The female cycle, more appropriately known as the menstrual cycle, is the period of hormonal changes that regulates the processes of ovulation and menstruation. It typically takes 28 days for one cycle to be completed although the number of days can vary. There are several medical terms used to describe specific events and problems with regards to the female cycle. Often these terms are confusing and used incorrectly.
Normal Female Cycle Terms
- Ovulation is the release of an egg cell from the ovaries. It travels down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus. If the egg cell is fertilized by a sperm cell, conception has occurred and a woman is therefore pregnant.
- Menstruation is the discharge of the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium) and unfertilized egg cell a short period after ovulation. Should conception occur, menstruation will cease thereafter until after childbirth. Menstruation is commonly known as the period.
- Menses is the bloody discharge of endometrial remnants and the egg cell during menstruation. It lasts for between 3 to 7 days in most women. It is also known as menstrual bleeding or sometimes referred to as period blood.
- Menarche is the onset of menstruation, or the first period, that signifies puberty in females. From then on a woman is said to be in her fertile or reproductive years although ovulation may not consistently occur in the very early years or with some gynecological problems.
Female Cycle Problems
There are several problems with the menstrual cycle that are identified by specific medical terms.
- Amenorrhea is the absence of menstruation. It is classified as primary amenorrhea if the periods have never started (menarche not reached) by the age of 16years or if a female is showing signs of other sexual characteristics associated with puberty like enlargement of the breasts.
- Anovulation is the term for a menstrual cycle without the release of an egg cell. Menstruation may still occur within this cycle and it is therefore known as an anovulatory cycle.
- Oligomenorrhea is where the menstrual blood (menses) is abnormally light – scanty menses or light period. The term can also be used to describe infrequent menstruation – missed periods. If three or more periods are missed in a row then it is referred to as amenorrhea.
- Menorrhagia is the term for heavy periods where the menstrual blood (menses) is of a larger quantity or there is heavier flow than is considered to be the norm.
- Metrorrhagia is abnormal bleeding in the menstrual cycle also known as intermenstrual bleeding. It arises at a time when menstruation should not be occurring. It can vary from light spotting to bleeding similar to menstruation. Many women are unable to differentiate between the intermenstrual bleed and menstruation and therefore refer to it as periods that are more frequent than normal. However, too frequent menstruation is more correctly known as polymenorrhea.
- Polymenorrhea is very frequent menstruation indicating an abnormally short menstrual cycle. Most women have about 12 to 14 periods a year but with polymenorrhea, the number of periods in a year is substantially more.