While the world has achieved so much regarding women’s wellbeing, sexual and reproductive health remains a cause for concern for many. In contemporary life, the modern woman leads a busy life burdened, occasionally with lots of stress and poor lifestyle choices and diet.
With the fragile natures of a woman’s reproductive system, it is unsurprising for the world to focus on addressing the challenges affecting their general wellbeing and sexual health.
Compared to men, most diseases women face are related to the malfunction of their reproductive system. Therefore, women must prioritize their health and pay attention to any signs and symptoms before they manifest into something severe.
There are lots of factors that can affect a woman’s reproductive health. Among them is weight loss. Here is an article about how losing 10% of your body weight can change your life that delves into details on the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight.
In the meantime, this present post looks at the most common reproductive health concerns you should know about. But, first things first, what does reproductive health in women mean?
What is Women’s Reproductive Health?
Women’s reproductive health refers to the state of the female reproductive system in all stages of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines women’s health as not merely the absence of disease but also “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.”
Reproductive health in women focuses on all aspects relating to their reproduction. It includes their right to healthy, respectful, and meaningful relationships, inclusive, safe, and suitable health services, and easy access to the correct information.
It also touches on practical and affordable contraception methods, as well as timely access to support and services regarding unplanned pregnancy.
Combined, all these aspects mean that women can make worthy choices regarding big decisions affecting their lives. The right support will ensure that women make satisfying sexual health decisions, including deciding when and whether or not to have children.
Some of the issues that concern women regarding reproductive health include:
- Conception and pregnancy
- Gynecologic cancer
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Interstitial cystitis
- Sexual violence
It is essential for women always to have access to accurate and conclusive reproductive health information as it remains critical to their overall well-being.
Reproductive health concerns among women are almost universal. But in some countries, these issues are more prevalent.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, a region identified as having the most vulnerable communities, approximately two-thirds of the diseases adult women face are caused by sexual and reproductive health problems.
Some of those health issues, which also affect women globally, include:
1. Gynecologic Cancer
In women, the reproductive system is centered on the womb, commonly known as the uterus. The ovaries are attached to the top of the uterus, with the vagina connecting the womb to the outside of the body.
A woman’s external genitals are known as the vulva – and abnormal growth around these organs sets off gynecologic cancers.
In short, any cancer beginning in a woman’s reproductive organs is referred to as gynecologic cancer. There are 5 types of gynecologic cancers, including:
- Vulvar cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Uterine or endometrial cancer
- Vaginal cancer
Although uncommon, gynecologic cancer is still a concern to many women. This is mainly because all women risk developing it, which incidentally increases with age.
Some of the common symptoms include;
- Vulvar cancer – tenderness of the vulva, abnormal vaginal bleeding, itching, burning
- Ovarian cancer – abdominal back pain, pelvic pain or pressure, feeling bloated, and difficulty in eating for
- Uterine cancers – pelvic pain or pressure
- Vaginal cancers – a frequent urge to urinate and constipation
It is essential, therefore, to stay ahead of all the predisposing factors and get the hang of all the warning signs. Cancer treatments are most effective when the disease is discovered before it progresses.
Luckily enough, various cancer organizations provide informative and educational resources for women and medical practitioners, and other healthcare providers to raise awareness about 5 of the major gynecologic cancers.
2. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is one of the top reproductive health concerns among women affecting between 4 – 20% of women across the globe. The condition is characterized by the female or adrenal glands producing more male hormones than average.
This causes cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to develop on the ovaries. It mainly affects women who are obese. This subjects them to risks of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Symptoms may include:
- Lower abdominal pains,
- Excessive hair growth
- Thinning hair or baldness, acne, oily skin, dandruff, and thickened dark brown or black skin patches.
The health complications resulting from PCOS are that women who suffer from this condition may develop 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Other complications such as uterine cancer may also be experienced, which will impact their ability to conceive.
When a woman conceives, a baby grows in the uterus. Often the tissue lining the uterus grows abnormally in places like the ovaries, behind the uterus, the bowels, or on the bladder.
It sometimes, though hardly, grows in other parts of the body. This condition is referred to as endometriosis.
Endometriosis affects approximately 1 in 10 women throughout their reproductive years – between the ages of 15 and 49. This is about 190 million women globally.
The first sign women get of having endometriosis is when they experience pelvic pains and heavy periods. Some women, however, have no symptoms at all. This is a result of it causing these problems, including infertility.
The importance of stressing action towards addressing this issue is because there is currently an immediate cure for endometriosis. Most treatments usually aim at controlling it.
If diagnosed early, endometriosis can be prevented or effectively treated. Sadly, this capacity is limited in many settings, such as low- and middle-income countries.
4. Uterine Fibroids
At the age of being able to bear a child, quite a number of women are unlucky to be victims of non-cancerous tumors known as uterine fibroids. Symptoms are not universal among women, and their cause is unknown.
Uterine fibroids are also known as leiomyoma or “myoma.” It can grow as a single tumor or a group inside the uterus wall. Some are as small as apple seeds; then there are those as large as a grapefruit.
Women should know about uterine fibroids which affect about 20 to 80% of women before reaching 50 years old. It is more prevalent in women in their 40s and early 50s.
Symptoms of fibroids include pain during copulation, heavy menses, lower back and abdomen pains, bloating, regular urination among infertility, recurrent miscarriages, and or early labor.
Regular visits to your doctor are recommended since some women have no symptoms at all.
HIV/AIDS is often not considered a vital concern in women’s reproductive health, but it has severe repercussions on reproductive health. How? You ask. HIV affects the CD4 cells of the immune system responsible for fighting infections.
Over time, it destroys lots of these cells that the body can’t fight off infection anymore. Humans cannot rid themselves of HIV. It, therefore, means that if you catch it is perpetual. HIV leads to a late-stage called AIDS. At this stage, a person’s immune system is severely damaged.
Women of minority races/ethnicities are primarily the most affected. Statistics indicate that by 2020, an average of 37.7 million people were living with HIV. Of this figure, 53% of them were women and girls.
It is, therefore, mandatory for pregnant women to know their HIV status. This will enable the doctors to ensure the babies will not contract HIV during pregnancy or after delivery through suckling.
6. Interstitial Cystitis
So you have abdominal pains and pelvic discomfort, you want to urinate frequently, you feel tenderness, an intense ache in the bladder region, pain when the bladder fills or empties, and you have no idea what it is that is ailing you? Those are the symptoms of a condition referred to as interstitial cystitis (IC).
IC is a chronic bladder condition that causes recurring discomfort or pain in the bladder or surrounding pelvic region.
People with this condition identify themselves with inflamed or irritated bladder walls that can cause scarring and stiffening. IC is more common in women than men. In the US alone, it affects between 3 and 8 million women.
The majority of these women are more likely to develop other health complications such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Fibromyalgia; and
Other autoimmune illnesses such as allergies are associated with interstitial cystitis.
7. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
They are transmitted by having unprotected sex with someone who has the infection. Bacteria, parasites, and viruses are the causes.
In as much as they affect both men and women, the health problems it accompanies are often severe in women. Some of the serious complications women face from STDs include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Infertility; and
- Chronic pelvic pain
A pregnant woman with an STD will likely have the fetus affected.
Bacteria-caused STDs can be treated with antibiotics or other medicines. There is no cure for a virus-caused STD. Anti-viral medications are typically used to manage the symptoms.
The use of condoms, latex condoms highly reduces but doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of catching or spreading STDs.
8. Sexual Violence
As of today, it is a significant and global problem. Estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that across the globe, 1 in 3 women are victims of either physical and or sexual violence from partners and non-partners.
Sexual violence refers to sexual activity where an unwilling participant is forced to have sex. The majority of the victims are female.
In most cases, the victims know up close who takes advantage of them. They can be a co-worker, friend, neighbor, or family member. They are limitless, though. It could just be anyone again.
This vice should be fought at all costs as it leads to the victims contracting STDs and HIV/AIDS.
Why is Women’s Reproductive Health Important?
The importance of sexual and reproductive health for women stretches beyond their general well-being – it is a human right. It is, however, not enough to declare it a human right. Typically, the world has underestimated why it is crucial and what it can achieve.
For example, some 4.3 billion people of reproductive age will not have adequate and comprehensive sexual or reproductive health services throughout their lives.
Moreover, despite women in developing countries having no access to modern contraception, over 200 million want to avoid pregnancy.
If anything, these stats indicate that the direct medical benefits of prioritizing women’s health are well-known. Still, there are few interventions to bolden these efforts, particularly for women in vulnerable communities.
There’s an increased need to enhance the awareness of the benefits of women’s sexual and reproductive health, improve access to healthcare services, and more.
In doing so, health disparities among women will be eliminated, and the rates of infectious diseases and infertility will be lowered. This will, in turn, increase educational attainment among girls and women, give them better career opportunities, and enhance financial stability.
This aligns with the current global health demands for efficient, multidisciplinary, gender and rights-based solutions to solving the health, gender, and socio-economic issues women face.
The inadequacy of political will, resources, funding, and discrimination against the female gender hinders effective solutions to these problems.
Fully addressing women’s sexual and reproductive health issues requires a cumulative effort from all stakeholders – both in the public and private sectors.
These issues can be addressed through sexual education and increased awareness initiatives, providing easy access to medication and contraceptives, and enhancing antenatal and postnatal care.
Similarly, providing safe abortion services and medications or treatment in case of complications and preventing HIV and STDs are equally important.
These efforts, nonetheless, will require more funds, better research, and support from all policymakers, the healthcare sector, and other industries.