One of the common health problems that women face is endometriosis, which affects the uterus—the most important organ during pregnancy because it’s where the baby develops. Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium, the kind of tissue that lines the uterus, grows in places other than inside the uterus. It can grow on the ovaries, behind the uterus, on the intestines, or on the bladder; it rarely grows in other parts of the body.
Pain is the most common and apparent symptom of endometriosis, and may have different kinds which include:
- Excruciating menstrual cramps, which may get worse over time.
- Persistent lower back pain and pelvic pain.
- Pain during or after sex. This is usually described as a “deep” pain, and is different from pain felt at the entrance of the vagina when penetration begins.
- Intestinal pains.
- Painful bowel movements or when urinating during periods. In rare cases, there may also be blood in your stool or urine.
- Spotting or bleeding between periods (which can also be caused by something other than endometriosis. If it occurs often, you should consult your doctor).
- Stomach (digestive) problems which include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or nausea, especially during periods.
Endometriosis has no cure, but the symptoms and problems it causes can be managed with proper treatment. Consult your doctor to know more about possible treatment options. If you are not trying to get pregnant, hormonal contraceptives are often the first step in treating the symptoms. This may include:
- Hormonal contraceptives that reduce or eliminate periods. Oral contraceptive pills, contraceptive injectables, and contraceptive implants can lessen pain and periods. Hormonal treatment is best for those who do not experience severe pain or symptoms.
- If you are attempting to get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist, which prevents the body from producing the hormones responsible for ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and the growth of endometriosis. This treatment causes a temporary menopause, and helps manage the growth of endometriosis. Your menstrual cycle returns, and chances of getting pregnant may be better when you stop taking the medicine.
- For women with severe endometriosis, they may be given the option for surgery—often times this option is opened up if hormones are not effective in giving relief or if you are having fertility problems. During the operation, the surgeon can look for any site of endometriosis and may remove patches of endometriosis. After the operation, hormone treatment is often given again, unless you are attempting to get pregnant.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous, and are the most common tumor in women. These fibroids are composed of muscle cells and other tissues that grow in and around the wall of the uterus. The uterus can sometimes have just a single fibroid tumor, or possibly many of them inside. Their sizes can range from as small as an apple seed to as big as a grapefruit; or may even be bigger in unusual cases. The cause of fibroids are still undetermined, but being overweight or obese can increase the risk for uterine fibroids.
Fibroids are most prevalent in women in their 40s to early 50s, and it’s said that about 20-80% of women develop fibroids by the time they reach 50 years old. Fibroids usually do not cause any symptoms, but some women who have fibroids may experience:
- Painful periods or heavy bleeding enough to cause anemia.
- Bloated feeling in the lower stomach area.
- Enlargement of the lower abdomen.
- Urinating frequently.
- Pain during sex.
- Lower back pain.
- Complications during pregnancy and labor, including a six-time greater risk of cesarean section.
- Reproductive problems, such as infertility, although rare.
During your regular exams, your doctor will check the fibroids if they have grown. Treatment may not be needed if you have fibroids but do not have any symptoms. If you have mild symptoms, you may be suggested by your doctor to take over-the-counter medications to manage mild pain. Oral contraceptives can also be prescribed to help manage symptoms of fibroids. Low-dose oral contraceptive pills do not contribute to the growth of fibroids, and can help control heavy menstrual bleeding. For women who have fibroids that show moderate to severe symptoms, the best treatment may be surgery. Your doctor will discuss with you the best options for your case.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a result of the excessive production of male hormones by the ovaries or adrenal glands. One outcome is the development of cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries. Obese women are more prone to have polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Pelvic pain.
- Excess hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes.
- Baldness or thinning hair.
- Acne, oily skin, or dandruff.
- Patches of thickened dark brown or black skin.
If you have PCOS, you also have a higher risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and high blood pressure. There is no cure for PCOS, but there are available medicines to help manage the symptoms. Oral contraceptive pills help in regulating periods, reducing levels of male hormones, and clearing acne. Other medicines can control excessive hair growth, blood pressure, and cholesterol. If you think you might have PCOS, see your healthcare provider for possible options for treatment.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are prevalent among women, with 1 out of 5 women to experience a urinary tract infection at least once in their lives. A UTI is an infection anywhere in the urinary tract. The urinary tract is responsible for making, storing, and discarding urine in the body. Parts of the urinary tract include:
- Kidneys — collect waste from blood to make urine.
- Ureters — carry the urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
- Bladder — stores urine until it is full.
- Urethra — a short tube that carries urine from the bladder out of your body when you pass urine.
UTIs occur when bacteria gets into your urinary tract, and there are a number of ways how this is caused:
- Wiping from back to front after going to the bathroom. Germs can get into your urethra, which has its opening in front of the vagina.
- Having sexual intercourse. Germs in the vagina can be pushed into the urethra.
- Waiting too long to pass urine. When urine stays in the bladder for a long time, more germs are made, and the worse a UTI can become.
- Anything that makes it hard to completely empty your bladder, like a kidney stone.
- Having diabetes, which makes it harder for your body to fight other health problems.
- Loss of estrogen and changes in the vagina after menopause. Menopause is when you stop getting your period.
These signs will tell you if you have an infection:
- Pain or stinging when you urinate.
- An urge to pass urine a lot, but not much comes out when you go.
- Pressure in your lower belly.
- Urine that smells bad or looks milky, cloudy, or reddish in color. If you see blood in your urine, tell a doctor right away.
- Feeling tired or shaky, or having a fever.
To treat UTI, you will need antibiotics, which are medicines that eliminate the bacteria causing the infection. Your doctor will inform you how long you should take the medicine, and should not be shortened even if you already feel better. While taking antibiotics, you should stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
Here are a few tips on how you can prevent getting a urinary tract infection:
- Drink water when you are thirsty.
- Urinate as soon as you feel the urge. Don’t hold it.
- Keep your vulva clean and dry.
- Urinate immediately before and after sex.
- Avoid positions during sex that seem to trigger UTIs.
- Use latex condoms during vaginal intercourse.
If you are prone to having UTIs often, it might be best to talk to your healthcare provider to see if there are any other causes for the infections. You might also be given antibiotics to help prevent a recurring infection.