Whether you call it your monthly visitor, your period, or one of many other creative euphemisms, menstruation is a mainstay in most women's lives from early adolescence until menopause in their 40's and 50's. Because of the routine nature of this biological process, it's easy to become complacent about tracking it.
Keeping track of your period is important for a number of reasons, primarily health-related. Thanks to technology, it's now easier than ever to keep track of not just your menstrual cycle, but your moods, physical symptoms and even food cravings at specific times of the month.
A change in menstrual cycle is often the first obvious symptom for a number of women's health issues, some of which have no obvious connection to the reproductive organs.
For many women, a missed period is the first indication of pregnancy. That fact alone is reason enough for sexually active women to keep track of their monthly cycles. Most forms of birth control don't quite hit the 100% effectiveness mark, and an unplanned pregnancy is the last thing you need.
In addition to birth control, following the “rhythm method” — in which a woman avoids sex during her most fertile days to prevent pregnancy — relies on accurate period tracking.
On the other end of the spectrum, women trying to conceive can use period tracking to learn when they are the most fertile. This may boost the chances of conception significantly.
The more intimately you know your own body and its cycles, the more easily you can recognize when something is amiss. Not only that, but a change in menstrual cycle is often the first obvious symptom for a number of women's health issues, some of which have no obvious connection to the reproductive organs.
When a regular menstrual cycle becomes irregular, it may indicate a hormone and/or thyroid issue, liver function problems, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes or a host of other health conditions. Women also commonly miss periods or experience menstrual changes when adopting a new exercise routine, gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, or simply going through a period of extreme stress.
One late, early or missed period isn't necessarily cause for alarm, but if the menstrual irregularity is coupled with other symptoms , you should schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN doctor.
At the bare minimum, you should keep track of the first day of your period each month. This information is enough to help you notice most irregularities. However, you can get pretty sophisticated with your period tracking. Keeping these details helps you and your doctor monitor your health more closely, and it can also help you prepare yourself for other symptoms related to menstruation.
Besides tracking the first day of your period each month, other here are some other data points you should consider monitoring:
Does your period start with a couple of days of heavy flow and then taper off to a day or two of spotting? If so, you probably require different strengths of pads or tampons through the course of your cycle. Anticipating these needs can make your life much easier.
If you experience PMS or PMDD, your moods may seem subject to random fluctuations. By tracking your moods in the days leading up to and during your period, you just might find that you wake up on the wrong side of bed exactly two days before starting your cycle each month.
Forewarned is forearmed, so the more you know about what to expect from your moods, the better you can cope with them as they come.
A lot of women don't even realize how many aspects of their lives are dictated by their menstrual cycle, at least during certain parts of the month. When you track how you feel as your cycle approaches, you can learn some pretty interesting things about your habits.
For example, you may find that you tend to eat everything in sight on the first day of your period. You can use that knowledge to make sure you have healthy snacks on hand to indulge those urges.
Or, it might be that tracking your energy level shows you that you are always exhausted on day three of your period, or that you get a headache before your period starts each month. When you track every aspect of your cycle, you won't be blindsided by your body's reactions to menstruation.
You don't necessarily need a fancy method for tracking your period and the accompanying symptoms. Writing it down on a calendar or monthly planner serves the purpose just fine.
If you want to get a little more high-tech with it, however, there are computer programs, online trackers and smart phone apps that give you the ability to keep up with every detail you could want. Here’s a list of the best period tracker apps out there:
Our compassionate OB/GYN doctors at North Florida’s All About Women are here to help you when your body gives you warning signs. But ultimately, it's up to you to recognize when those signs occur. That's why it's imperative that you be proactive about your health with proper period tracking.