What is the difference between a period “cycle” and period “flow”?

Though you’ve probably been dealing with your period for a while, there are definitely some things you still may have questions about. The fact of the matter is, the period experience varies from woman-to-woman, so a single standard of ‘normal’ really can’t be pinpointed. The most common questions women have, deal with the difference between the menstrual cycle and periodic menstrual flow or unexpected spotting. 

What do you mean by menstrual cycle?

By definition, the menstrual cycle covers the entire circulation of hormones throughout the female reproductive system as the body prepares for a possible pregnancy. The typical length of a menstrual cycle is between 28-35 days. The cycle begins with menstruation, the shedding of the uterine lining,  that usually lasts from 3-7 days. From there, the female sex hormones go to work signaling the body to thicken the tissue within the uterus once again and spur on the development of an egg from the ovaries. 

Right around the halfway point in the menstrual cycle, usually between days 14-17, rising estrogen levels cause the release of an egg from the follicles termed ovulation. Ovulation is the most fertile window of time during a woman’s menstrual cycle, during which the chances of pregnancy are highest. The egg survives for just a short time, only up to 24 hours, which gives sperm already present in the body the opportunity to fertilize the egg. 

After the 24 hours is up, the egg travels from the ovaries to the uterus through the fallopian tubes from days 28-35. If the egg was fertilized at any time during this process, it then attaches to the thickened uterine lining and prepares for the development of a baby. If fertilization did not occur, hormone levels continue to drop as the egg breaks down. The ruptured egg is shed along with the extra tissue from the uterine lining culminating in the monthly period and the cycle begins all over again. 


What do you mean by menstrual flow?

The menstrual flow entails any instance of blood or tissue leaving the body. Though this is usually associated with a period, the reality is that menstrual flow can occur at any point during the entire menstrual cycle. Spotting or breakthrough bleeding is a common occurrence experienced by many women and can often be confused for the monthly period. However, spotting is typically a very light form of menstrual flow that starts unexpectedly but stops fairly quickly compared to a true period where bleeding is noticeably heavier requiring the use of a pad, tampon, or menstrual cup. Spotting occurs for a number of reasons including ovulation, hormonal birth control methods, and even implantation bleeding from a possible pregnancy. Although spotting does happen and usually nothing to be concerned about, see your doctor if you continually experience breakthrough bleeding before your period to rule out the possibility of any other issues. 


The female body can be confusing but understanding the complexities of menstruation can help to clear up any unanswered questions.


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