Women face a range of unique health concerns apart from the numerous ailments that affect both women and men. In some instances, women and men may have different symptoms despite being diagnosed with the same condition and they may need to be treated differently. In fact, women’s health is so complex that a special branch of medicine focuses on the understanding and treatment of diseases that affect women. Common women’s health concerns include the following conditions:
What are Irregular Periods?
Irregular periods may refer to a significant change in the:
- Time when the menstrual period starts (averages between 24 to 38 days)
- Amount of blood loss that occurs during the menstrual period (could be more or less than normal)
- Number of days that the menstrual period lasts (averages between 2 to 8 days)
Causes of Irregular Periods
Irregular periods may be caused by:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Abnormal thyroid hormone levels
- Uterine fibroids
- Polyps or thickening in the uterine lining
- Certain medications
- Certain birth control pills
- Intrauterine devices
- Too much exercise
What is Pelvic Pain?
Pelvic pain is pain that occurs in the area below the umbilicus (belly button) and above the legs. The pelvic area mainly consists of the reproductive, urinary and digestive systems such as the uterus, bladder, and intestines.
Characteristic Features of Pelvic Pain
Pelvic pain can be acute or chronic. Acute pelvic pain occurs suddenly and stays only for a short period of time. Chronic pelvic pain lasts for more than six months and does not show any improvement even with treatment.
Pelvic pain may be dull or sharp; persistent or intermittent; mild to severe and can extend to your lower back or thighs.
Pain may occur during menstruation, during urination, bowel movements, and intercourse and may be accompanied by fever or chills, constipation or diarrhea.
Causes of Pelvic Pain
The common causes of acute pelvic pain are:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (infection of the reproductive organs)
- Urinary tract infection
- Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)
- Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus)
- Twisted or ruptured ovarian cyst
- Ruptured fallopian tube
- Miscarriage or threatened miscarriage
- Congestion or abscess (collection of pus) in the pelvic region
The common causes of chronic pelvic pain are:
- Chronic pelvic inflammatory disease
- Endometriosis (abnormal growth of uterus lining)
- Interstitial cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
What is Abdominal Pain?
Abdominal pain is a pain experienced in the belly anywhere between the ribs and pelvis. The pain may be caused due to a problem in any of the organs within the abdomen.
Causes for Abdominal Pain
Acute abdominal pain in women may be due to pregnancy-related conditions such as ectopic pregnancy or non-pregnancy related conditions such as acute pelvic inflammatory disease and complications arising from ovarian cysts.
Chronic causes for abdominal pain in women include fibroids, endometriosis, and chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, or ovarian cancer.
Other generalized causes of abdominal pain include:
- Digestive issues such as constipation or indigestion
- Food allergies
- Food poisoning
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Peptic ulcers
Characteristic Features of Abdominal Pain
The pain can range from intermittent cramping pain, sharp or stabbing pain, or a dull ache. The abdominal pain may be accompanied by fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
What is Prolapse?
The pelvic floor is a set of muscles that form a hammock or sling around the opening of the pelvis. The pelvic organs, such as the womb (uterus), rectum, and bladder, are held in position by the pelvic floor muscles and the surrounding tissues. When the pelvic floor muscles and connective tissue that support the pelvic organs are weakened, the pelvic support is lost, resulting in protrusion of the bladder, urethra, cervix, and rectum. This is called prolapse or pelvic organ prolapse.
Symptoms of Prolapse
Women with pelvic organ prolapse will experience excessive pressure on the lower abdomen associated with a bulging or aching sensation, difficulty in urination, and urinary tract infections.
What do I do Next?
An understanding of the signs and symptoms of common women’s health problems can help you seek an evaluation by an OB/GYN doctor at an early stage of the disease before the symptoms become too severe and the condition can be easily treated. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms, perform a physical examination, and order tests such as blood tests, urinalysis, MRI, ultrasound, CT scan, or a cystoscopy to make an accurate diagnosis; and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Treatment of Irregular periods
The treatment options will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition and will include changing birth control pills, prescription of hormones, lifestyle changes to avoid stress, and lowering the intensity of your workout routine.
Treatment of Abdominal and Pelvic Pain
The various treatment options for abdominal pain include:
- Pain medications
- Avoiding certain foods and beverages
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Antibiotics to treat infection
- Surgery to treat conditions such as appendicitis, hernia, ovarian cysts, and cancer
Treatment for Prolapse
If the symptoms are mild, non-surgical treatment options such as medications, pelvic floor exercises, vaginal pessaries (a device that is inserted in the vagina to support the pelvic floor), and lifestyle changes may be helpful.
Surgery can be considered in patients with severe symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse. There are different types of procedures to address a specific prolapse. The aim of pelvic floor reconstruction is to restore the normal anatomy and function of the pelvic organs.