The menstrual cycle is a recurrence of physiological changes that occurs in the females of human beings and other great apes; other placental mammals experience estrous cycles instead. The menstrual cycle is under the control of the hormonal system and is necessary for reproduction. A woman's first menstruation is termed menarche and is one of the later stages of puberty in girls. The average age of menarche in humans is 12 years, but between ages 8 and 16 is normal for menarche. Factors such as heredity, diet, and overall health can accelerate or delay onset.



Menopauses is the cessation of menstrual cycles at the end of a woman's reproductive life. The average age of menopausal onset in humans is 51 years, but it commonly occurs between 40 and 58 years of age. The occurrence of menopause before age 35 is considered premature. The age of menopause is largely a result of genetics; illness, certain surgeries, or medical treatments may trigger early menopause, however.


Menstrual Length

The length of a woman's menstrual cycle typically varies, with some shorter cycles and some longer cycles. A woman who experiences variations of fewer than 8 days between her longest cycles and shortest cycles is considered to have regular menstrual cycles. It is unusual for a woman to experience cycle length variations of fewer than 4 days. Length variation between 8 and 20 days is considered moderately irregular. A variation of 21 days or more between a woman's shortest and longest cycle lengths is considered highly irregular (see cycle abnormalities). Menstrual cycles are counted from the first day of menstrual bleeding, because the onset of menstruation corresponds closely with the hormonal cycle. The menstrual cycle may be divided into several phases, and the length of each phase varies from woman to woman and cycle to cycle.


Average Values Are Shown Below:

NAME OF PHASE                                                                                        DAYS

Follicular Phase (also known as proliferative phase)                             1-4

Ovulation (not a phase, but an event that divide phases)                   5-13

Luteal Phase (also known as secretory phase)                                     15-26

Ischemic Phase (some sources group this with secretory phase)     27-28


Follicular Phase

During the follicular phase the lining of the uterus thickens, stimulated by gradually increasing amounts of estrogen. Follicles in the ovary begin developing under the influence of a complex interplay of hormones; after several days, one or occasionally two follicles become dominant (non-dominant follicles atrophy and die). The dominant follicle releases an ovum or egg in an event called ovulation. (An egg that is fertilized by a spermatozoon will become a zygote, taking 1 to 2 weeks to travel down the fallopian tubes to the uterus. If the egg is not fertilized within about a day of ovulation, it will die and be absorbed by the woman's body.) After ovulation, 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 2 weeks, the corpus luteum will die, causing sharp drops in levels of both progesterone and estrogen. These hormone drops cause the uterus to shed its lining in a process termed menstruation.