Women's health generally covers the topics of reproductive health, sexual health, and the changes of menopause. A woman's body is unique as it goes through many changes throughout her life in order to prepare her for having a baby and the end of her childbearing years.

Sexual Health: Contraception, or birth control, is used to avoid pregnancy while still being sexually active. Some forms of birth control include barrier methods to block fertilization and hormonal birth control such as pills, patches and vaginal rings.

STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases, can develop as a result of unprotected sex. While some are treatable, others have no cure. Regular STD vaccination and testing can be beneficial for those who are sexually active.

Reproductive Health: The female reproductive system begins preparing early in a woman's life for the eventual ability to carry a child to term. Menstruation begins at puberty, and the body again changes during the time of pregnancy. Human pregnancy typically lasts 40 weeks or nine months from the start of the last menstrual cycle to the time of childbirth.

Menopause: Menopause is a normal and expected time in a female’s life when the monthly menstrual cycle stops, though symptoms can appear several years before. The average age of a woman's last period is 51 but can range from her early 40s to late 50s. Symptoms of menopause can last months to years with the varying changes to estrogen and progesterone levels, female hormones created in the ovaries.

Sexual Health: Contraception measures are meant to prevent pregnancy in those who are sexually active. Certain types of contraception may cause side effects for some people. Hormonal birth control such as birth control pills, injections, skin patches, vaginal rings and implants work by releasing amounts of hormones into a female's body that interfere with the fertility process by preventing ovulation. This influx of hormones may cause side effects which should be discussed with your doctor before using. Possible symptoms and side effects of hormonal birth control may include weight gain, moodiness or feelings of being ill.

STDs can have a variety possible symptoms. Some common symptoms of STDs include: unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, sores or warts on the genital area, burning while urinating, itching, redness or pain in the genital area and anal itching, soreness or bleeding. Alert your doctor to these symptoms or any other abnormalities in your genital area.

Reproductive Health: Menstruation is the vaginal bleeding that occurs monthly for women after the start of puberty. This monthly "period" may be accompanied by symptoms such as bloating, irritability or moodiness, and abdominal cramps. Pregnancy's most common symptom is the absence of this period. Additional pregnancy symptoms may include: nausea, vomiting (morning sickness), sore breasts or nipples, fatigue, headache, food cravings or aversions, mood swings and frequent urination.

Menopause: A change in your monthly period is normally the first sign of menopause. Your periods may lose their regularity and become shorter or longer than usual. Your period also might become lighter. Hot flashes also are typical of menopause, as they are related to changing levels of estrogen. A hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat in the upper part or all of your body. Feeling flushed, red blotches on the skin, heavy sweating and cold shivering are all symptoms. Hot flashes may last a few years following menopause. Drier and thinner genital areas, an increase in vaginal or urinary infections, urine leaks, trouble sleeping, increased or decreased interest in sex, mood changes and weight gain are also common during menopause.

Sexual Health: Your doctor can address almost any sexual health concern you may have. A full physical examination will allow your doctor to make a proper and accurate diagnosis and prescribe the best treatment for you. Your doctor may recommend that you see a gynecologist for further specialized testing. When it comes to sexual health conditions, an accurate and honest medical history may help your doctor significantly in giving you a diagnosis. Be open about your sexual partners and activity. Your doctor may run tests that include taking samples of discharge or urine for further testing. A Pap smear may be needed to diagnose certain STDs.

Reproductive Health: The most effective way to find out if you're pregnant is through a pregnancy test. Home pregnancy tests are available over-the-counter at many drug and grocery stores and are considered highly accurate. Your doctor or health care provider also can do a pregnancy test. If you take a home pregnancy test and receive a positive result, schedule an appointment with your doctor to follow up. They will be able to confirm the pregnancy.

Menopause: As menopause happens at different ages for different women, it can be difficult to know exactly when onset will begin. While the average age of menopause is 51, it could start in a woman's 40s to late 50s.

Symptoms may be the strongest sign for when menopause begins for you. When you reach middle age, pay close attention to your menstrual cycle and note any irregularities or changes. This could be an early sign of the start of menopause. At first, you might not notice slight changes to the body such as weight gain, thinning skin or stiff joints, but these symptoms combined with hot flashes and changing periods may be the signs needed to confirm menopause.

Sexual Health: Some forms of contraception can lead to complications. Ask your doctor about all your contraception options, as you may wish to change your method. For example, you may want to change condom brand or sizing to increase comfort. Or you might change the type of birth control you're using — such as a switch from pill to patch or injection to vaginal ring — to reduce side effects. If one type of contraception hasn't worked how you would like it to, you may wish to look into more permanent options such as in intrauterine device (IUD). Sterilization, which permanently prevents a woman from getting pregnant and involves a surgical procedure that usually cannot be reversed, is available for women who have decided they do not wish to have children or have completed their family.

Many STDs are caused by bacteria and can be treated by antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. However, some STDs are caused by viruses that cannot be cured but instead must simply be managed. Some viral STDs include: HIV/AIDS, genital herpes and hepatitis B. Ask your doctor on how to manage a viral STD.

Reproductive Health: For most women, their monthly period will occur regularly until they reach menopause. Over-the-counter products such as tampons and sanitary pads may be used to control bleeding and for cleanliness purposes. Mild pain medication may also be used to treat and control symptoms such as abdominal pain.

Pregnant women need proper prenatal care, which includes frequent visits to the doctor or gynecologist as well as dietary changes and increased vitamin intake. Most experts suggest that pregnant women see their doctor about once each month for weeks 4-28, twice a month for weeks 28-36 and weekly for weeks 36 through the birth. If you are older than 35 years, or your pregnancy is high-risk, you'll probably see your doctor more often based on his or her recommendation. Getting 400-800 micrograms of folic acid per day is often recommended for pregnant woman to prevent many types of birth defects. It is also vital to quit smoking and drinking and to avoid toxic substances like chemicals and cat or rodent feces at home and work. Check with your doctor to see if the medications you take are still safe during pregnancy. Discuss vaccinations with your doctor as well.

During pregnancy, it's recommended that women eat a wide variety of healthy foods. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium-rich foods and foods low in saturated fats. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need every day, including iron which can help prevent anemia (a condition linked to preterm birth and low birth weight). Protect yourself and your baby from food-borne illnesses such as toxoplasmosis and Listeria by washing all fruits and vegetables before eating. Don't eat undercooked or uncooked meat or fish and always handle, clean, cook, eat, and store foods properly. Don't eat fish with high levels of mercury. Such fish include swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish. Make sure to gain a healthy amount of weight — that weight is needed for you and your baby. Your doctor can guide you on how much weight to gain and what you should aim for during the pregnancy.

Menopause: Menopause is not an illness. It is a point in a woman's life when the body begins to stop production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. However, menopause does mean a woman’s body is more prone to aging and certain conditions without the protection these hormones can provide. Therefore, it is important to stay healthy during and after menopause. Quit smoking and start eating healthier with a diet low in fat and high in fiber, mixing in a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise at least three days a week. Try activities such as walking, jogging, or dancing.

If you need medical treatment during menopause, work with your doctor to find the medication that's right for you. Medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and osteoporosis may need to be considered, as menopause increases the risks for these conditions. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like substances that work in the body like estrogen but in weaker form. Regular ingestion of phytoestrogens may relieve some symptoms of menopause. They can be found in some cereals, vegetables, legumes (including soy), and various herbs. Consuming too much phytoestrogen may carry risks, and you should consult your doctor when considering using them. Menopause also signals the need for regular pelvic and breast exams, Pap tests and mammograms.

Sexual Health: The main reason to use contraception is to prevent pregnancy while remaining sexually active. Certain types of contraception, like barrier methods, work because they physically prevent sperm from entering the woman's uterus. Other forms of contraception, such as birth control pills or patches, are effective because they release hormones that prevent ovulation.

STDs are typically caused by different bacteria and viruses that enter the body through unprotected sexual activity. People can get STDs through vaginal, oral and anal intercourse. There are over 20 types of STDs — some caused by bacteria, which can be treated with antibiotics, and some caused by viruses, which have no cure. Certain viruses can turn to more deadly diseases later. For example, HIV may progress to AIDS ,and HPV can progress to AIDS or various types of cancer.

Reproductive Health: The menstrual cycles is typically 28 days long but can range from 21 to 35 days. At the start of a female's menstrual cycle, hormone levels rise, which causes the uterine lining to grow and thicken. An egg begins to mature in one of the ovaries then travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. A woman becomes pregnant when this egg is fertilized by a man's sperm cell via sexual intercourse. If it is not fertilized, the uterus sheds the extra thick lining that it does not need. This shedding results in the menstruation women experience monthly.

Menopause: Menopause is caused by the loss of estrogen in a woman's body. With this change in female hormone levels, the body adapts, transitioning to make up for the lack of estrogen and progesterone being produced.

However, other events and conditions in a female’s life can bring upon menopause and menopausal symptoms much earlier in life. Surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) will cause periods to stop — the definition of menopause. But because the ovaries are untouched, symptoms such as hot flashes may not begin to occur immediately. Over time, as the ovaries begin to produce less hormones, the signs and symptoms of menopause may begin.

Sexual Health: It is very important to be safe and cautious if you are sexually active. While there are benefits to being intimate with a partner, there are also risks, including STDs.

Avoiding sexual activity is the only way to ensure you or your partner will not be infected with an STD. If you wish to remain sexually active, take preventive measures and practice "safe sex." Safe sex means always using contraception, especially condoms. Condoms block the transmission of bacteria and viruses that are carried by semen and other bodily fluids. Use a condom for vaginal, oral and anal intercourse. Know your partner and his/her STD status. Have regular medical check-ups and receive the necessary testing available for all STDs, especially if you have more than one sexual partner.

If you notice something abnormal about your sexual health, talk openly about the issue with your doctor. Discussing your problem with a medical professional is the only way to get proper treatment.

Reproductive Health: Having a support network is an important part of pregnancy. You may feel overwhelmed, underprepared or maybe like you have all the answers. You must remember that every pregnancy is different and no matter how much you prepare, you cannot anticipate every bump and turn you'll experience during the ride.

Talk to your doctor, your mother, family and close friends who have been through a pregnancy and may be able to offer guidance and tips about different aspects of pregnancy. This support may ease your experience.

Menopause: Because menopause is something every woman goes through, having a support system may help in pitching ideas for symptom treatment, trading advice and discussing the experience overall. Older female friends, relatives or family members may be able to provide guidance and remedies that have worked for them.

Consulting a doctor or health care professional is also important in receiving help. While menopause cannot be avoided, symptom management can alleviate bothersome aspects of this transitional period. Seeing specialty care-providers such as a gynecologist, geriatrician or internist may help in providing specific answers and remedies to suit your needs.

My mother entered menopause much earlier than my own age. I still have a regular menstrual cycle and have therefore not started menopause. Is there something wrong?

  • Menopause occurs at different times for every woman. While there may be some patterns about when women start menopause, the age is not exact and cannot apply to everyone. The average age for the onset of menopause is 51, but that means many women experience menopause before and after that age. Some women start menopause in their 40s, while others don’t experience it until their late 50s. If you or your mother is a smoker, it may help to explain the difference, as smoking can cause menopause at an earlier stage in life. In addition, the difference may be explained by changes in estrogen production brought on by surgery to remove the ovaries and/or uterus.

What are some conditions that may cause a high-risk pregnancy?

  • Preeclampsia is a syndrome that involves high blood pressure, urinary protein and changes in levels of liver enzymes in the blood during pregnancy. It can affect the mother's kidneys, liver and brain. If left untreated, the condition could be fatal for both the mother and her baby. Eclampsia is a more severe form of the condition, which can lead to seizures and coma for the mother. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that only pregnant women can develop. If a woman gets diabetes while she is pregnant and has never had the condition before, it is gestational diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a woman who did not have diabetes before pregnancy develops high blood sugar during pregnancy. Many with gestational diabetes have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies because they follow a treatment plan from their health care professional.
  • HIV/AIDS damages cells of the body's immune system, progressively destroying the body's ability to fight off infection. Women can give HIV to their babies while pregnant, while giving birth or through breastfeeding.
  • Preterm labor is labor that begins before 37 weeks of pregnancy. The baby has not yet fully developed and grown at this time, so it may be unable to survive outside of the womb. Doctors will often take steps to try to stop labor if it occurs before this time. Certain infections, a shortened cervix or previous preterm birth may heighten a woman's risk of experiencing preterm labor again.

What are some more methods of contraception besides the daily pill and condoms?

  • While condoms and the daily birth control pill are popular contraceptive devices, they are not the only options available. There are other barrier methods such as a cervical cap, which also physically prevents sperm from entering the uterus. An intrauterine device (IUD) is another option. It is a small device inserted into the uterus and is 99 percent effective in the prevention of pregnancy. One IUD can stay active in the body for up to 10 years. There are also more hormonal birth control options besides the daily pill. Skin patches, vaginal rings and implants also release hormones in a fashion similar to the daily pill. Sterilization is a choice that is non-reversible in most cases and permanently prevents pregnancy for the entirety of the woman's life.

Sexual Health: A sexually active lifestyle takes caution and responsibility. Besides consistently practicing "safe sex" (even if that includes your spouse), a change of diet and routine habits may allow for a healthier and more satisfying lifestyle.

Reproductive Health: Prenatal care is the health care you get when you're pregnant. It's made to maintain the health of you and your baby. During pregnancy, it is important to make your baby's health a top priority. You may need to change your lifestyle, eating habits, and exercise regimen. Making healthier choices can boost your chances of having a healthy baby and easy delivery.

If you are pregnant, get proper prenatal care. Try to get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to avoid birth defects, talk about vaccinations with your doctor, maintain a healthy weight and diet and stop smoking, drinking and all drug use. See your doctor or gynecologist for regular and frequent check ups.

Menopause: The symptoms of menopause may be bothersome, but they can be reduced. Ask your doctor about your options for treatment and regulation of symptoms. Quit smoking and begin learning how to incorporate high amounts of fiber and low fat foods into your regular diet. Knowing your options and taking advantage of how to bring them into your own personal lifestyle is key to managing menopause. Do not force another’s preferences for management onto yourself, as you may find it difficult to adapt in the long haul. Since menopause affects each woman differently, do what best fits your lifestyle.

Review Date: 
October 1, 2012