Your menstrual cycle is known to be your fifth vital sign. It’s a complex system put together by processes between your body’s tissues, cells and hormones that can reflect your overall health, along with body temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate. Menstrual irregularities can indicate hormone imbalances, infections or gynecologic diseases. There are things that can highly affect your cycle too, such as, stress, diet, weight fluctuations, medications and lifestyle factors.
Menstruation has been stigmatized, and women’s health studies have been known to be less funded. So while the basics are covered, the details have stigmatized how a woman is perceived if she has her period. It’s time to change this, normalize period talks and reclaim the word “hormonal.”
You don’t just have a period but rather a four-phase cycle. Normal periods are typically every 21-35 days lasting three to seven days. Anything outside of this can be common, but it’s not normal. Tracking your cycle is a good habit to get into. There are four phases to your cycle: menstrual (days 1-5ish), follicular (days 6-12ish), ovulatory (days 13-15ish) and luteal (days 16-28ish). Understanding what your hormones do in these phases can influence overall health and balance. There are certain foods you can eat to maintain balance and exercises you can do to maintain weight management. It’s incredible how powerful our cycles can be and how much they can influence overall health if these phases stay aligned and balanced—we have regular periods, normal flow, no PMS symptoms, optimal mental health, balanced stress response, no pain and more. If you experience painful, heavy, irregular periods with increased feelings of depression/anxiety, this is not normal—it’s common but not normal. You should not dread your period but celebrate the power of our bodies and being a woman.
Using your flow color as a navigation system
Red: This is typical period blood, indicating your flow is healthy. It may start as a light red/pink and become a deepened red at the end of your flow. This is a bit heavier on day 2-3.
Brown/black: This is usually at the very beginning or end of your flow but not always. It’s oxidized blood, or old blood. This may also be a sign of an implantation bleed if there is a possibility of pregnancy, a miscarriage or a sign of low progesterone.
Pink: This could be at the beginning of your flow—period blood with added cervical mucous. This is more common if you are on the pill, have had a recent weight loss, have a low-nutrient diet or are anemic. Pink blood is a sign of low estrogen and can be seen in perimenopause.
Orange, Grey, Green: Blood mixed with these colors of discharge can be a sign of a bacterial vaginal infection or sexually transmitted infection, so look for other symptoms, such as vaginal itching, odor or irregular cycles.
Purple: This indicates heavy bleeding and high estrogen. Usually this means you have thicker uterine lining with PMS. It could be indicative of endometriosis, PCOS or uterine fibroids.
Your period should not be disregarded. It’s a vital sign of wellness. Let’s end the stigma of “it’s normal” and feel empowered to know our flow, the phase to balance and when to see your provider.
Anne Schwanke, APRN, CNM, WHNP