A woman’s reproductive system is a powerful thing. So powerful that it’s capable of creating new life! However, it is also very delicate. It needs regular maintenance to stay healthy, which is why we have the menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, that “maintenance” can really take a toll on many of us. There can be a lot of pain and discomfort that comes with it even though it’s a perfectly normal process...right?
There are many reasons why the pain we think is normal, may not actually be normal. Because our reproductive system is so delicate it can develop various ailments that can worsen PMS symptoms or overall health. Just a few of these can include Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, Fibroids, and Cysts.
PCOS is a hormone disorder that typically affects women of reproductive age. The ovaries may be enlarged and contain small collections of fluid that cause the ovaries to not function properly. It can include many symptoms such as weight gain, prolonged and/or irregular periods, acne, and excess body or facial hair. Abnormal periods are the most common sign of this disorder. For example, you may go longer than 6 weeks without a period and have an abnormally heavy period.
Endometriosis is when there is abnormal tissue growth outside of the uterine lining. You could even say your uterus is growing inside out! This abnormal growth can, in severe cases, spread to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic organs. The growth outside of the uterine lining behaves the same as the inner lining, it sheds and bleeds during the menstrual cycle which causes more than normal pain and discomfort during this time. Heavy and painful periods are of the most common first symptoms.
Other symptoms include painful bowel movements, painful intercourse such as cramping during and after, and infertility. Endometriosis is more common in women with infertility than those who are fertile, though the condition does not necessarily cause infertility. However, if left untreated, can. Diagnosis is assumed usually from the pattern of symptoms, and is confirmed by surgery. There are 4 stages of endometriosis, most confirmed cases being considered mild. More severe cases can lead to ovarian cysts and potentially the need for a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus and other reproductive faculties.
Fibroids are noncancerous growths that can occur in multiple sizes, from undetectable to large masses, around the uterus. They aren’t associated with any increased risk of uterine cancer, almost never develop into cancer, and often have little to no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they can include prolonged and heavier periods, back and leg pain, frequent urination, or constipation. Since there are no major symptoms, many women go without ever knowing they had a fibroid! In fact, they are often discovered during a pelvic exam or prenatal sonogram.
Cysts are sac-like pockets of tissue that can contain air, fluid, or any other substance. They can occur just about anywhere in the body including the uterus and ovaries. These are called endometrial cysts and ovarian cysts. Endometriosis can start as an endometrial cyst, and once it starts to spread to other locations, it then becomes endometriosis. Symptoms for ovarian cysts are similar to fibroids, such as irregular periods, and can potentially disappear on their own after a few months. There are many different types of cysts that can form, many are harmless. However, there are some, such as ones that form after menopause, that can become cancerous.
Inside our bodies, there is a powerful, yet delicate system. There is a lot that can go right, and also a lot that can go wrong. Therefore, we want to make sure we are well in tune with what our bodies are telling us! If anything is ever wrong or abnormal, it’s best to see a doctor and get a diagnosis.