Menstruation usually starts at puberty and ceases at the menopause. These two stages in a woman’s life are determined by the levels of female sex hormones in the body. The menstrual cycle itself is also governed by a combination of hormones, all of which are produced at varying levels throughout the cycle. Many conditions or disorders upset the balance of these hormones.
This section begins by discussing some common menstrual disorders. Several of these disorders are still not fully understood, but advances in diagnostic techniques have made investigation easier, and modern surgical methods have improved treatment. The articles that follow discuss health problems associated with the menopause and other disorders caused by an imbalance of the sex hormones. The widespread use of hormonal treatment has helped to relieve many of these disorders.
Related disorders that affect the female reproductive system are dealt with in other sections (see Disorders of the female reproductive organs, and Sex and reproduction), as are disorders involving hormones other than the sex hormones (see Hormones and metabolism).
For more information about the structure and function of the female reproductive system, see Female Reproductive System.
The female reproductive organs are the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, vagina, and vulva. Since the combined primary function of these organs is reproduction, disorders affecting them can result in infertility and should be treated as soon as possible, particularly if children are planned. Such disorders may be caused by infections, physical damage, or hormonal imbalances.
The first two articles in this section discuss pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis, disorders that may affect more than one female reproductive organ. The next articles discuss disorders of the ovaries, uterus, and cervix. Disorders affecting the vagina and vulva are covered last.
Disorders affecting the female reproductive organs are common, but many of them can be treated easily.
Disorders affecting menstruation, the menopause, or sexual development are covered in other sections (see Menstrual, menopausal, and hormonal problems), as are sexual disorders of both sexes (see Sexually transmitted infections, Infertility, and Sexual problems).
For more information on the structure and function of the female reproductive organs, see Female Reproductive System.
The breasts consist of fatty tissue that gives them their size and shape, lobules that secrete milk after childbirth, and milk ducts that carry the milk to the nipple during breast-feeding. The nipples are sensitive to touch and play a role in sexual arousal. Most disorders of the breasts are not serious, although breast cancer is becoming increasingly common.
Throughout life, the breasts change size and shape in response to varying levels of female sex hormones. The breasts usually enlarge during puberty, before periods, and during pregnancy and breast-feeding. This enlargement can be associated with breast pain and with generalized lumpiness.
This section opens with an overview of the causes of breast lumps, both normal and abnormal. Many women associate a breast lump with breast cancer, but in fact most lumps are noncancerous. Two of the common causes of noncancerous lumps in the breasts, fibroadenomas and breast cysts, are discussed next in this section.
The following articles cover breast pain, abnormalities in breast size, and problems that affect the nipples. The final article deals with breast cancer. Since early diagnosis of this disease significantly improves the chances of long-term survival, this section includes information about screening for breast cancer and how to examine your breasts so that abnormalities are detected as soon as possible.
For more information about the structure and function of the breast, see Female Reproductive System.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.