control aspects of this cycle, such as the release of an egg each month from an ovary and the thickness of the uterus lining.
Tracking your menstrual cycle can help you understand what is normal for you, allow you to detect your ovulation, and identify important changes such as a missed period or irregular menstrual bleeding. While menstrual cycle irregularities are not usually serious, sometimes they can indicate an underlying health problem. The menstrual cycle occurs each month and is counted from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. It consists of two components: follicular and luteal phases.
The Follicular Phase
Each month, this phase prepares your body for potential pregnancy. It begins with the drop of progesterone levels from the previous menstrual cycle that sends a signal to the neuroendocrine centers in the brain for oestrogen production, as well as for superficial endometrial shedding. This is the menstrual component of the follicular phase and lasts about 3-7 days. Afterwards, the oestrogen levels continue to increase and reach the highest level before ovulation. At the same time, the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), stimulates your ovarian follicles to grow. Each follicle contains an egg. Usually, one egg will be ready for fertilisation each month.
The Luteal phase
The surge in oestrogen triggers a spike in the luteinising hormone (LH). This hormone makes a follicle rupture to release an egg and marks ovulation- that is the first day of the luteal phase. If you have regular 28-day menstrual cycle, ovulation usually occurs on Day 14. Generally, ovulation happens 11 to 16 days before your upcoming period, because most women have different menstrual cycle lengths.
Ovulation occurs when one of the ovaries releases a mature egg. As the egg moves down the fallopian tube towards the uterus over several days, the lining of the uterus continues to grow thicker and thicker. It takes the egg about three to four days to reach its destination, then waits for about 24 hours in hope of fertilisation before it starts to degenerate.
The remnants of the empty follicle become a corpus luteum, the cells of which produce oestrogen and large amounts of progesterone. Progesterone stimulates the uterine lining to prepare for a fertilised egg. If the egg is fertilised and you become pregnant, it moves into the uterus and attaches to the lining. If you are not pregnant, the lining of the uterus is shed through the opening of the vagina (your period), and a new menstrual cycle begins.
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