Whether you’ve just started your period or you’ve had it for years now, you probably still have questions about it. Here are answers to questions many women have.

Q. What is PMS? A. PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. A few days before your period, you may start feeling some soreness or heaviness in your breasts. Your stomach may feel bloated. You may get a few pimples. And you may be more crabby, sad or emotional than usual. It may sound awful, but for most women it’s not that big a deal. Some women have PMS problems, and some women have no problems at all. Exercise and hot baths can help level out the mood swings. Some say vitamin B, herb teas and massage can help. If your PMS is so horrible it seems to be getting in the way of your life, ask your doctor for options.

Q. What can I do about menstrual cramps during my period? A. Menstrual cramps vary in intensity, from woman to woman and even from cycle to cycle. You can take aspirin or other non-prescription painkillers, do mild exercise (stretches are good), or relax with a book or in front of the TV. Warmth is often helpful; try taking a hot bath or putting a heating pad on your stomach or lower back. You can also get your mother, your sister or a friend to rub your stomach. If you frequently experience severe cramps, talk to your doctor about treatment for them.

Q. My breasts always hurt right before my period. Why? How can I prevent this? A. Your estrogen and progesterone levels are fluctuating, causing fluid to build up in your breasts and making them sore and heavy-feeling. This is completely normal. You could try over-the-counter PMS medicine, avoiding salt and caffeine, even wearing a supportive sports bra if your breasts really bother you.

Q. Why do I feel fat during my period? A. Just before and during your period, your body tends to retain water. This added fluid might make you feel full and your breasts feel tender. It’s normal to gain a couple of pounds during this time of the month and lose them when your period is over. If you feel like a water balloon, pull on some loose, comfortable clothing. Avoiding salt immediately before and during your period is also a good idea, because salt increases water retention.

Q. How much blood do I lose during a period? A. It varies. For most women, it’s around four tablespoons, but for some, it’s as much as a cup. (If you’re bleeding more than that, see your doctor). Sometimes the blood is red, sometimes it’s brown, sometimes it’s a mix of both, and sometimes it’s got some clotted bits in it. Variety is normal, and every woman is different.

Q. What if my flow is really heavy and I have to use lots of pads? A. It’s probably just that: a heavy flow, which can often happen the first day or two. For some women, a heavy flow is normal. If you have a prolonged heavy flow, you should check with your doctor.

Q. What does it mean if my period is late or irregular? A. Irregular periods for the first couple of years are normal. But after that, when you’ve started to menstruate regularly, missing a period may be a sign of pregnancy (if you are sexually active). Other causes of irregularity include a change in diet, increase in exercise or drug use. The best advice is to chat with your doctor if you’re concerned.

Q. Can I actually get pregnant during my period? A. Yes. Women with very short (21 days or so) or irregular cycles may well be ovulating while they’re still bleeding. (See Phases of Your Cycle for a complete explanation of your menstrual cycle). If you have more questions about fertility and your period, talk to your doctor.