A Woman’s Menstrual Cycle Could Be Her 5th Vital Sign

A tray with menstrual cycle written in it.

Doctors believe the menstrual cycle has more to tell and can even be considered the 'fifth vital sign.' (Image: ibreakstock via Dreamstime)

Over the years, physicians and fertility awareness educators have studied women and found that it can lead to understanding women’s health on a deeper level. In general, periods are a monthly occurrence indicating the shedding of the uterine lining. However, doctors believe the menstrual cycle has more to tell and can even be considered the “fifth vital sign.”

What are the vital signs?

The body’s vital signs, which are body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiration (breathing) rate, are crucial indicators of a person’s overall health. This is because they are the body’s essential functions, and their numbers fluctuate to reflect if a person is healthy or if something is wrong with their body.  

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During regular check-ups and medical emergencies, medical staff always record your vital signs and look for anything out of the ordinary. For example, an adult’s standard breathing rate is 12 to 16 breaths at rest. Meanwhile, blood pressure has four categories: expected, elevated, and stage 1 or 2 high blood pressure. 

The average body temperature is 97.8°F-99°F (36.5°C-37.2°C). The body’s pulse rate measures the times the heart beats per minute, with a healthy adult having a pulse rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. Therefore, we can detect signs of illness and medical problems and monitor your body’s condition with each increase or decrease in your vital sign measurements.

Considering how essential body functions can determine your health, it makes sense how your menstrual cycle can be a crucial indicator of your well-being. (Image: Siriporn Kaenseeya via Dreamstime)

The menstrual cycle is the fifth vital sign

Considering how essential body functions can determine one’s health, it makes sense how women’s menstrual cycles can be a crucial indicator of their well-being. A woman menstruates, on average, for 40 years in her lifetime. Getting your period is not only a celebration of womanhood, but also an essential biological process that communicates what your body is going through. 

Health, hormones, fertility, and more

Although it’s different from person to person, the average age that a girl gets her first period is 12 years old. If a girl hasn’t had her first menstrual period at age 16 or 17, it could be a sign of stress, malnourishment, over-exercise, or hormonal imbalance. Similarly, the same factors can cause delayed or irregular menstrual cycles. 

What else can your menstrual cycle tell you? Light periods that produce little blood may suggest that the body has insufficient estrogen. Lower estrogen levels are natural when growing older and approaching menopause, but it could mean premature menopause, autoimmune diseases, or pituitary gland issues for younger females.

Meanwhile, a little pain before and during the menstrual cycle is normal. However, excessive pain could mean diet or nutrient deficiencies. In more severe cases, pain and excessive bleeding could mean having endometriosis or uterine fibroids, affecting a woman’s fertility. 

Irregular periods (caused by enlarged and follicle-surrounded ovaries) are one of the hormonal disorders or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Symptoms (PCOS). Although manageable and treatable, PCOS complications can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, abnormal uterine bleeding, cardiovascular disease, and mental health problems like depression. 

Other hormonal imbalances like the luteal phase defect can present themselves in spotting before periods, indicating low progesterone. Having no menstrual cycles or not ovulating (anovulation) could be a sign of thyroid issues, infertility, and issues with the pituitary gland. 

A little pain before and during the menstrual cycle is normal. (Image: Chernetskaya via Dreamstime)

Menstrual cycles are more than just uncomfortable periods

There is much to be told from your menstrual cycle, periods, and even ovulation; you must pay attention. 

Regarding your overall well-being, your period is no longer merely a monthly nuisance, but a reminder of how you and your body are doing. So don’t look past the signs and symptoms. The next time you mark your period on your calendar, note how your cycle plays out. Just like how they’ll take your vital signs at your next medical appointment, doctors also ask about the date of your last period. 

Celebrate female health and embrace what your cycle, your fifth vital sign, has to tell you! 

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