The Menstrual Cycle
A woman of child-bearing age will experience a menstrual cycle approximately every 28 days. Menstruation is often referred to as menses. There are several phases that the body goes through to complete the menstrual cycle, and it is necessary for a woman's body to go through these phases in order to reproduce. First, a hormonal increase of estrogen takes place. During this time, the lining of the uterus thickens. Next, ovulation occurs from a dominant follicle in the ovaries. A dominant follicle that survives in the ovaries releases an egg. A process known as corpus luteum happens once ovulation takes place. This is where the dominant follicle starts producing large amounts of progesterone, which is needed to maintain pregnancy. The thickened uterine lining starts changing to await potential implantation for pregnancy. For approximately 2 weeks, the female body prepares for potential pregnancy, and if it does not occur, then the dominant follicle which has changed to corpus luteum will involute or curl inward on itself. This will cause a sharp drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. The last part of this process is when the uterus, not being implanted, sheds its lining, producing blood flow which is called menstruation.
Hormones and Mood
We know that during the menstruation cycle women have increased levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. The hormone estrogen is what affects mood. Estrogen is a "feel-good" hormone because of the way it affects the brain. This hormone gives increased levels of neurotransmitters to the brain. These chemicals include endorphins, enkephalins and serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical that has a direct influence on emotions and appetite. The levels of these chemical spike in preparation for pregnancy but decline when implantation does not occur. The loss of these chemicals causes mood changes, often referred to as Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, or PMS. Moods during the menstrual cycle can swing from elation to depression, and the ranges for each woman can be mild to severe. A condition known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, can happen when emotional and behavioral symptoms become intense. Some of these symptoms are rage, violence, sudden bursts of anger, severe depression and panic attacks. Any woman experiencing such intense symptoms associated with her menstrual cycle needs to speak with her health care provider as there are treatments for these symptoms.
As the lining thickens in the uterus, cramps and a feeling of abdomen fullness may occur. Sometimes these cramps can be extremely painful. The chemical losses that occur during menstruation are also linked to bloating, headaches, tension, breast tenderness and food cravings. Each of these symptoms can contribute to how mood is affected during the menstrual cycle.