Patterns In Period Cycle At Different Decades Of A Woman’s Life
- 5 Mins Read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Reshma Pathare
- In the 20s, a woman sees a steady menstrual rhythm developing, as the hormonal ups and downs of the teenage years settle by this time.
- PMS, cramps, and PCOS are among the common health problems seen in the 20s.
- In the 30s, the menstrual system is in its most stable phase, unless there’s a pause for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- In the 40s, the reproductive system starts winding down, and some of the early menstrual irregularities seen in the teenage years recur at this stage.
- In the 50s, a woman is very close to menopause, and this usually manifests itself in a series of age-specific symptoms.
In today’s world, education and awareness have made most aspects of a normal period cycle common knowledge; every woman is fairly well aware of the facts. This is also true for Susan, who is in her late 20s.
However, Susan’s inquisitive mind wants to know why the menstrual cycle has always remained a mysterious subject of discussion among her colleagues and friends. Was it because the definition of a menstrual cycle was different in every decade of a woman’s reproductive life?
Susan wonders: do things like a normal period cycle, average period cycle, period symptoms, ovulation cramps, etc. change significantly when a woman goes from her 20s to her late 30s and then 40s?
Susan knew that her mother would be her best source of information, to help resolve her quandary. Her mother had a very innovative approach: she kept journals, which included, among other things, her experience of the menstrual cycle from her teenage days right through her adulthood.
Her mother shared these diaries with Susan so that the daughter could relive those experiences.
This became an important instrument of knowledge for Susan. The diaries helped her understand menstrual period symptoms; if it is normal to menstruate twice a month; what to do if the periods are late (up to 18 days late periods); the average period length; and the average age of menopause.
She could now understand the kind of changes that would also need attention over time. For instance, she could now see — through a mother’s eyes — how a 35-year-old woman’s body changes, even though she was years away from that age. The diaries answered, to some extent, her questions: How many days does a normal period last? What causes irregular menstruation? What is the cause of a heavy menstrual flow? Why do periods change dates?
Menstrual cycle patterns
Here’s some of the period wisdom that Susan has gained from her mother’s diaries. She has sorted the information for her benefit into four stages of life: 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.
She hasn’t focused that much on a girl’s teenage years, just after menstruation starts, because the early years of menstruation can be quite erratic for different young adults, depending on a variety of factors, including their body weight. They don’t always experience the normal menstrual cycle of 21-35 days, which is the normal range of gap between two periods. Also, the levels of estrogen and progesterone — the key hormones of the female reproductive cycle — may not see a regular rhythm in their body until a couple of years have passed after menarche, the first menstrual bleeding in a girl’s life.
So, Susan believes after reading her mother’s diaries and doing her research, that it’s possible to identify distinctive patterns in the menstrual cycle only after a young adult reaches her 20s. Since there’s no cause for worry when everything is going right with one’s menstrual cycle, Susan has focused on a few things that go wrong in these age bands, so that she can better manage those situations.
Period cycle in the early 20s
This is the age when the menstruation cycle gets settled in the body, after the initial see-sawing spell of puberty. In the beginning, the hormonal dance in a woman’s body is not properly regulated. As a result, her ovulation, onset of the period, length of period, and nature of bleeding are all inconsistent.
During the 20s, these get settled gradually. However, there’s always a variation from woman to woman, since each body system is different from the other. The most bothersome aspects of menstruation during this time are Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and cramps. Young women frequently suffer from them and struggle to balance life with work, as they take their first steps into a more independent life, accompanied by many lifestyle changes.
Sometimes, depending on how menstruation is viewed in a woman’s culture and belief system, she may have to fight some social taboos to make her own life comfortable.
Changes in traditional lifestyles and career compulsions for women have meant the occasional or prolonged use of birth control pills or hormonal contraceptives to end a period early or for actual contraception. This impacts the regularity of ovulation and periods.
Menstrual irregularity, amenorrhea (missed period), and dysmenorrhea (painful periods) require medical consultation. These are the commonest issues dealt with by doctors, who prescribe remedies such as lifestyle alterations, managing anemia, and ensuring nutrition balance.
It’s also common to have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome detected during this age bracket, the PCOS symptoms being acne, obesity, and irregular periods.
Period cycle in the 30s
From the latter part of the previous decade of a woman’s life and across her 30s, menstruation patterns are the most stabilized. During this phase, the secretion of estrogen and progesterone gets regularized. Even PMS, irregularity in period flow, and general painful periods come under control.
Any sudden change in the period patterns during this phase requires medical consultation. For example, a sudden increase in bleeding, or unusual cramps or pain, either intense or consistently dull, is cause for alarm.
This is the decade when diseases like fibroid growth or the appearance of endometriosis (tissue similar to the uterine inner lining growing outside the uterus) are more common. During this decade of a woman’s life, doctors always try to rule out the possibilities of the aforementioned diseases.
Pregnancies and breastfeeding occur during this decade, impacting the menstrual rhythm, and creating a long pause in the menstrual flow. The return of menstruation, after delivery, becomes a different experience due to the muscle contractions endured during childbirth, if the delivery was a natural one. Women often feel more at ease.
When the periods might return after childbirth depends on whether the new mother is breastfeeding or not. Without breastfeeding, periods typically return six to eight weeks after childbirth. With breastfeeding, the timing can’t be pinpointed.
Period cycle in the 40s
This is the age when the body starts preparing for menopause; the stability of a consistent menstrual cycle starts getting disrupted. Women start feeling the difference once again in various aspects of the menstrual cycle, e.g. nature of the flow, a spell of abdominal cramps, spotting between periods, or even skipped periods.
All of these are related to irregular ovulation since the ovarian reserve of follicles (tiny sacs, each containing an egg, called an oocyte) that a woman is born with tends to start getting exhausted. The body effectively starts winding down and starts heading towards menopause.
In today’s world, the pregnancy rate in this age group has drastically dropped, due to lifestyle changes, emotional stress, work pressures, etc. The impact of PMS, in terms of severity and length of suffering, is extremely strong during this decade. Though rare, uterine cancer or ovarian cancer is detected in the late 40s and early 50s of a woman’s life.
Period cycle in the 50s
The average global age of menopause is 51.5 years (with the range being 45 to 55 years). Thus, this is the perimenopausal age in most women; they experience irregular periods, spotting, and unpredictability of the appearance/disappearance of their menstrual flow.
Symptoms of perimenopause are:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness