For many women, it can still be difficult to openly talk about sexual and reproductive health, even when they feel something is off. This is partly due to the patriarchal origins of western medicine that often devalue women’s health concerns, and partly because many of the topics are still taboo today. Vernee Edwards, a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology (read: women’s sexual and reproductive health), wants to move this conversation forward. She is helping us break down three common health concerns specific to females: Endometriosis, Ovarian Cysts and Fibroids.
“Not only are women’s sexual and reproductive health concerns valid, but even a lot of the ways we look at symptoms in women today is still based on only how they present in men and not how they present in women,” says Edwards. “For example, the symptoms of a heart attack in a woman are different than they are in a man,” points Edwards, who practices out of Crusader Health, in the greater Chicago area.
Edwards underscores: “Women’s sexual and reproductive well-being is an important issue because research tells us that when women are healthy, societies flourish. We have a direct impact on how our society functions.”
So what exactly are endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and fibroids? If you’ve been experiencing frequent pelvic pain, these may be at the root.
DISCLAIMER: This advice is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner. Always seek medical advice that is specific to you and your situation.
This growth can involve your ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining inside your pelvis. Rarely, it can also include tissues beyond your pelvic organs.
This tissue continues to behave as it normally would inside the uterus by thickening, breaking down and prompting menstrual bleeding with each cycle. This tissue can become trapped, leading to scarring, and may cause fertility problems, though effective treatments are available. Endometriosis can cause severe abdominal pain - especially during periods, but this is just one of the symptoms.
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What are the symptoms for Endometriosis?
- Nausea, fatigue, diarrhea during periods
- Painful intercourse
- Pain with bowel movements or urination
- Bleeding that is heavier than normal, and may occur between periods
There are several risk factors that make a person more susceptible to having Endometriosis.
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Some of the risk factors of endometriosis include:
- Starting your menstruation at an early age
- Late onset of menopause
- Shortened menstrual cycles (less than 27 days)
- Heavier than typical bleeding during menstrual cycles, which lasts longer
- Being exposed to higher levels of estrogen or for a longer exposure over the course of a woman’s life
- A history of endometriosis in the family (mother, sister, etc.)
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What you should know about endometriosis:
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What are the symptoms for Ovarian Cysts?
- Large cysts can cause pelvic pain (dull or sharp ache on the side of the ovary with the cyst)
- Fullness in the abdomen
If the following symptoms occur, seek immediate medical attention:
- Sudden, severe abdominal pain
- Pain with fever or vomiting
- Cold, clammy skin
- Rapid breathing
- Lightheadedness or weakness
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Some of the risk factors of Ovarian Cysts include:
- Hormonal problems
- Severe pelvic infection
- Prior ovarian cysts (if you’ve had them before, you’re likely to have them in the future)
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What you should know about Ovarian Cysts:
Sudden severe pelvic pain, nausea or vomiting is a sign that this is happening, and this can cause a decrease or complete stop of blood flow to the ovary. Cysts can also rupture, particularly the larger ones.
Keep track and note any changes in your monthly cycle, including unusual menstrual symptoms that last more than a few cycles. “Putting women on birth control pills temporarily may help control the occurrence of cysts, but if they’re already present, taking birth control won’t necessarily make them go away,” cautions Edwards.
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Uterine Fibroids (also known as leiomyomas or myomas)
Fibroids almost never develop into cancer, but they can be related to ‘subfertility,’ making getting pregnant more difficult (though not always impossible).
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What are the symptoms for Fibroids?
- Heavier than normal menstrual bleeding
- Longer periods (lasting more than a week)
- Pelvic pain, more notable than usual
- Frequent urination
- Difficulties completely emptying the bladder
- Backache or leg pains
- Sometimes, fibroids can cause sharp pains when it outgrows its blood supply and starts to die off
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Some of the risk factors of fibroids include:
- Hormone changes (estrogen and progesterone fuel fibroid growth)
- Other growth factors that help the body maintain tissues
- Genetics matter. If her mother or sister have fibroids, a woman is more likely to have fibroids
- Like with endometriosis, early onset of a girl’s period is also linked to fibroids
- Other factors include obesity, vitamin D deficiency, and a diet high in red meat and lower in green vegetables, fruit and dairy
- Alcohol drinking, including beer, also appears to increase the risk of fibroids.
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What you should know about Fibroids:
While fibroids in and of themselves usually aren’t dangerous, the heavy bleeding and loss of red blood cells may lead to anemia. Also, most fibroids shouldn’t pose a problem to getting pregnant. However, submucosal fibroids (fibroids that bulge into the uterine cavity) may cause infertility or pregnancy loss. “With cases that become more complex, and have more significant symptoms, seeing a specialist is going to be very important to get more information and gage the next steps in terms of management,” says Edwards.
Bottom line: it’s important to be an advocate for your health and wellness. Don’t be shy to ask for support.
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