Menstruation: The 6th Vital Sign

by Dr. Rebecca Chatfield, Naturopathic Medical Doctor, The Mobile Health Doc

Blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, respiration rate and blood oxygen are the most common vital signs measured by medical professionals to monitor the body’s most basic functions.

These markers can help assess overall wellness and diagnose illness. Another marker of health that could be considered a sixth vital sign, for women specifically, is menstruation.

Abnormalities seen with menses or the menstrual cycle can reveal underlying imbalances associated not only with sex hormones but other important bodily processes. Recent medical literature has linked irregularities seen in women’s menstrual cycles with increased risk for certain major illnesses.

Although modernity has led to a great deal of progress regarding women’s rights and opportunities, discussing women’s menses and menstruation cycles continues to be associated with shame and continues to be a social taboo for both men and women.

It is important for women to be in tune with their hormonal rhythms and educated about what is healthy versus unhealthy. Here are some measures to assess the health of your sixth vital sign:

  • Length of regular menstrual cycle: 21-35 days.
  • Standard duration of menses: 2-7 days.
  • Quantity of blood: 10-80 ml/2-3 tablespoons per cycle is considered normal. One regular sized tampon/pad holds 5 ml of blood while one supersized tampon/pad holds 10 ml. Use these figures to do the math to calculate your monthly flow.
  • Quality of blood: Blood clots can be normal if smaller than 2.5 cm (size of a dime), and bright red color is considered healthy.
  • Severity of menstrual pain and symptoms: Signs of severe cramps and or symptoms are likely to interfere with daily activities, require time off of work, are accompanied by heavy bleeding or clotting and don’t improve with over-the-counter pain medication.
  • Intermenstrual bleeding: Bleeding between 21-35 day cycles is not considered normal
  • Premenstrual symptoms: There are over 200 symptoms associated with PMS with some of the most common involving such physical symptoms as bloating, tender breasts and headaches and mood-related symptoms like irritability, sadness and anxiety. Severity of symptoms is based on the degree of interference of daily activities

Although each woman’s cycle will vary in expression, quantifiable measurements can be helpful to assess for any irregularities. For assistance in optimizing female hormone balance seek out an integrative health care provider.