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Female reproductive system: Reproductive system disorders



Content Reviewers:

Lisa Miklush, PhD, RNC, CNS

The female reproductive system consists of internal sex organs, which include the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus, and the vagina; and external sex organs, such as the mons pubis, the labia, and the clitoris. Now, the most common disorders of the female reproductive system typically affect the internal sex organs, and they include infertility, menstrual disorders, pelvic organ prolapse, and benign and malignant growths.

Let’s start with infertility, which is defined as the inability to become pregnant after 12 months of trying. Fertility problems can affect both partners. As a biological female gets older, the likelihood of infertility increases until pregnancy is no longer possible after menopause. Some other common causes of female infertility include hormonal imbalance, ovulation problems, structural abnormalities of the reproductive system and scar tissue from prior surgeries, or infections in the female reproductive tract.

Now, let’s switch our focus to menstrual disorders. Amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual bleeding, and it can be classified as primary or secondary amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea is defined as the absence of the first menstrual bleeding by the age of 16, and it can be caused by abnormal development of reproductive organs, hormone imbalances, and malnutrition. On the other hand, secondary amenorrhea refers to the absence of menstrual bleeding in individuals who previously had regular menstrual cycles. Moreover, secondary amenorrhea is one of the first signs of pregnancy, but it can also be caused by endocrine disorders or tumors.

Next up is menorrhagia, which is defined as heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding. Common causes of menorrhagia include infections, uterine disorders, or hormonal disturbances. Excessive and chronic loss of blood can even lead to anemia. The last one is dysmenorrhea, or extremely painful menstrual bleeding. Dysmenorrhea can be caused by strong uterine contractions, often called menstrual cramps, or it can be caused by other disorders of the reproductive system.

Switching gears and moving on to pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic organs, which include urinary bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum, are located in the pelvic cavity and are supported by muscles and connective tissue. If these structures become weak or connective tissue gets overstretched, pelvic organs tend to drop from their normal position. This condition is called pelvic organ prolapse. Risk factors for pelvic organ prolapse include vaginal births; advancing age, causing decreased estrogen production; and obesity.

Now, there are several types of pelvic organ prolapse. The first one is cystocele, which is the prolapse of the urinary bladder. In cystocele, the bladder pushes the front wall of the vaginal canal, which can lead to incontinence or leakage of urine and incomplete emptying of the bladder. The next type is rectocele, which is the prolapse of the front rectal wall. In rectocele, the rectum pushes the back wall of the vagina and causes symptoms such as a sensation of pressure in the rectal area, a feeling that the rectum is not empty after a bowel movement, or difficulty having a bowel movement.

The last type is uterine prolapse, which occurs when the uterus descends in the vaginal canal. Common symptoms of uterine prolapse include a sensation of pressure in the pelvis, incontinence, and difficulty having a bowel movement. The treatment depends on the type and severity of the prolapse. Individuals with mild cases of prolapse can be treated with estrogen in the form of vaginal creams, while severe forms require surgical intervention. Another option includes placing a device called a pessary into the vaginal canal to support weakened structures.

Now, let’s switch our focus to benign and malignant growths of the female reproductive system, starting with ovaries. The most common benign conditions of the ovaries are cysts. Cysts often cause pain in the lower abdomen during ovulation. Individuals who are experiencing severe pain that interferes with their everyday activities may require surgical removal of the cysts. On the other hand, ovarian cancer is a malignant condition most often found in individuals between the age of 40 and 65. It’s able to rapidly spread from the ovaries to other organs, such as intestines, liver, and spleen.