Women's Health

Women have many unique health concerns — menstrual cycles, pregnancy, birth control, menopause — and that's just the beginning. A number of health issues affect only women and others are more common in women. What's more, men and women may have the same condition, but different symptoms. Many diseases affect women differently and may even require distinct treatment.

We tend to think of breast cancer and osteoporosis as women's health diseases, but they also occur in men. Heart disease in a serious concern to both men and women, but risk factors and approaches to prevention are different. Women may also have specific concerns about aging, caregiving, emotional health issues, and skin care.

Women's Health Articles

Dealing with the symptoms of menopause

You could argue that the physical and mental changes that occur during menopause aren't really "symptoms." The term is usually associated with a disease, which menopause is not. Also, it is often hard to say which changes are a direct result of a drop in hormone levels and which are natural consequences of aging. Some of the symptoms overlap or have a cascade effect. For example, vaginal dryness may contribute to a lower sex drive, and frequent nighttime hot flashes may be a factor in insomnia. Hot flashes and vaginal dryness are the two symptoms most frequently linked with menopause. Other symptoms associated with menopause include sleep disturbances, urinary complaints, sexual dysfunction, mood changes, and quality of life. However, these symptoms don't consistently correlate with the hormone changes seen with menopause transition. Also called vasomotor symptoms, hot flashes may begin in perimenopause, or they may not start until after the last menstrual period has occurred. On average, they last three to five years and are usually worse during the year following the last menstrual period. For some women they go on indefinitely. More »

Osteopenia: When you have weak bones, but not osteoporosis

Like their names suggest, osteopenia and osteoporosis are related diseases. Both are varying degrees of bone loss, as measured by bone mineral density, a marker for how strong a bone is and the risk that it might break. If you think of bone mineral density as a slope, normal would be at the top and osteoporosis at the bottom. Osteopenia, which affects about half of Americans over age 50, would fall somewhere in between. The main way to determine your bone density is to have a painless, noninvasive test called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) that measures the mineral content of bone. The measurements, known as T-scores, determine which category — osteopenia, osteoporosis, or normal — a person falls into (see graphic). More »

By the way, doctor: What can I do about strep B vaginitis?

I'm 61 and recently began to have a vaginal discharge. It's not itchy, but sexual intercourse is painful. My doctor diagnosed it as strep B vaginitis and prescribed amoxicillin, which helped. But the discharge returned within a week. What do you recommend? (Locked) More »

Female Infertility

For a man and a woman who are having frequent intercourse without using any birth control, the average amount of time that it takes to conceive is six months. Most couples are able to achieve a pregnancy within one year if they have intercourse frequently (twice per week or more often). Between 10% and 15% of couples will continue to have difficulty conceiving after one year of trying. When pregnancy is this slow to occur, the man and woman are diagnosed as infertile. Infertility can be caused by health problems in the man, the woman or both partners. In some infertile couples, no cause can be found to explain the problem. In approximately 20% of couples, more than one cause of the infertility is found. The cause of infertility occurs about as often in men as in women. Normal aging reduces a woman's ability to become pregnant. Ovulation, the process of forming and releasing an egg, becomes slower and less effective. Aging begins to reduce fertility as early as age 30, and pregnancy rates are very low after age 44, even when fertility medications are used. Even though fertility is less reliable for women of older ages, approximately 20% of women in the United States have their first child at or after age 35. (Locked) More »

Preparing for a colonoscopy

Preparation for a colonoscopy involves taking a substance the day before the procedure that induces bowel-clearing diarrhea. It's unpleasant and takes several hours, but adequate preparation can make the process somewhat easier to endure. More »

Depression during pregnancy and after

For too many women, joyfully anticipated pregnancy and motherhood bring depression as an unexpected accompaniment. Children as well as mothers suffer. Depression during pregnancy may result in poor prenatal care, premature delivery, low birth weight, and, just possibly, depression in the child. Depression after childbirth (postpartum depression) can lead to child neglect, family breakdown, and suicide. A depressed mother may fail to bond emotionally with her newborn, raising the child's risk of later cognitive delays and emotional and behavior problems. Fortunately, if the depression is detected soon enough, help is available for mother and child. Depression in pregnant women is often overlooked, partly because of a widespread misconception that pregnancy somehow provides protection against mood disorders. In reality, almost 25% of cases of postpartum depression in womem start during pregnancy, and depression may peak at that time, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. More than 9,000 women recorded their moods during the fourth and eighth month of pregnancy and again two and eight months after giving birth. The questionnaire, which was specially designed for pregnant women and new mothers, concentrated on thoughts and feelings—emotional swings, crying spells, low self-esteem, hopelessness, irritability, and inability to enjoy normally pleasurable activities. The researchers paid less attention to physical symptoms, because they did not want to mistake physical effects of pregnancy (such as appetite loss, fatigue, and insomnia) for symptoms of depression. Depression ratings were highest at the eighth month of pregnancy and lowest eight months after childbirth. Fourteen percent of the women scored above the threshold for probable clinical depression just before the child's birth, compared with 9% two months later. More »