In teen or pre-teen girls, menarche, or the first menstrual period, signals the beginning of puberty, when a teen begins to mature sexually. This can occur between ages 9 and 16, but usually takes place in the early teen years. Teen girls should be taught before menarche what menstruation is and what to expect. Some girls dread their periods, while others look forward to it as a part of growing up, but either way it is a part of normal, healthy development into an adult woman.
Hormones produced in the ovaries trigger teen menstruation. About once a month a teen ovulates, or releases an egg from her ovaries that travels down a fallopian tube to the uterus. The uterus is lined with blood and extra tissue before ovulation; if the egg were to be fertilized by sperm, it would attach to the uterus wall and develop into a fetus. When the egg is not fertilized, the uterus sheds the egg along with the extra blood and tissue. This menstrual cycle usually continues until a woman reaches menopause around age 50.
Menstruation is different for every teen. Teen menstruation is normally irregular for several years, becoming more regular in later teen years or young adulthood. Some teens have periods that last 2 or 3 days, while others have a period that lasts a week or more. Some teens also bleed more than others, though teens should not be concerned by the amount of blood - it is usually not as much as it seems to be. It is very uncommon for teen girls to bleed too much, but if a teen is concerned about menstrual bleeding she should talk to a doctor or nurse.
Some other changes that may accompany menarche and puberty include:
- Clear vaginal discharge
- The growth of body hair
- Breast development, with one breast sometimes developing faster than the other
The hormones accompanying menstruation and puberty can also trigger depression in teen girls, with symptoms such as:
- Long-lasting sadness or hopelessness
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Talk about death or suicide
Teens with these symptoms should get medical attention.
Most teen girls prefer to use pads or panty liners when they first begin menstruating, but some also try tampons, especially if they are involved in sports. Teens should carefully read the warnings that are included with tampons about Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Some side effects of a period can include:
- Body Aches
Often, taking a warm bath, using a heating pad, or light exercise helps these symptoms. A teen on her period should go about her normal routine if possible.
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is a condition experienced by about 75 percent of teens. It is caused by changing hormone levels just before menstruation, and can include:
- Feelings of depression
- Irritability or anger
- Feeling bloated or puffy
- Swollen or sore breasts
Some things that may ease the symptoms of PMS include:
- Avoiding caffeine, chocolate, or salty foods in the week before menstruation
- Getting enough sleep
If a teen has severe PMS she should talk to a parent or doctor. About 5 percent of teens experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, which shares many of the symptoms of PMS, but is severe enough to interfere with daily functions. If a teen has severe PMS symptoms and some of the following premenstrual symptoms she may have PMDD:
- Mood swings
- Tension or anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Appetite changes
In addition to the treatments for PMS, a teen with PMDD may want to try:
- Relaxation techniques
- A diet with sufficient vitamins and minerals
- Prescription medications
Despite some of the adjustments a teen must make when she begins menstruation, most teens find that menstruation is a normal part of life that causes minimal disruptions to other activities.
Teen Menstruation Sources:
- Nemours Foundation, TeensHealth, "All About Menstruation" [online]
- GirlPower.gov, BodyWise: "All About Your Period" [online]
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "On the Teen Scene: A Balanced Look at the Menstrual Cycle." [online]
- Factsforhealth.org, "What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder?" [online]