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Let’s Talk Reproductive and Sexual Health Across the Lifespan - National Women's Health Week 2023

Let’s Talk Reproductive and Sexual Health Across the Lifespan - National Women's Health Week 2023

Reproductive health refers to the condition of the reproductive system during all stages of life and is one of the most important aspects of women’s health.  The female reproductive system is a delicate and complex system in the body and there are many reproductive health conditions that impact women and girls.  Some of the most common conditions include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, endometriosis, infertility, and menopause.  Staying up to date with preventive screenings, talking to your healthcare provider, and making healthy choices are essential to monitoring and taking charge of your overall health.

  • PCOS is a common health problem caused by a hormonal imbalance that creates problems in the ovaries and affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age.  PCOS can cause extra hair growth in unusual areas, acne, thinning hair, weight gain, darkening of skin, skin tags, and irregular menstrual cycles which can lead to infertility. 
    • The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, however, experts think that genetic and environmental factors, including obesity and family history, are contributors.
    • Currently, there is no cure for PCOS but symptoms can be managed.
      • Talk to your doctor about how you can manage symptoms through medication and steps you can take at home, like losing weight through healthy eating habits and regularly exercising.
  • Uterine fibroids are muscular tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus and are almost always benign (noncancerous).  Roughly 20 to 80 percent of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50 but many women do not experience any symptoms at all.  When symptoms do occur, they may include heavy bleeding and painful periods, enlargement of the lower abdomen, frequent urination, pain during sex, and lower back pain.  Additionally, women may experience other reproductive complications such as complications during pregnancy and labor and infertility (very rare).
  • Women with fibroids are more likely to have complications while pregnant. The most common issues include cesarean section, breeched baby, and preterm delivery.
  • Most women with fibroids do not have symptoms and may not need treatment but for women who experience symptoms, your doctor can prescribe medications or surgery.
    • Women with mild symptoms may be treated with medication only.
    • Women with more severe symptoms may need surgery.  Which surgical procedure depends on if you plan to get pregnant in the future and other factors.
  • Endometriosis is a disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other places in the body.  Endometriosis affects approximately 11% of American women between ages 15 and 44 and can cause symptoms, which include pain, bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods, stomach and digestive problems, and infertility. 
    • Researchers do not know exactly what causes endometriosis but believe the risk of women developing endometriosis increases if a woman has problems with normal menstrual period flow, family history, immune system disorders, hormone imbalance, or complications related to surgery.
    •  Women cannot prevent endometriosis from developing but you can reduce the risk by lowering the levels of estrogen in your body with the following:
      • Hormonal birth control methods.
      • Exercise regularly.
      • Avoid large amounts of alcohol.
      • Avoid large amounts of drinks with caffeine.
      • Learn more about endometriosis risks and prevention.
    • Women with endometriosis can still get pregnant but may find it more difficult.
    • While there is no cure for endometriosis, there are effective treatments for pain and infertility symptoms which include a combination of medication and surgery.
  • Infertility is when a woman is not able to get pregnant after one year of regular, unprotected sex, or after 6 months if the woman is over 35.  Women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may also be infertile.  Infertility affects 19% of women between ages 15 to 49 with no prior births and is reduced to 6% for women who have had one or more births.   Both men and women can contribute to infertility.
    • Women need functioning ovaries, fallopian tubes, and a uterus to get pregnant and there are many conditions that can affect these organs, like PCOS and menopause.
    • The most common causes of infertility in women are age, smoking, excessive alcohol use, obesity/underweight, extreme weight gain/loss, or excessive physical or emotional stress.
    • Depending on the root cause, infertility can be treated with medicine, surgery, intrauterine insemination, or assisted reproductive technology.
      • To learn more about treatment options you can view the resources at CDC and OWH
    • Your endocrine system is responsible for producing many important hormones, including insulin and adrenaline, as well as estrogen, which has an important role in a woman’s reproductive system.  Natural or human-made chemicals, called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), can interfere with a body’s normal hormones production and processes.
    • Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Women’s Health Symposium - On July 18-19, 2023, the OWH is hosting a virtual symposium on the topic of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Women’s Health.  
  • Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period and is a natural part of aging marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years.  
    • The menopausal transition most often begins between ages 45 and 55, and on average, it lasts between 7 and 14 years.
    • The menopausal transition affects each woman uniquely as some women may have very minor symptoms while others experience more severe symptoms.  
      • The most common symptoms of menopause include changes in your period, hot flashes, loss of bladder control, difficulty sleeping, uncomfortable sex due to a drier vagina, mood changes, and other physical body changes.
    • Menopause and Optimizing Midlife Health of Women - The 7th Annual Vivian W. Pinn Symposium will be held on May 16, 2023
      • Topics will include menopausal transition, accumulation of morbidity after menopause, menopause in special populations, social determinants of health, menopausal hormonal therapy, and interventions to promote healthy aging.  
      • Register and Watch the Live Videocast here.

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