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 cancer occurs when cells in the breast become abnormal and divide into more cells uncontrollably. Breast cancer usually starts in the glands that produce milk (lobules) or the tubes (ducts) that carry milk from the glands to the nipple.
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:
Contraception is prevention of ovulation (stopping the ovaries from releasing eggs) or prevention of fertilization of an egg by a sperm (conception) or prevention of attachment of a fertilized egg to the lining of the uterus ( implantation).
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 in women includes pain during intercourse, involuntary painful contractions (spasms) of the muscles around the vagina (vaginismus), lack of interest in sex (low libido), 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.
Pregnancy causes many changes in a woman’s body. Most of them disappear after delivery. These changes cause some symptoms (new or different sensations in your body), most of which are normal. However, certain disorders, such as high blood pressure, can develop during pregnancy, and some symptoms may indicate such a disorder.
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.
During pregnancy, women may need to take medications to treat new or existing health conditions. Also, certain vitamins are recommended during pregnancy. Before taking any medication (including over-the-counter medications) or dietary supplement (including medicinal herbs), a pregnant woman should consult a doctor. Women currently taking medications and planning to become pregnant should consult a doctor before pregnancy, if possible, to see if those medications need to be stopped or changed. (See also the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Medicine and Pregnancy.)
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.