What are the stages of the menstrual cycle?
1. Menstrual period
When you have your period, the lining of the uterus is breaking down and slowly flowing out of your body through the vagina over a period of days. Menstruation is the term given to the periodic discharge of blood, tissue, fluid, and mucus from the reproductive organs of sexually mature females. Bleeding usually lasts from 3 -5 days each month, and is caused by a sudden reduction in the hormones, estrogen and progesterone when the egg was not fertilized. For most of a woman's life, the egg that is released approximately once each month will not become fertilized, so the lining that develops each month for the possibility of a fertilized egg cell won't be needed. Over a period of days the blood vessels shrink and the uterus will shed the unneeded lining, made up of a small amount of blood and tissue.
2. Preovulatory or follicular phase
The preovulatory phase (before the egg cell is released) is next and starts as soon as your period ends. During the preovulatory phase, the uterine lining thickens with an increased number of blood vessels. The lining of the uterus needs to prepare itself for the possibility of supporting a fertilized egg. An egg is also ripening in one of the ovaries in preparation for ovulation.
3. Ovulation Phase
The third phase is the ovulation phase at midcycle, which, in a 28-day cycle would be day 14. During ovulation, a mature egg is released from one of the ovaries. Some women may have some slight discomfort during ovulation usually described as a twinge or cramp or 'mittelschmerz' (German for 'pain in the middle') in the lower abdomen or back. Many women have no sensation that they are ovulating. Once released, the egg travels into the fallopian tube and lives there for 12-24 hours. If it's not fertilized by a sperm the egg disintegrates. Sperm can survive for up to five days inside a woman's reproductive system. The 4-5 days before, and the day of ovulation are considered a woman's "fertile period" — the time when, if she has sex, can become pregnant. Because the lengths of menstrual cycles vary, many women ovulate earlier or later than day 14 of the cycle. Stress and other things can sometimes cause a cycle to be shorter or longer.
4. Postovulatory or Luteal Phase
During most months, the egg cell simply dies in the postovulatory phase (after the egg cell is released), the endometrium continues to develop and the uterine glands secrete nutrient materials. If the egg cell meets a sperm cell (which usually happens in the far part of the fallopian tube) the fertilized egg continues to travel towards the inside of the uterus. That journey takes on average about a week. Once the fertilized egg reaches the inside of the uterus, it attaches itself to the uterine lining in a process called 'implantation'. Most women do not feel when implantation happens. If a woman becomes pregnant, the implanted embryo sends out signals to the woman's brain, and her menstrual period cycle will stop. If there is no implantation, hormones drop, the uterine lining can no longer be maintained and the lining of the uterus breaks down, menstrual bleeding begins, and the cycle repeats.
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