The Uterus (Rahim)

The uterus, or womb, is quite an amazing organ. Pear-shaped in appearance, and testing on its small end (the cervix) in the center of a woman’s pelvis, it houses and protects a fetus from implantation until birth. As the fetus grows during pregnancy, the uterus expands tremendously – from the size of a fist into a huge, muscular bag filling the woman’s entire abdomen. That bag can hold not only a full term baby, but a quart of fluid and a one-pound placenta besides.

The Menstrual Cycle
Every month, if the woman is not already pregnant, the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium) goes through a process of renewal and preparation known as the menstrual cycle. Basically, the menstrual cycle is the way the woman’s uterus prepares to receive and nourish a fertilized ovum. The inner lining of the uterus thickens and grows, and the structure of its blood vessels changes. If an ovum does become fertilized that month and implants in the uterine lining, the uterus keeps its lining to nourish the growing fetus. But if pregnancy does not occur, the uterus sloughs off its entire inner lining. The blood and tissue pass through the cervix and the vagina in a discharge knows as menstruation-a term that comes from the Latin word mensis, meaning “month.” A woman’s menstrual flow generally lasts from three to six days, and the typical menstrual cycle lasts twenty seven to thirty days.

The Physical Effects of the Menstrual Cycle
Many women experience some physical effects related to bodily changes immediately preceding or during their menstrual periods. They may feel bloated, their breasts may be tender, or they may have backaches, leg pains, or changes in energy level. A few women have abdominal pains, or “cramps,” that are severe enough to keep them in bed-or at least on a restricted schedule-for a day or so. Other women experience no physical discomfort during menstruation. In any case, these effect are the result of a normal physiological process. A menstruating woman is not “sick.”

The Psychological Effects of the Menstrual Cycle
Some women find that their emotions are not affected by their menstrual cycle. Other women experience mood changes at some point in their menstrual cycle, typically just before their menstrual flow begins. This is not surprising, since the menstrual flow is brought on by the ebb and flow of hormones in the body, and hormones act on the whole body – including the brain.

The facts about the psychological effects of menstruation are still being established. Researchers have identified a condition known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which some – though not all or even most – women experience, and which can cause its victims great distress, PMS can involve one or more physiological symptoms (breast and abdominal swelling, food cravings, headaches, acne) as well as irritability, lethargy, and depression. An English physician, Katharina Dalton, has even asserted that these symptoms can be no extreme as to make some women prone to violent behavior. Although other clinicians have disputed Dalton’s accounts of patients driven to violence by PMS, most doctors and researchers seem to agree that such a syndrome does exist I some women. The syndrome is currently thought to be the result of a lack. The syndrome is currently thought to be the result of a lack of the hormone progesterone, and some patients have been successfully treated for PMS with does of progesterone.

Further research will probably help, clarify our picture of the psychological changes that can accompany the menstrual cycle. It is interesting to note that some women may actually perform better in their premenstrual days. One study, for example, found that typists were more accurate then. Other research has found that women’s sense of taste and smell, their identification of musical pitches, and the strength and steadiness of their hands vary slightly over the menstrual cycle.

However, since so many periodic and situational factors affect our day moods, it is surely a mistake to focus exclusively on the role of women’s hormones in producing emotional variability. For example, our mood and work performance may be low because we’ve slept poorly, because we don’t like the hot (or cold) weather, because we have a family or financial problem, or simply because it’s Monday. These are factors that can affect either sex.


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