Women’s Reproductive Health: An overview

Women are quite different from men in terms of physical and emotional health. The state of their body is designed with a great capacity of bearing pain and giving birth to children- no wonder women are regarded as a giver and an epitome of love.

It’s quite crucial that women are aware of the health aspects, processes and changes in their body- as it is affected in completely different ways than that of a man. If you don’t pay heed to the changes, chances are that it may cause health complications in their future point of lives.

Let’s understand the stages of women’s reproductive health and discuss the changes it brings in terms of their physical, emotional and mental well being.

Reproductive Health

Just like a caterpillar transforms to a butterfly, a woman’s body is designed to undergo rapid transformation to carry forward the process of life. It’s the reproductive or sexual health/ hygiene that addresses the reproductive processes and functions at all stages of women’s life. There are three stages in the reproductive life of a woman, namely

1) Puberty

2) Pregnancy

3) Menopause

In all the three stages in reproductive health, a woman not only experiences physical changes in her body but also alterations in her mental and emotional health.

PUBERTY

This is the stage when a young woman’s body matures to a state when she is ready to bear children. This typically takes place in girls between 11-14 years, where she experiences physical changes in her body along with the development of secondary sexual characteristics- like breasts, and hair at different parts of the body.

She starts to have menstruation – or monthly bleeding called “period.” During this cycle, the uterus lining builds up to prepare itself for pregnancy. During the time, if pregnancy doesn’t happen, then the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone begin falling. The very low estrogen and. progesterone levels indicate the body to begin menstruation. At the time of menstruation, the body discards the monthly buildup of the lining of the uterus and is seen as bleeding through the vagina.

Now, though this is normal for any woman to go through every month, there is a lot of physical and mental stress that she undergoes due to the changing hormone levels.

Physical Changes

• Increased fatigue
• Bloating of the body
• Cramps in the lower abdomen
• Back pain and leg pain
• Headache and dizziness
• Nausea and vomiting
• Anemia – due to excessive bleeding
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Change in appetite.

Emotional/ Mental Changes

Typically, termed as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) – these changes can be experienced by a woman even as a post menstrual syndrome.

• Mood swings
• Depression or feelings of hopelessness
• Intense anger and conflict with other people
• Tension, anxiety, and irritability.
• Decreased interest in usual activities
• Difficulty in concentrating

PREGNANCY

The next most important stage in any woman’s life is when she will be able to give birth to her own child. With changing life style patterns and increasing stress levels, what seemed to be a natural process earlier, is today becoming increasingly difficult due to increased problems with the reproductive health of women and men.

A woman considers giving birth to a child a salvation and pleasure- beyond words. However, such pleasure is felt by her at the cost of her health. During this phase, every woman undergoes rapid physical and mental transformation and it’s quite necessary for a woman to be prepared well before she gets pregnant. She requires lot of attention, emotional support from the loved ones during and after pregnancy. Changes that woman goes through includes:

Physical Changes

• Weight gain
• Increased respiratory rate – breathlessness
• Increased heart rate
• Heartburns/nausea/ constipation
• Skin changes – stretch marks
• Increased frequency of urination
• Easy fatiguability
• Sleep disturbances
• Changes in hormone levels

Mental and Emotional Changes

• Anxiety
• Depression
• Increased Irritability

During this stage, a woman requires special care for the her and child’s physical and emotional well being . Nutritious food at regular intervals, rich in Vitamins and minerals like Iron, calcium etc is the need of the hour. Good sleep for a minimum of 7-8 hours ensures that emotional stability. Contrary to beliefs, the woman should exercise (though not vigorously) and as per advise of the doctor.

MENOPAUSE

Menopause is the stage when a women stops having her periods permanently. The event of confirmation of menopause is when she had not had her period for 12 months in a row. It usually begins between the ages of 45years and 55 years but can also develop any time before or after this age range.

Why does Menopause Occur?

Menopause is a natural process and occurs as the ovaries age and produce less reproductive hormones, which include
• Estrogen
• Progesterone
• Testosterone
• Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
• Luteinizing hormone (LH)

The notable change seen at menopause is the loss of active ovarian follicles- the structures that produce and release eggs from the ovary wall, allowing menstruation and fertility. The changes are not sudden and occur gradually with the periods becoming less consistent. There also could be changes in the blood flow, which either could become heavier and longer.

The perimenopausal phase is the time around menopause which is quite stressful like the other stages. Here, there are rapid changes in the hormone levels and it plays havoc on the physical and mental being of the woman.

Symptoms include

• Hot flashes (or flushes): Sudden feeling of hot and red blotches on the upper part of the body. They may experience heavy sweating during the hot flash and cold shivering after the flash.
• Irregular periods. Periods may be lighter or heavier, or they may come more often or less often.
• Urinary problems: It includes leaking urine while sneezing, or difficulty in holding urine long enough to get to the bathroom.
• Increased hair growth on other areas of the body, such as the face, neck, chest, and upper back
Other symptoms include:
• Vaginal dryness
• Reduced libido
• Sore or tender breasts
• Dry skin, mouth and eyes
• Weight gain
• Painful and stiff joint
• Hair thinning or loss of hair
• Insomnia: Problems in sleeping
• Mood Changes: feel irritable or have crying spells.
• Increased anxiety
• Feeling Depressed
• Becoming forgetful or having trouble focusing

Health Issues after menopause

• Heart disease. Estrogen helps keep blood vessels relaxed and open. It also helps the body maintain a healthy balance of good and bad cholesterol. Without estrogen, cholesterol may start building up on artery walls leading to the heart.
• Stroke. Your risk for stroke doubles every decade after age 55. The lower levels of estrogen in your body may cause building up cholesterol on artery walls leading to the brain.
• Osteoporosis. Less estrogen levels after menopause causes you to lose bone mass more quickly than before, which puts you at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes your bones to become brittle, weak and causes it to break easily.
• Urinary incontinence. About half of postmenopausal women have trouble holding in their urine.
• Oral issues. Dry mouth and an increased risk for cavities are more common after menopause.

Takeaway

Women’s health has been described as “a patchwork quilt with gaps”. Although many of the issues around women’s health relate to their reproductive health- menstruation, birth control and menopause, there arises a need to have a broader understanding of women’s health to include all other aspects of health. So much that it has led to replacing the term “Women’s Health” with a much broader term- “The Health of Women”.

Even with conditions such as cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis, that affects both men and women- it manifests differently in women. Women’s health issues also include medical situations in which they face problems not directly related to their biology, but also issues such as gender-differentiated access to medical treatment and other socioeconomic factors.

Women are multifaceted, and play different roles in her lifetime from being a daughter, sister, wife or mother to someone. She always places the health and interests of her loved ones, before her own. Hence it is our duty to care for her as much as she does for us. In Hindu mythology, women are regarded as an epitome of Sakthi- so let’s take time to protect this energy.

This women’s day, gift the woman in your life with an Aarogya shree health package, a comprehensive full body health check- at a reasonable price.

Remember, if a woman remains healthy, the world around her is healthy too.

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