Understanding how your body functions is empowering. It’s the key to good health and wellness. As a woman, this means knowing about menstruation. Also known as a period, this cycle occurs as the lining of a woman’s uterus breaks down and exits the body. Most women experience menstruation once every month. Here are five things that you need to know about menstrual periods.

1. PMS affects more than 90% of menstruating women.

In addition to the actual shedding of the uterus that happens during menstruation, women need to be aware of the side effects of this cyclical process. These side effects may begin up to two weeks before the start of the menstruation. Known as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), these symptoms can include acne, fatigue, lower back pain, abdominal cramps, bloating, insomnia, tender breasts, and mood swings.

2. Painkillers can help relieve pain from menstrual cramps 

You do not have to suffer through these symptoms without any help. Limiting your intake of caffeine, sugar, and salt can help to naturally ease these symptoms. A regular exercise routine is another way to mitigate the impacts of PMS. Some women turn to over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat the discomfort associated with PMS. Lastly, hormonal birth control options such as the pill may also help keep PMS from impacting your daily life.

3. Menstrual cramps can be a symptom of Uterine Fibroids.

While most side effects of menstruation are normal and nothing to worry about, there are certain situations in which you need to consult the advice and treatment of a healthcare professional. Heavy bleeding, spotting between periods, clotting, and unusual bleeding patterns should all be issues that you should monitor carefully and consult a healthcare provider about.

Menstrual cramps can also be a symptom of uterine fibroids which are the most common type of benign uterine tumors that grow in or around your uterine walls. Women can develop these tumors in their 20s but not experience any symptoms until their late 30s or 40s. Uterine fibroids affect more than 30% of women. The symptoms include longer and heavy menstrual periods, unusual bleeding, pelvic pain, pain in the back or legs, bladder pressure leading to the constant urge to urinate pressure on the bowel, leading to constipation and bloating, and an abnormally enlarged abdomen. Treatment options include hormonal treatment, hysterectomy, myomectomy, and uterine fibroid embolization. According to Vascular Interventional Physicians, which specializes in uterine fibroid treatment in Memphis TN, “Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE) is a new, minimally invasive procedure that helps shrink uterine fibroids without surgery.”

4. There are many different menstrual hygiene options.

There are many different hygiene products and brands for you to choose from. Most women choose either pads or tampons. Another option is a menstrual cup. This option is more environmentally friendly than traditional tampons or pads because they are designed to be washed and used again.

5. Your menstrual cycle changes throughout life.

It is important to note that many cycle changes occur throughout different stages of life. For example, young women tend to experience more passing of time between one period and the next. A normal cycle for a teenage girl could range from 21 to 45 days. These cycles tend to get shorter and more predictable.

However, just when you think you have it down, you may go through perimenopause which can cause erratic schedules once again. During this time, you may also have varying intensities of bleeding. This phase can potentially last up to 10 years before you begin menopause.

Although most cycles range between 21 – 34 days, it is not unusual for a variety of factors to influence the regularity of your period. It does not necessarily mean that you are pregnant if you are late. It could be that weight gain or loss, stress, or excessive exercise is disrupting your normal menstrual pattern.

You should take a pregnancy test if you do not get your period within 35 days and you know there is a chance that you could be pregnant. This is important to do even if you are on birth control.

Understanding the biological processes behind this function can help you to control your symptoms and watch for potential health issues. Being informed will empower you to take charge of your health.