26th February 2020
Women’s health issues, especially surrounding our reproductive organs, are not usually discussed and we are therefore left untreated for serious health issues. I know women who have gone 30 plus years without getting diagnosed with conditions like Endometriosis because of the stigma surrounding the female body. Our bodies are strong, capable and amazing, why not talk about them? How are you supposed to know if something is wrong if you don’t know what’s ‘normal’? So here are a couple of women’s reproductive health issues that all women should be aware of.
Endometriosis is when a tissue much like the tissue that is shed during menstruation, grows outside of the uterine lining causing pain and if untreated, infertility. This growth inflames the organs and makes it difficult for the reproductive organs to shift in size, which is needed for childbirth. It effects 1 in 10 women and costs the Australian community 6 billion dollars a year. There are two different types of Endometriosis; Peritoneal, which occurring in the lining of the uterus, and Ovarian, which occurs in the ovaries. There is no known cause for Endometriosis however if someone related to you has it, you are 8 times more likely to have Endometriosis.
Getting diagnosed is usually a lengthy process, typically taking approximately 8 years to get an official diagnosis. This is due to the normalisation of symptoms, lack of symptoms in some and some doctors not believing in the severity of symptoms communicated, which is often a problem for female patients. The only way to get diagnosed with Endometriosis is to have a Laroscopy. This is a keyhole surgery where they insert a camera through your belly button and retrieve some of the growth for testing.
While there is no cure for Endometriosis treatments include surgeries (such as a Hysterectomy) medicine and natural remedies. Medicines prescribed usually include contraceptives, anti-inflammatories and a range of medicines used to change the nerve receptors and therefore the perception of pain. Psychologists are also used with phantom pains after procedures and processing chronic pain. Natural remedies start with physio as they can fix any muscle problems in the bowl and bladder. Acupuncture is also said to relieve women of their symptoms.
Meals that are high in fibre, eating essential fatty acids and rosemary help prevent inflammation of the organs and relieve symptoms. Curcumin, green tea and vitex are all said to be beneficial, while dindolylmethane will help with excessive bleeding and motherwort will help with cramps.
As excessive bleeding is one of the main side effects of Endometriosis, an iron supplement is usually recommended to avoid anaemia. All of these remedies are to help with symptoms but even with any of these treatments, Endometriosis can return or not go away at all.
Adenomyosis is similar to Endometriosis however it is when the growth occurs in the muscle wall of the uterus. When the period occurs, these growths will also bleed and leave pockets of blood in the muscle. Those with Endometriosis usually have Adenomyosis as well. Like Endometriosis, there is no known cause though childbirth and previous uterine surgeries for those over 30 are known risks for developing Adenomyosis.
- abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding
- painful periods
- pain with intercourse
- bleeding between periods
- on vaginal examination, the uterus feels enlarged and is often tender to touch
- tiredness and dizziness due to excessive blood loss leading to anaemia
Adenomyosis is usually diagnosed through a transvaginal ultrasound or MRI. Treatments include hysterectomy, IUD’s, birth control and anti-inflammatory medication and diets as mentioned above for those with Endometriosis. An iron supplement is also recommended due to the excessive bleeding.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic Inflammatory disease effects 1 in 8 women and is the inflammation and bacterial infection of the woman’s reproductive organs. This is usually cause by sexual intercourse, insertion of a contraceptive device, childbirth or an abortion. It is most common in 20-24 year old’s and is curable.
Symptoms may include
- lower abdomen or back pain
- pain during sex or urination
- abnormal periods or increased pain during periods
- abnormal vaginal discharge, including bleeding after sex
- fever, chills, nausea or vomiting
Pelvic Inflammatory disease can be diagnosed in many different ways including a vaginal exam, swabs, blood test, urine test, ultrasound and rarely laparoscopy.
It is treated by a course of anti-biotics with an abstinence from sex for those 14 days. Condoms can be used to prevent this disease.
Fibroids are non-cancerous tumours that grow in the walls of the uterus which cause pain, complications during pregnancy and labour and rarely infertility. Fibroids are most common for women over the age of 30 with tumours shrinking during menopause. There is no known cause for Fibroids however genetics and hormones play a part and it has been found that those who are overweight, African American woman and those who consume lots of red meat are more likely to develop Fibroids. Not all women who have Fibroids will get symptoms, however some symptoms are;
- Heavy bleeding (which can be heavy enough to cause anaemia)
- Painful periods
- Feeling of fullness in the pelvic area
- Enlargement of the lower abdomen
- Frequent urination
- Pain during sex
- Lower back pain
Fibroids can be diagnosed by vaginal exam or ultrasound. Surgical treatments include a Hysterectomy, surgery to remove the Fibroids themselves, Endometrial ablation (where the lining of the uterus is removed by boiling water or other methods leaving the uterus unable to bear children afterwards) or Myolysis (which is a Needle inserted into the tumours, freezing them).
Medications such as pain killers, birth control and other hormonal medications can help ease symptoms and shrink the tumours.
More natural remedies include eating green vegetables and lots of fibre as they assist with aiding inflammation. Avoiding refined carbs and sugary foods as they produce insulin which provokes the tumours. Supplements for symptoms include iron, vitamin B-1, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, magnesium and omega-3.
If all that still doesn’t help with symptoms use a heat pack, exercise, warm baths and massage therapy.
Amenorrhea is the absence of bleeding for 3 cycles in a row. The most common cause for this is pregnancy but it can also be caused by being severely underweight, excessive exercise, stress, problems with reproductive organs, hormone imbalances and structural problems such as lack of reproductive organs. When the body is severely underweight it conserves energy and stops some bodily functions to keep your more important functions working. Ovulating is not seen as one of the more important processes for the body and therefore it doesn’t produce an egg. Excessive exercise causes stress not he body as then the body has a low body fat percentage and is in a high stress environment. This is usually found with athletes or those with eating disorders. Stress can also cause your body to skip periods as the stress attacks the same part of the brain that enables this function.
Amenorrhea is cured by fixing the underlying problem. It can lead to infertility as there is no egg to fertilise and Osteoporosis.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Or PCOS is a hormonal condition where the follicles on the ovaries that contain eggs are only partially formed meaning that they can rarely produce an egg that could be fertilised. The cause of PCOS is unknown however genetics and hormones play a role. If a relative has it then the individual is 50% more likely to develop PCOS and those who are Asian, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and African are more likely to develop PCOS also. 8 to 13% of women will get PCOS and 70% of those will go undiagnosed. Women who have PCOS usually have high levels of insulin that don’t work in the way they are supposed to or have male hormones known as ‘Androgens’.
To be diagnosed with PCOS, a woman much have 2 of the following;
- Irregular or absent periods
- Acne, excess facial or body hair growth, scalp hair loss or high levels of androgens
- or polycystic ovaries (many small cysts on the ovaries) visible on an ultrasound
Treatments for PCOS include hormone blocking medications, Insulin sensitising medications, birth control, infertility medications and counselling. Natural remedies include increasing physical activities and eating a health diet. If the individual is overweight, then a weight reduction is also recommended as it balances out natural hormones.
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