Women's Health: What Is Normal?
If press coverage of diseases such as cervical cancer has left you worried about your own health, you're probably not alone. When it comes to health issues that are related to your intimate areas, do you have a good enough knowledge of what is a cause for concern? This is often a major worry for women, especially if you don't have much of an understanding of what is considered "normal" in this area. Read on for the lowdown on what you should keep an eye out for.
If your vaginal discharge suddenly changes color or consistency, it's worth seeing your doctor to check that nothing is amiss. In most cases, it is probably down to thrush (which is characterized by an itchy creamy-white discharge that has a similar texture to cottage cheese) or a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics. The latter is usually indicated by a smelly discharge that is yellow or green in color. Sometimes, this may be due to a sexually transmitted infection (excluding thrush), but it is common for vaginal infections to be caused by imbalances in the vagina.
Vaginal infections such as Bacterial Vaginosis are very common and are often caused by trigger factors such as taking antibiotics or using bath products containing perfumes or other irritants. Your doctor may want to take a swab of the discharge to check for infection. This is similar to a smear test. Antibiotic treatment is usually prescribed for such infections, although thrush can be treated using over-the-counter tablets and creams.
Irregular periods can have several causes. If it's just a one-off occurrence, you can probably put it down to stress. Periods that are frequently irregular could indicate Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in which there are small cysts on the ovaries. This sounds worse than it is, although Polycystic Ovary Syndrome can eventually lead to fertility problems in some women due to the fact that irregular menstruation is a common symptom of the condition. This often occurs because women who suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome have low levels of the female hormone estrogen and higher levels of male hormones. Treatment often involves being put on one of the various types of contraceptive pills to manage symptoms better and to encourage regular menstruation. As well as irregular periods, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has other symptoms including acne, excess body hair and weight gain. Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome may have as few as two or three periods a year, or may bleed for months in a row.
Experts suggest that irregular periods are often affected by hormones, as a woman whose ovaries are functioning "normally" will almost certainly have regular periods (apart from in cases in which she is suffering from additional conditions that may affect her menstrual cycle). Because of this, irregular periods are common during the early and late stages of a woman's reproductive life when menstruation is either just beginning or is coming to an end. This is one reason why contraceptive pills are often prescribed for these types of conditions, as they can regulate your hormones.
Bleeding between periods will often spark panic, but it isn't necessarily a sign that something is wrong. Many women experience spotting during ovulation, along with brown spotting (which is older blood that is now leaving the body) and an increased amount of vaginal discharge. Although spotting can be nothing to worry about if it is occurring around the time of ovulation, it can have more serious causes. Because of this possibility, it is a good idea to get it checked out as a precaution.
Period pain is to be expected to a certain extent, but it could be more serious if you are experiencing debilitating pain that causes you to opt out of your normal routine. This could indicate endometriosis, which is a condition in which the lining of the womb grows outside of the womb itself. As many as one in ten women suffer from the condition, although not everyone will have the severe pain that often characterizes it. It often causes infertility as the affected area(s) can become scarred. Endometriosis can be a difficult condition to diagnose as it usually relies on a laparoscopy. This involves being put under general anaesthetic so that a telescope can be inserted into your belly button to examine your pelvis.
The affected area(s) can be treated with laser surgery to remove the worst of the scar tissue, but this may not solve the problem. You may need this procedure to be repeated at a later date, especially if the scarring is significant. Specialist painkillers will usually be prescribed to deal with the pain.
Pelvic Pain and Discomfort
If this is not just limited to the period before and during your period, it could be an indication of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. This can cause acute or chronic pain in the pelvis and lower back, as well as fever. Your doctor will want to take a swab of discharge from your cervix if this condition is suspected. Blood tests may also show up the infection, but this will not necessarily be the case. Treatment takes the form of antibiotics, and symptoms will usually clear up within one to two weeks.
Frequent and/or Painful Urination
If you are feeling as though you need to go to the toilet a lot, it may be an indication that you have a urinary tract infection. This is especially true if you are experiencing a burning or stinging sensation when urinating.
What Are The Chances of Developing Cervical Cancer?
Although there are obviously no concrete rules as to who can be affected by cancer, cervical cancer is most likely to affect women who have had a lot of sexual partners and became sexually active at an early age. Smoking can also increase your chances of developing cervical cancer, although it is not fully understood why this is. If you fear that are at a high risk of developing cervical cancer, it is advisable to have regular smear tests so that any problems can be caught early.
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