Menstrual cycle is the cycle of changes that occurs in the uterus and ovary for the purpose of sexual reproduction. It is essential for the production of eggs and for the preparation of the uterus for pregnancy.The menstrual cycle occurs only in fertile female humans and other female primates.
In humans, the length of a menstrual cycle varies greatly among women (ranging from 25 to 35 days), with 28 days designated as the average length. Each cycle can be divided into three phases based on events in the ovary (ovarian cycle) or in the uterus (uterine cycle). The ovarian cycle consists of the follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase whereas the uterine cycle is divided into menstruation, proliferative phase, and secretory phase. Both cycles are controlled by the endocrine system and the normal hormonal changes that occur can be interfered with using hormonal contraception to prevent reproduction.
By convention, menstrual cycles are counted from the first day of menstrual bleeding. Stimulated by gradually increasing amounts of estrogen in the follicular phase, discharges of blood (menses) slow then stop, and the lining of the uterus thickens. Follicles in the ovary begin developing under the influence of a complex interplay of hormones, and after several days one or occasionally two become dominant (non-dominant follicles atrophy and die). Approximately mid-cycle, 24–36 hours after the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) surges, the dominant follicle releases an ovum, or egg in an event called ovulation. After ovulation, the egg only lives for 24 hours or less without fertilization while the remains of the dominant follicle in the ovary become a corpus luteum; this body has a primary function of producing large amounts of progesterone. Under the influence of progesterone, the endometrium (uterine lining) changes to prepare for potential implantation of an embryo to establish a pregnancy. If implantation does not occur within approximately two weeks, the corpus luteum will involute, causing sharp drops in levels of both progesterone and estrogen. These hormone drops cause the uterus to shed its lining and egg in a process termed menstruation.
In the menstrual cycle, changes occur in the female reproductive system as well as other systems (which lead to breast tenderness or mood changes, for example). A woman’s first menstruation is termed menarche, and occurs typically around age 12-13. The end of a woman’s reproductive phase is called the menopause, which commonly occurs somewhere between the ages of 45 and 55.