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Women's health



Related terms
Background
Treatment
Author information
Bibliography
Female conditions related to hormonal imbalances

Related Terms
  • Abnormal menstrual bleeding, Alzheimer's disease, amenorrhea, anti-androgen, anti-estrogen, atrophic vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis, breast cancer-related hot flashes, calcium, Candida, cervicitis, cervix, chronic pelvic pain, contraceptive, corpus luteum deficiency, cramps, cytokines, dysmenorrheal, ectopic pregnancy, emmenagogue, endometriosis, estrogen, fibrocystic breast disease, follicle-stimulating hormone, FSH, GABA, gardnerella, gonorrhea, gynecologist, hirsutism, hormonal disorders, hormone replacement therapy, hormone-related vaginitis, hot flashes, HRT, hypermenorrhea, hypothalamus, hypothyroidism, hysterectomy, hysteroscopy, incontinence, interleukins, irregular menstrual cycles, irritant vaginitis, laparoscopy, leukorrhea, LH, luteal phase deficiency, luteinizing hormone, menopausal disorders, menopausal hot flashes, menopausal symptoms, menopause, menorrhagia, menses, menstrual, menstrual pain, menstruation, neurochemicals, oophrectomy, osteoporosis, ovaries, ovariotomy, ovulation, PCOS, peri-menopause, pituitary gland, PMDD, PMS, polycystic ovary syndrome, postmenopause, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual tension, progesterone, progestin, serotonin, uterine fibroids, uterus, vaginal dryness, vaginal inflammation, vaginal yeast infection, vaginitis, vitamin D, vulvovaginitis, xenoestrogens, yeast infection, yeast vaginitis.

Background
  • Healthcare for women includes the entire spectrum of a woman'slife, not just pregnancy and childbirth. Besides developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, women have special health issues that revolve around hormonal changes in their bodies and their reproductive organs. Also, medical problems canaffect women and men differently.
  • Women's health issues include breast conditions, menstruation, infections, menopause, heart conditions, mental health, osteoporosis, and sexual health.
  • This monograph focuses on hormonal changes in the female body and the relationship these hormonal changes have on the overall health of a woman. Other women's health issues, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer, are covered in separate condition monographs.
  • Hormonal changes in women can cause health imbalances to arise, including menopause, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and related conditions (such as dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, amenorrhea, and polycystic ovary syndrome), and infections of the vagina.
  • For women, hormone imbalance is the term that describes the incorrect relationship between the two primary hormones, progesterone and estrogen, in the body.
  • For a woman to have regular menstrual cycles, the reproductive organs, including the ovaries and uterus, should all be functioning normally. The hypothalamus stimulates the pituitary gland to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). The hypothalamus is a part of the brain that links the nervous system with hormone release. FSH and LH cause the ovaries to produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone are responsible for the cyclical changes in the endometrium (uterine lining), including menstruation. In addition, a woman's genital tract should be free of any abnormalities to allow the passage of menstrual blood.
  • Normally, in the first 10-12 days of the menstrual cycle, only estrogen is produced in the female body. If ovulation occurs, then progesterone is produced by the ovaries. On or about day 28, levels of both hormones drop, resulting in menstruation. However, if ovulation does not occur, women can still have the menstrual period, but the estrogen is never "balanced" by progesterone, which needed ovulation to trigger its production. This results in symptoms of hormone imbalance;- estrogen is present but progesterone production drops to very low levels.
  • Variations in the estrogen/progesterone balance can have a dramatic effect on health. Hormonal imbalances are also thought to play a major role in PMS, or premenstrual syndrome.
  • Hormonal imbalances in women may be a result of aging, stress levels, a lack of exercise, poor nutrition, alcohol intake, poor sleep, synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and environmental toxins, called xenoestrogens, such as the pesticides DDT and dioxin.
  • Symptoms of hormone imbalance in women tend to increase as a woman ages and continue until menopause. Hormone imbalance symptoms can include: allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and runny nose; depression, fatigue and anxiety; endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus is found to be growing outside the uterus, on or in other areas of the body; fibrocystic breasts or lumps in the breasts; hirsutism or hair loss and facial hair growth; headaches, dizziness and foggy thinking; low sex drive; osteoporosis or the gradual loss of bone; PMS or premenstrual syndrome; urinary tract infections and incontinence; uterine fibroids; weight gain, water retention and bloating; and wrinkly skin.

Treatment
  • Menopause, perimenopause, and postmenopause:
  • Calcium management: Adequate calcium intake is important to prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Daily calcium intake for postmenopausal women should be around 1,200 milligrams. Women should eat foods rich in calcium (such as dairy products, leafy green vegetables, tofu, calcium-fortified foods), as well as foods that promote calcium absorption. A glass of milk provides about 300 milligrams of calcium. Intake of foods that rob the bones of calcium, such as animal protein and salt, should be limited. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Fifteen minutes of sun exposure every day provides sufficient vitamin D. Foods such as fortified milk, liver, and tuna contain vitamin D. Women should ask their healthcare provider or nutritionist if they should take a vitamin D supplement.
  • Calcium supplements are available in several forms: amino acid chelate, calcium carbonate, calcium chloride, calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, bone meal, dolomite, hydroxyappetite, and calcium citrate. To maximize absorption, supplements containing amino acid chelate, calcium citrate, gluconate, or hydroxyappetite should be taken. Calcium supplements should be taken with food.
  • Exercise: Exercise is an important part of preventative healthcare for postmenopausal women. By increasing cardiovascular fitness and strengthening the bones, exercise helps prevent heart disease and osteoporosis. Low impact, weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, tennis, racquetball, and dancing are helpful. Women diagnosed with osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease should consult with their healthcare provider before initiating an exercise program.
  • Hormone replacement therapy: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) uses man-made estrogens and progestin (synthetic progesterone) to ease the symptoms of menopause. The hormones are available in a variety of forms: pills, vaginal creams, vaginal ring inserts, implants, injections, and patches worn on the skin.
  • HRT has many short-term and long-term side effects. It is important to weigh all of the potential benefits and risks, preferences, and needs before beginning HRT. The benefits and side effects vary considerably from woman to woman. Women who take HRT should be closely monitored by a healthcare professional to ensure that they benefit as much as possible from the hormone therapy. Sometimes, changing the dosage or the way it is administered can help to control side effects.
  • Minor side effects include bloating, breast tenderness, cramping, irritability, depression, and menstrual bleeding for months or years following menopause. More serious risks include: breast cancer - women who have not had a hysterectomy and use estrogen supplements are at increased risk for invasive breast cancer and cardiovascular disease - HRT causes an increased risk for stroke (neurological damage caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain), heart attack, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Endometrial cancer has been linked to high-dose estrogen supplements. Women who have not had their uterus removed are prescribed low doses of estrogen with progestin (progestin protects against endometrial cancer).
  • Women who take HRT are at increased risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT or blood clots).
  • HRT may help to prevent or delay the development of many diseases, including; osteoporosis; Alzheimer's disease; colon cancer; macular degeneration - the leading cause of visual impairment in persons over age 50; urinary incontinence; and skin aging.
  • Various types and dosages of estrogen and progestin are available and the type of HRT recommended often depends on particular symptoms. For example, women who experience vaginal dryness may opt for a vaginal cream or vaginal ring insert, both of which alleviate dryness. The vaginal ring insert can also help urinary tract problems. For women who suffer from hot flashes, pills or patches may be helpful.
  • Hormonal medications:
  • Estrogen therapy remains, by far, the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes. Depending on the individual's personal and family medical history, a doctor may recommend estrogen in the lowest dose needed to provide symptom relief for the individual.
  • Conjugated estrogens: Conjugated estrogens are a mixture of estrogens prescribed to treat menopausal symptoms. The conjugated estrogens in Premarin® and Premarin Vaginal Cream® are obtained from pregnant mare (female horse) urine. The conjugated estrogens in Cenestin® are synthetic.
  • Dienestrol: Dienestrol (Ortho-Dienestrol®) is a synthetic, nonsteroidal, estrogen vaginal cream used to treat atrophic vaginitis. Side effects include vaginal discharge, increased vaginal discomfort, uterine bleeding, vaginal burning sensation, breast tenderness, and swelling in the hands or feet.
  • Esterified estrogens: Esterified estrogens (Estratab®, Menest®) are estrogenic substances consisting of 75-85% natural estrogens and 15-25% equine (mare or female horse urine) estrogens. They are supplied in tablet form and are used to treat hot flashes and atrophic vaginitis and urethritis (infections due to thinning and drying of vaginal tissues).
  • Estradiol: Estradiol is one of the three major estrogens made by the human body and is the major estrogen secreted during the menstrual years. It is available as an oral pill (Estrace®), transdermal skin patch (Climara®, Estraderm®, Vivelle®), vaginal tablet (Vagifem®), and vaginal cream (Estrace Vaginal Cream®).
  • Estropipate (estrone): Estropipate is an estrogenic substance derived from estrone, one of the three major estrogens produced by the body. Estrone is produced from estradiol and is a less potent estrogen. It is available in pill form (Ogen®, Ortho-Est®) and prescribed to treat hot flashes and vaginal atrophy and to help prevent osteoporosis.
  • Ethinyl estradiol: Ethinyl estradiol (Estinyl®) is a synthetic nonsteroidal estrogen available as a tablet that is prescribed to treat hot flashes (vasomotor symptom). It is administered on a cyclical basis (such as three weeks on and one week off) with attempts to discontinue or taper at three to six month intervals.
  • Testosterone: Testosterone is one of the androgens or male hormones and is also produced by women. Testosterone contributes to muscle strength, appetite, well-being, and sex drive (libido). The level of testosterone falls rapidly after menopause, and some women take testosterone supplements in addition to estrogen and progestin as part of HRT. However, supplemental testosterone can produce side effects and has potentially serious risks. Common side effects include weight gain, acne, facial hair, and liver disease. Testosterone can exacerbate estrogen's carcinogenic effect on breast and uterine tissue.
  • Other medications:
  • Low-dose antidepressants: Venlafaxine (Effexor®), an antidepressant related to the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), has been reported to decrease menopausal hot flashes. Other SSRIs can be helpful, including fluoxetine (Prozac®, Sarafem®), paroxetine (Paxil®), citalopram (Celexa®), and sertraline (Zoloft®). Side effects include drowsiness and fatigue
  • Gabapentin (Neurontin®): Gabapentin (Neurontin®) is approved to treat seizures, but it also has been reported to significantly reduce hot flashes. Side effects include drowsiness, sedation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, or tremor.
  • Clonidine (Catapres®): Clonidine (Catapres®) is typically used to treat high blood pressure. However clonidine may significantly reduce the frequency of hot flashes. Side effects include slow heart rate, low blood pressure, fatigue, dizziness, headache, constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, or a dry mouth.
  • Bisphosphonates: Alendronate (Fosamax®), risedronate (Actonel®), ibandronate (Boniva®), and zoledronate (Zometa®) are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Alendronate has been approved for management of osteoporosis in men. Both alendronate and risedronate are approved for the prevention and treatment of steroid-induced osteoporosis in men and women. Bisphosphonates help slow down bone loss and have been shown to decrease the risk of fractures. All are taken on an empty stomach with water. Because bisphosphonates have the potential for irritating the esophagus, remaining upright for at least an hour after taking these medications is recommended by healthcare professionals. Alendronate and risedronate can be taken once a week, while ibandronate can be taken once a month. An IV form of ibandronate, given through the vein every three months, also has been FDA-approved for the management of osteoporosis. Another IV bisphosphonate being studied for osteoporosis is zoledronic acid or zoledronate (Zometa®). This form is injected once yearly.
  • Side effects, which can be severe, include nausea, abdominal pain, and the risk of an inflamed esophagus or esophageal ulcers, especially if the individual has had acid reflux or ulcers in the past. If individuals cannot tolerate oral bisphosphonates, the doctor may recommend the periodic intravenous infusions of a bisphosphonate.
  • Use of bisphosphonates in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding is not well studied. Blood calcium levels in women who take bisphosphonates during pregnancy are usually monitored. Individuals using Boniva® injection will have blood levels of creatinine measured prior to each dose to determine kidney function. Creatinine is measured using blood tests.
  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs): Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMS) mimic the positive effects of estrogen on bones without some of the serious side effects such as breast cancer and stroke. Raloxifene (Evista®) decreases spine fractures in women. Hot flashes are a common side effect of raloxifene, and individuals with a history of blood clots should not use this drug.
  • Vaginal estrogen: To relieve vaginal dryness, estrogen can be administered locally in the vagina using a vaginal tablet (Vagifem®), ring (Nuvaring®), or cream (Premarin® vaginal cream). This treatment releases just a small amount of estrogen, which is absorbed by the vaginal tissue. It can help relieve vaginal dryness, discomfort with intercourse, and some urinary symptoms.
  • PMS and related conditions of hormonal imbalances:
  • Studies have reported that women with PMS should consider treatment if they notice any of the following, especially one to two weeks before their period: poor performance at school or at work as a result of difficulty concentrating, irritability, or fatigue; disturbing physical symptoms, such as breast tenderness, bloating, hot flashes, and headaches; problems in social life, such as damaged relationships with spouses, friends, lovers, and colleagues; difficulty parenting; and suicidal thoughts - suicidal thoughts are common in women with severe PMS.
  • Diet and physical activity: Diet and physical activity changes are the preferred method for treating symptoms of PMS. Eating a healthy diet is important for general health and may also help relieve PMS symptoms such as bloating, breast tenderness, weight gain, irritability, and headaches. A healthy diet includes eating foods high in complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding saturated fats. It may also help to avoid salt, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, red meat, and sometimes dairy products. Eating more small meals each day instead of three large meals may reduce food cravings and mood swings.
  • Most women report that exercise improves their PMS symptoms. It is especially helpful in relieving stress, improving mood, and preventing weight gain. Physically activity should include exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week throughout the menstrual cycle. Walking or other moderate physical activity may be enough, but some women find they need more vigorous aerobic exercise, such as jogging, biking, swimming, or climbing stairs.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) or naproxen (Aleve®) may be used for symptoms of dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and associated headaches.
  • Progesterone: Progesterone can be delivered using suppositories (a suppository is a drug delivery system that is inserted either into the rectum, vagina, or urethra where it dissolves), an oral form (by mouth), or topically (applied to the skin). Progesterone products can be purchased from compounding pharmacies. Compounded progesterone creams usually contain pharmaceutical progesterone mixed with other natural progesterone sources, including plants.
  • Oral contraceptives: Oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, stop ovulation and stabilize hormonal swings, thereby offering relief from PMS symptoms. Yaz®, a newer type of birth control pill that is a combination of the hormones drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol, has been reported to be effective in reducing the physical and emotional symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Yaz® is the first oral contraceptive to be approved for this use. For severe cramping, a doctor might recommend low-dose oral contraceptives to prevent ovulation, which may reduce the production of prostaglandins and therefore the severity of cramping. Low-dose oral contraceptives (such as Loestrin®) may increase risk for heart attack or stroke (neurological damage due to lack of oxygen to the brain).
  • Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which include fluoxetine (Prozac®, Sarafem®), paroxetine (Paxil®), and sertraline (Zoloft®), have been successful in reducing symptoms such as fatigue, food cravings, and sleep problems. These drugs are generally taken daily, and may cause side effects such as sedation, insomnia, and weight gain. For some women with PMS, use of antidepressants may be limited to the two weeks before menstruation begins.
  • Medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo-Provera®): Medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera®) is used for severe PMS or PMDD. Depo-Provera® is an injection that can be used to temporarily stop ovulation. However, Depo-Provera® may cause an increase in some signs and symptoms of PMS, such as increased appetite, weight gain, headache, and depressed mood.
  • Diuretics: Diuretic medications help relieve the body of excess fluid. Excess fluid causes symptoms of bloating and swelling (especially in the feet and ankles). Diuretics include hydrochlorothiazide (Hydroduiril®) and furosemide (Lasix®). Some diuretics may deplete the body of electrolytes, such as potassium. A healthcare professional will advise the patient if potassium supplements are needed. Often, adding potassium rich foods to the diet, such as bananas, is sufficient.
  • Anti-anxiety medicines: If antidepressant medications are not helpful for anxiety, anti-anxiety medicines can be used to relieve anxiety associated with PMS. The one most commonly used is alprazolam (Xanax®). It is in the class of medicines called benzodiazepines and increases the amount of the neurotransmitter GABA. Side effects include drowsiness, sedation, and blurred vision. It is recommended to use caution when driving an automobile or operating heavy machinery if taking benzodiazepines. Because benzodiazepines can be addictive, they must be used cautiously.
  • Another anti-anxiety medicine, buspirone (BuSpar®), may also help reduce anxiety and depression in PMS. It is not addictive and has less severe side effects than the benzodiazepines.
  • GnRH agonists: Gonadotropin-releasing hormones (GnRH) suppress the hormones that cause ovulation - follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). GnRH agonists are drugs that cause a temporary menopause-like state (lack of menstruation). They are highly effective in treating PMS, including breast tenderness, irritability, and fatigue. However, GnRH agonists can also cause menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. In addition, long-term use (more than six months) is associated with bone loss (osteoporosis). Small doses of estrogen and progesterone can be given in addition to GnRH agonists to lessen these side effects and allow long-term use. GnRH agonists include goserelin (Zoladex®, available as an implant), leuprolide (Leupron®, available as an injection), and naferelin (Synarel®, available in a nasal spray).
  • Anti-infectives: If a vaginal yeast infection is present, drugs prescribed may involve antifungal creams and suppositories, antibiotics, and other prescription drugs. Vaginal creams and vaginal applications are often recommended first rather than oral medication. Common medications used include: the prescription antifungal medications metronidazole (Flagyl®) and fluconazole (Diflucan®); antibiotics including doxycycline (Doryx®, Vibramycin®) and azithromycin (Zithromax®); and over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications such as miconazole (Monistat®).
  • Some self-care techniques include vinegar douches or sitz baths in a solution of one teaspoon of vinegar for every gallon of water, and eating yogurt containing live acidophilus (probiotic) cultures. It is recommended by healthcare professionals to abstain from sexual intercourse until treatment is completed.
  • Hysterectomy: If the individual's menstruation (periods) are heavy, not regular, or last for many days each cycle and nonsurgical methods have not helped to control bleeding, a hysterectomy may bring relief. A hysterectomy is the complete removal of the uterus (womb). The ovaries and fallopian tubes may also be removed if necessary. Hysterectomies are very common. One in three women in the United States has had a hysterectomy by age 60. A hysterectomy will stop the menstruation (period) and the individual will no longer be able to become pregnant. Symptoms of menopause may also begin, such as hot flashes, irritability, and vaginal dryness. Individuals should discuss a hysterectomy carefully with a doctor, family members, and counselor if needed.
  • Hysterectomies are performed in a hospital. Hysterectomies involve a cut in the abdomen (abdominal hysterectomy) or the vagina (vaginal hysterectomy). Sometimes an instrument called a laparoscope is used to help see inside the abdomen during vaginal hysterectomy. The type of surgery that is done depends on the reason for the surgery. Abdominal hysterectomies are more common and usually require a longer recovery time. An abdominal hysterectomy may also cause greater discomfort than following a vaginal procedure and a visible scar on the abdomen may be present.
  • Recovery from a hysterectomy generally takes four to six weeks.
  • A hysterectomy is generally very safe, but as with any major surgery, there are risks of complications. Such complications include blood clots, infection, excessive bleeding, or an adverse reaction to the anesthesia. Other risks of hysterectomy are: damage to the urinary tract, bladder, or rectum during surgery, which may require further surgical repair; loss of ovarian function; or early onset of menopause.
  • Other reasons to perform a hysterectomy in women include: fibroids (tumors); endometriosis not cured by medicine or surgery; uterine prolapse or when the uterus drops into the vagina; cancer of the uterus, cervix, or ovaries; vaginal bleeding that persists despite treatment; and chronic pelvic pain. Surgery is usually a last resort.

Author information
  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
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  3. Bruno D, Feeney KJ. Management of postmenopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors. Semin Oncol. 2006;33(6):696-707.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .
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Female conditions related to hormonal imbalances
  • Menopause:
  • Menopause, also known as "the change," is when a woman's menstrual periods stop altogether. It signals the end of the ovaries releasing eggs for fertilization. A woman is said to have gone through menopause when her menses have stopped for an entire year. Menopause generally occurs between the ages of 45-55, although it can occur as early as the 30s or as late as the 60s. It can also result from the surgical removal of both ovaries. A woman may still get pregnant during menopause until she has gone at least 12 months without menstruating (a period).
  • Changes and symptoms include: a change in menstruation (periods) - periods may be shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, with more or less time in between; hot flashes and/or night sweats; trouble sleeping; vaginal dryness; mood swings; trouble focusing; and hair loss on the head but increased hair on the face. About 85% of women experiencing menopause will have hot flashes.
  • All women will experience menopause. Menopause is not considered a disorder and most women do not need treatment for it. However, if symptoms are severe, medications may be used to help alleviate symptoms.
  • Researchers have estimated that more than 1.3 million women in the United States and 25 million women worldwide experienced menopause. There are about 470 million postmenopausal women worldwide, a number that is expected to increase to 1.2 billion by the year 2030.
  • Perimenopause: During perimenopause, the woman may begin to experience menopausal physical and emotional signs and symptoms, such as hot flashes and depression, even though they still menstruate. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months or continue for 10 years. Perimenopause ends the first year after menopause, when a woman has gone 12 months without having her period. Periods (menstruation) tend to be irregular during this time and may be shorter or longer or even absent.
  • Despite a decline in fertility during the perimenopause stage, individuals can still become pregnant. If the individual does not want to become pregnant, they may continue to use some form of birth control until menopause is reached.
  • Postmenopause: Postmenopause is a time when most of the distress of the menopausal changes have faded. Hot flashes may seem milder or less frequent and energy, emotional, and hormonal levels may seem to have stabilized. During postmenopause, women are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis (bone loss) and heart disease, due to the decrease in circulating estrogen. The postmenopausal phase begins when 12 full months have passed since the last menstrual period. After menopause (postmenopause), women are more vulnerable to osteoporosis (bone loss) and heart disease, in part due to estrogen imbalance.
  • Women may become pregnant during menopause.
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS):
  • Menstruation, commonly referred to as a period or menses, is the periodic discharge of blood and mucosal tissues from the uterus in non-pregnant women, usually occurring at four week intervals. Every month, a woman's body prepares for pregnancy. If no pregnancy (fertilization of the egg) occurs, the uterus sheds its lining. The menstrual blood is partly blood and partly tissue from inside the uterus, or womb. The blood passes out of the body through the vagina. Periods usually start around age 12 and continue until menopause (generally between the ages of 45-55). Most periods last from three to seven days.
  • Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a group of symptoms that start one to two weeks before the period (called the luteal or secretory phase). Four out of 10 menstruating women suffer from PMS. There have been as many as 150 symptoms associated with PMS. Most women have at least some symptoms of PMS, and the symptoms go away after their periods start. The most common symptoms are: irritability, anxiety, depression, headache, bloating, fatigue or excessive tiredness, feelings of hostility and anger, and food cravings, especially for chocolate or sweet and salty foods. Breast tenderness is also common in women during PMS.
  • The exact causes for PMS are not known. One theory points to low levels of the hormone progesterone. Others link it to nutritional deficiencies, such as calcium and magnesium. To be classified as PMS, symptoms must occur between ovulation and menstruation - that is, anytime within two weeks before the menstrual period and disappear shortly after the period begins.
  • For some women, symptoms of PMS are minor and may last only a few days before menstruation. For others, they can be severe and last the whole two weeks before every period.
  • While not all women have PMS, it's estimated that 70-90% of women who menstruate experience premenstrual symptoms. And another 30-40% of individuals suffering from PMS have symptoms severe enough to disrupt their lives. Severe PMS is seen in 3-8% of women.
  • Other conditions due to hormonal imbalances:
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a condition where women suffer from many of the physical symptoms of PMS, often more severely than other women. In addition, they experience debilitating emotional symptoms such as feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and extreme mood swings. Women with family members (a mother or sister) who have PMDD may be genetically predisposed to experiencing PMDD.
  • Dysmenorrhea: Dysmenorrhea is a menstrual condition characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain associated with menstruation. Dysmenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary. Primary dysmenorrheal is severe and frequent menstrual cramping caused by severe and abnormal uterine contractions in women. Painful menstrual periods may be caused by another medical condition present in the body, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or endometriosis. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a general term that refers to infection of the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes (tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus), and other reproductive organs. It is a common and serious complication of some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially chlamydia and gonorrhea. Endometriosis is when the tissue that lines the uterus is found to be growing outside the uterus, usually due to hormonal fluctuations. Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused caused by another medical condition, such as endometriosis (abnormalities in the lining of the uterus), adenomyosis (nonmalignant growth of the endometrium into the muscular layer of the uterus), pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, cervical narrowing, uterine malposition, pelvic tumors, or an IUD (intra-uterine device). This condition usually occurs in older women.
  • Amenorrhea: Amenorrhea is a menstrual condition characterized by absent menstrual periods for more than three monthly menstrual cycles. Amenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary. Primary amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual bleeding and secondary sexual characteristics (for example, breast development and pubic hair) in women during puberty or the absence of menstrual bleeding with normal development of secondary sexual characteristics in a girl by age 16 years. Secondary amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual bleeding in a woman who had been menstruating but later stops menstruating for three or more months in the absence of pregnancy, lactation (the ability to breastfeed), cycle suppression with systemic hormonal contraceptive (birth control) pills, or menopause.
  • Menorrhagia: Menorrhagia, also known as hypermenorrhea, is the medical term for excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding and for periods that are both heavy and prolonged. Normal menstrual flow produces a total blood loss of 30-40 milliliters (about two to three tablespoonfuls). An individual's period may be regular or irregular, light or heavy, painful or pain-free, long or short and still be considered normal. Menorrhagia refers to losing 80 milliliteres or more of blood during the menstrual cycle.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a disease associated with a gradual thinning and weakening of the bones. It occurs most frequently in women who have gone through menopause. Declining estrogen levels during the first postmenopausal decadelead to rapid bone loss. Increased fracture risk maybe reversed by estrogen replacement therapy. The bone-protectiveeffects of estrogen may involve suppression of inflammatorychemicals called cytokines. Cytokines, such as interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tissue necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-?), promote bone loss and bone resorption. Without estrogen, such as in postmenopause, bones may become weak. As bones become thinner and weaker, they also become increasingly susceptible to fractures. Over the course of time, tiny bone fractures in the spine can lead to stooped posture and loss of height. If left untreated, postmenopausal osteoporosis can lead to constant back pain, disabling fractures, an increase in hip and leg fractures, and lost mobility.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth, and obesity, though it can affect women in a variety of ways. A cyst is a closed sac- or bladder-like structure that is not a normal part of the tissue where it is found. Polycystic ovary syndrome affects about one in 10 women in the United States and is the leading cause of infertility in women. Early diagnosis and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome can help reduce the risk of long-term complications, which include diabetes and heart disease.
  • Vaginitis (yeast infection): Vaginitis, or yeast infection, is irritation and/or inflammation of the vagina. Vaginitis is a very common disease affecting millions of women each year. The three most common vaginal infections are bacterial vaginosis (caused by the bacterium Gardnerella), Candida vaginitis (caused by yeast infection or Candida albicans), and Trichomonas vaginitis (caused by the protozoan Trichomonas vaginalis). Hormonal vaginitis is usually found in postmenopausal or postpartum (after childbirth) women. In these women, the estrogen support of the vagina is poor. Irritant vaginitis can be caused by allergies to condoms, spermicides, soaps, perfumes, douches, lubricants, and semen. Irritant vaginitis can also be caused by hot tubs, abrasion, tissue, tampons, or topical medications. Yeast infections are also common in women during menstruation.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.



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