Menstruation for Life

Part of the Life Cycle

The menstrual cycle is the process that makes life possible—and it will be with you for most of your life. The average woman experiences menstrual periods from age 12 to age 51.

Menopause means that a woman is no longer ovulating (producing eggs) and therefore can no longer become pregnant. Like menstruation—which can begin as early as age 8 or as late as age 16—menopause can vary from woman to woman and may take several years to occur. Some women have early menopause because of surgery or other treatment, illness, or other reasons6.

While most menstrual periods last from three to five days, anywhere from two to seven days is considered normal6. For the first few years after menstruation begins, periods may be very irregular. They may also become irregular in women experiencing life changes related to menopause. Sometimes birth control pills are prescribed to help with irregular periods or other problems with the menstrual cycle.

Possible underlying medical problems and other factors may interfere with a normal period, causing signs and symptoms such as undue pain and cramping, heavy bleeding, bleeding between periods and skipped periods6. Adolescent girls and mature women alike should know when it is wise to see a health care provider about their period. Any time you feel something is just not right about your period, discuss your concerns with your family physician or gynecologist. Here are some specific guidelines.

You should consult your health care provider if...6
  • You are 16 years old and have not started menstruating
  • Your period has suddenly stopped
  • You are bleeding for more days than usual
  • You are bleeding excessively
  • You suddenly feel sick after using tampons
  • You are bleeding between periods
  • You have severe pain during your period

    6. "Menstruation and the Menstrual Cycle." November, 2002. Office on Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
    Available at:
    Accessed: November 30, 2005.