The female reproductive system consists of the external genital organs and internal genital organs. Other parts of the body also affect the development and functioning of the reproductive system. They include the following:
Preventive health care includes having regular gynecologic examinations, even when no symptoms are present, and screening tests. Screening tests are done before people have any symptoms to check for disorders that can be prevented or treated effectively if recognized early. Recommendations for screening sometimes change as new evidence becomes available.
Breast disorders may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Most are noncancerous and not life threatening. Often, they do not require treatment. In contrast, breast cancer can mean loss of a breast or of life. Thus, for many women, breast cancer is their worst fear. However, potential problems can often be detected early when women do the following:
Complex interactions among hormones control the start of menstruation during puberty, the rhythms and duration of menstrual cycles during the reproductive years, and the end of menstruation at menopause (which is usually defined as beginning 12 months after a woman's last period).
Noncancerous (benign) gynecologic growths include cysts, polyps, and fibroids ( leiomyomas). Noncancerous growths can develop on the vulva or in the vagina, uterus, or ovaries. The vulva consists of the labia and other tissues around the opening of the vagina.
Pelvic organ prolapse involves relaxation or weakening of the ligaments, connective tissue, and muscles of the pelvis, causing the bladder, urethra, small intestine, rectum, or uterus to bulge into the vagina.
Sexual dysfunction includes pain during intercourse, involuntary painful contraction (spasm) of the muscles around the vagina, and lack of interest in (desire for) sex and problems with arousal or orgasm. For a sexual dysfunction disorder to be diagnosed, these problems must cause distress to the woman.
Domestic violence is physical, sexual, or psychologic abuse between people who live together. It includes intimate partner violence, which refers to physical, sexual, or psychologic abuse by a current or former sex partner or spouse.
Symptoms that occur during pregnancy may be normal or may indicate a problem. A problem may be related to the pregnancy (an obstetric problem) or to another disorder, and evaluation by a doctor may be required.
Usually, labor and delivery occur without any problems. Serious problems are relatively rare, and most can be anticipated and treated effectively. However, problems sometimes develop suddenly and unexpectedly. Regular visits to a doctor or certified nurse midwife during pregnancy make anticipation of problems possible and improve the chances of having a healthy baby and safe delivery.
More than 50% of pregnant women take prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter) drugs or use social drugs (such as tobacco and alcohol) or illicit drugs at some time during pregnancy, and use of drugs during pregnancy is increasing. In general, drugs should not be used during pregnancy unless necessary because many can harm the fetus. Less than 2 to 3% of all birth defects result from drugs that are taken to treat a disorder or symptom.
Although each labor and delivery is different, most follow a general pattern. Therefore, an expectant mother can have a general idea of what changes will occur in her body to enable her to deliver the baby and what procedures will be followed to help her. She also has several choices to make, such as whether to have a support person (such as the baby’s father or another partner) present and where to have the baby.
Pregnancy begins when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. For about 9 months, a pregnant woman’s body provides a protective, nourishing environment in which the fertilized egg can develop into a fetus. Pregnancy ends at delivery, when a baby is born.