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Women’s health is incredibly important, and yet many women do not understand the key indicators of gynecologic illnesses. Gynecological conditions can cause a range of symptoms from mild to severe, including pain, fatigue, irregular bleeding or discharge, and more. Knowing the warning signs for these conditions can help you get timely treatment if necessary and ensure that your reproductive health remains in top shape. Here are some of the most common indicators of gynecologic illnesses every woman should be aware of.
1. Overview of Gynecologic Illnesses
Gynecologic illnesses are a broad group of conditions that affect women’s reproductive health. These include things like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Gynecologic illnesses can cause a wide range of symptoms depending on the type of condition.
With some gynecological issues, such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts, there may be no signs or symptoms until the problem has become more advanced. You can visit an NM Cancer Center to talk with a doctor about the different signs and symptoms of gynecologic illnesses. Other gynecological issues may cause pain during menstruation, irregular bleeding or discharge, heavy periods (with cramping), fatigue, and other uncomfortable side effects.
2. Abnormal Bleeding or Discharge
Abnormal bleeding or discharge can be an indication of a gynecologic illness. It is important to know the type and amount of bleeding that is normal for your body, so you can identify when something unusual happens. Abnormal vaginal bleeding can occur in between periods, after sex, or post-menopause. It could also present with pain before/during/after intercourse, itching, foul odor, and irritation around the vulva. In addition to abnormal vaginal bleeding, abnormal discharge such as yellow or green in color, thick like cottage cheese, or having a fishy smell should also be taken seriously and checked out by a doctor.
3. Painful Intercourse
Painful intercourse is a symptom of many gynecologic conditions and can be caused by inflammation, hormonal imbalances, infection, endometriosis, or cervical cancer. If you experience pain during intercourse that persists for more than one occasion, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. In some cases, treatment may involve a long-term course of medication or surgery. While it can be embarrassing to talk about, bringing this symptom up with your provider is important for your health and well-being.
4. Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is an extremely common symptom of gynecologic illnesses, with up to 80% of women experiencing it at some point in their lives. Lower back pain can be a sign of several different conditions, including endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It can also be caused by pelvic organ prolapse or uterine fibroids. Lower back pain can vary from woman to woman.
Some feel dull aches and pains while others experience sharp, stabbing pains that can last for days or weeks at a time. In most cases, the lower back pain is not indicative of any serious condition; however, if it persists for more than two weeks or becomes more severe over time, medical attention should be sought.
5. Pelvic Pressure or Bloating
Many things can cause pelvic pressure or bloating, but it could also be symptomatic of something more serious such as endometriosis or ovarian cysts. If you experience frequent pelvic pain and bloating that lasts for more than a few days, see your doctor for an evaluation. Endometriosis is a female reproductive disorder where the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows in other places in the body.
Symptoms of endometriosis include severe period cramps, chronic lower back and pelvic pain, abdominal bloating, difficulty emptying the bladder or bowel, and infertility. Treatment options vary from medications to surgery depending on the severity of symptoms.
6. Unusual Vaginal Odor
If you notice an unusual odor coming from your vagina, it can be a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV) or other infections. BV is caused by an imbalance in the bacteria that naturally occurs in the vagina. Symptoms include strong-smelling vaginal discharge, itching, and irritation. Other infections that can cause an unusual odor include trichomoniasis and yeast infections. See your doctor right away if you notice any changes in the smell of your vagina to get treatment quickly.
7. Unexplained Fatigue and Weakness
Unexplained fatigue or weakness can be a symptom of several gynecologic conditions, including anemia, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. Anemia is a condition where the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. Endometriosis occurs when the lining of the uterus grows outside of it, often causing pelvic pain, irregular bleeding, and other symptoms. Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow inside or around the uterus and can also cause heavy bleeding and cramps.
If you experience any unexplained fatigue or weakness accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as heavy vaginal bleeding, abdominal swelling, or pain, see your doctor right away for an evaluation.
8. Changes in Urination Habits
Changes in urination habits are another key indicator of possible gynecologic illnesses. These changes can include symptoms such as increased frequency of urination, difficulty starting and stopping the flow of urine, a burning or stinging sensation when urinating, and feelings of urgency or incomplete bladder emptying.
If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a few days, it is important to see your doctor so they can evaluate the cause. Urinary tract infections (UTIs), bladder infections, and even some viral infections such as herpes could be contributing factors to these changes in urinary habits. It is best to get tested soon if you notice changes in your bathroom routine.
Gynecologic illnesses can present themselves in many forms, and it is important to be aware of the key indicators so you can seek help early. Lower back pain, pelvic pressure or bloating, an unusual vaginal odor, unexplained fatigue or weakness, and changes in urination habits are all possible signs of a gynecologic condition that warrant evaluation by a doctor. If you have any of these symptoms for over two weeks or they worsen over time, speak with your doctor to get the care you need.