Female reproductive system definition
The female reproductive system is made up of internal organs and external structures. Its function is to enable reproduction of the species. Sexual maturation is the process that this system undergoes in order to carry out its role in the process of pregnancy and birth.
What do the reproductive organs look like (picture)?
The uterus, or womb, is a hollow organ located centrally in the pelvis. It houses the developing fetus during pregnancy. The lower portion of the uterus is called the cervix and opens into the vagina, or birth canal. An opening in the cervix allows for the passage of sperm into the uterus and the exit of menstrual blood. This same opening dilates during labor to allow passage of the baby through the birth canal. Arising from the upper portion of the uterus on each side are the Fallopian tubes. These are channels that allow eggs from the ovaries to enter the uterus. The process of fertilization of an egg by a sperm cell typically happens in the Fallopian tubes, and the fertilized egg moves into the uterus where it is implanted. Beside the uterus on each side and near the opening of the Fallopian tubes are the small, oval ovaries. They produce hormones and contain eggs. At birth, a female has 1 to 2 million eggs already present in the ovaries, but only about 300 of them will mature during a woman's lifetime.
External reproductive organs
The labia majora are two fleshy protrusions that protect and envelop the other external reproductive organs. They are covered with hair after puberty. They contain glands that produce sweat and oils. Inside the labia majora are the labia minora, smaller protrusions of flesh that surround the openings to the urethra (that allows passage or urine) and the vagina. Located next to the vaginal opening are glands that produce mucus known as Bartholin's glands. At the junction of the labia minora is the clitoris, a small structure that is covered by a skin fold called the prepuce. The clitoris is comparable to the male penis and is highly sensitive.
The menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle is the monthly cycle of follicle and egg maturation, release of an egg (ovulation), and preparation of the uterine lining for pregnancy. If a woman does not become pregnant, the uterine lining tissue is shed as menstrual blood. Most menstrual cycles occur every 28 days. Menarche is the time during adolescence when menstrual periods begin. Menstrual periods continue to occur until a woman reaches menopause.
The follicular phase is the beginning of the menstrual cycle. It starts on the first day of menstrual bleeding and usually lasts about 14 days. The hormones follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are released from the pituitary gland to stimulate the ovaries. In turn, the ovaries produce estrogen and stimulate the maturation of about 15 to 20 eggs in the ovaries inside small cystic areas known as follicles. Once estrogen levels begin to rise, the secretion of FSH is reduced by a feedback system so that follicle stimulation ceases at the appropriate time. With time, one of the egg follicles (or rarely, two or more) becomes dominant, and maturation of the other follicles is interrupted. The dominant follicle continues to make estrogen.
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Ovulation occurs at the midpoint of the menstrual cycle. Estrogen production from the dominant follicle leads to a sharp rise in LH secretion, causing the dominant follicle to release its egg. The egg is swept into the Fallopian tube by thin structures on the ends of the tubes known as fimbriae. At this time, the cervix produces an increased amount of thin mucus that assists sperm in the passage into the uterus.
The luteal phase of the menstrual cycle begins at ovulation (egg release). After the egg is released, the empty follicle turns into a cystic mass of cells called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum then produces progesterone, a hormone that readies the lining of the uterus for implantation of a fertilized egg. If an egg has been fertilized, the fertilized egg travels down one of the Fallopian tubes into the uterus and implants in the uterine lining tissue. If fertilization of an egg has not occurred, the lining of the uterus eventually breaks down and is shed resulting in menstrual bleeding.
Menopause is defined at the point in time at which a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. It signals the end of a woman's fertility and occurs, on average, at 51 years of age, though the time of menopause can vary widely. With menopause, hormone levels drop, and some women experience unpleasant effects from the lowered hormone levels, including hot flashes, mood changes, headache, tiredness, and sleep disturbances.
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Doula vs. Midwife
A midwife and doula are not the same thing. A doula's job is to provide non-medical, emotional, and personal support to a woman throughout her pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum experience. A certified nurse midwife is a medical health care professional that manages the overall general health of the mother and baby; for example, performs exams, orders laboratory tests, and procedures, and performs fetal monitoring from the pregnant woman's first prenatal visit to post-partum and aftercare. A midwife can deliver the baby, whereas a doula cannot.
A midwife usually tries to minimize the use of unnecessary technological interventions. A midwife cannot perform C-sections, use vacuums or forceps during labor and delivery. Midwives generally work with an Obstetrician (a doctor that specializes in pregnancy, birth, and women's reproductive health) when medical intervention by a specialist is necessary.
A doula does not require a medical degree, but requires certification in some states. Certification for nurse-midwife in the US requires a certification from the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB). Entrance into the AMCB program requires a Bachelor's Degree and a licensed RN degree. AMBC certification is a Master's Degree program.
Government of the District of Columbia. "Municipal Regulations for Nurse-Midwives."
Oregon Health Authority.gov. "Utilizing Doulas to Improve Birth Outcomes for Underdeserved Women in Oregon." Feb 22, 2012.
American College of Nurse-Midwives. "Become a Midwife."
flibanserinFlibanserin (Addyi) is a drug prescribed premenopausal women with acquired generalized hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) and are experiencing low sexual desire, marked distress, or interpersonal difficulty. Side effects, drug interactions, dosage, storage, and pregnancy and breastfeeding information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Hot flashes (or flushing) is the most common symptom experienced by a woman prior to and during the early stages of menopause, and often is described as the feeling of warmth that spreads over the body, often starting at the head accompanied by sweating. In the Study of Women Across America the Nation (SWAN) women had hot flashes that lasted on average 7 1/2 years. Symptoms of hot flashes include:
- Excessive sweating
Diagnosis is made by taking a patient history and, at times, blood tests. Treatment options include hormone therapy, bioidentical hormone therapy, and medications. There are non-FDA approved natural home remedies such as:
- Black cohosh
- Evening primrose oil
- Wild yam
- Dong quai
Hot flashes also can be caused by other conditions. Scientific studies to prove the safety and effectiveness of these products in relieving hot flashes have not been adequately performed. Consult your health-care professional before taking any herbal supplement.
Ovulation & FertilityBoost fertility and increase your chances to conceive. Learn about ovulation calendars, diet, aging and other factors that can affect pregnancy.
Pelvic Pain in Women and Men
Pelvic pain is described as pain, usually in the lower pelvic area. Causes of acute and chronic pelvic pain in women include endometriosis, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, menstrual cramps, ovarian cysts, tumors, or fibroids, ovulation, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or congestion syndrome, vulva pain, and rarely cancer. Pelvic pain during pregnancy may be caused by miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy (tubal pregnancy), preterm or premature labor, and placental abruption. Causes of pelvic pain in men include prostate problems, testicular pain, and groin pain. Causes of pelvic pain in men and women include kidney stones, appendicitis, UTIs, IBD, and STDs.
Signs and symptoms associated with pelvic pain depend on the cause, but man include pain during or after sexual intercourse, abdominal pain, distension, and tenderness, diarrhea, constipation, vaginal discharge or bleeding, blood, pus, in the urine, cloudy urine, blood in the stool, stool color changes, and low back pain. The cause of pelvic pain is diagnosed by a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging procedures. Treatment for pelvic pain depends on the cause.
PerimenopausePerimenopause is the time in a woman's life when she is approaching menopause. During this time a woman starts to develop symptoms of declining estrogen levels that may include mood swings, painful sex, night sweats, hot flashes, and weight gain. Every adult woman eventually will experience perimenopause.
Pregnancy: Multiple Births, Twins, Triplets, and MoreMultiple births occur when a woman bears twins, triplets, or even more babies during pregnancy. More multiples are born today thanks to assisted reproductive technology (ART), including in vitro fertilization using fertility drugs. Women carrying multiples often give birth via C-section.
Pregnancy TestThere are two types of pregnancy tests. One is done in the doctor's office, and tests the blood for the pregnancy hormone, hCG. The other type of pregnancy test can be bought over-the-counter and checks the urine for this hormone. There are many types of home pregnancy tests to choose from. Accuracy of home pregnancy tests depend on how, when, and who uses them, and the brand. It is possible to have a false-negative with a home pregnancy test.
Pregnancy: Bleeding During the First Trimester
Bleeding during pregnancy is never normal. Causes of bleeding during the first trimester of a pregnancy may be caused by implantation bleeding, ectopic or tubal pregnancy, subchorionic hemorrhaging, infections, and miscarriage. Bleeding during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy can be caused by a variety of factors.
Sex-Drive KillersNoticing a lack of intimacy with your partner? Here we explore how stress, lack of sleep, weight gain, depression and low T can cause low sex drive in men and women.
Sexual Health OverviewSexual health information including birth control, impotence, herpes, sexually transmitted diseases, staying healthy, women's sexual health concerns, and men's sexual health concerns. Learn about the most common sexual conditions affecting men and women.
Swollen Lymph NodesLymph nodes help the body's immune system fight infections. Causes of swollen lymph nodes (glands) may include infection (viral, bacterial, fungal, parasites). Symptoms of swollen lymph nodes vary greatly, but may include fever, night sweats, toothache, sore throat, or weight loss. Causes of swollen lymph nodes also vary, but may include cancer, the common cold, mono, chickenox, HIV, and herpes. The treatment of swollen lymph nodes depends upon the cause.
Trying to Conceive
Trying to get conceive, or become pregnant can be challenging, frustrating, and an emotional rollercoaster for some couples. A couple can chart their progress, which may ultimately lead to a successful healthy pregnancy, or, when necessary, lead to discussions with a fertility specialist. If you're a woman, be aware of your menstrual cycle, and you can track when you are fertile during the month using the:
- Basal body temperature method
- Calendar method
- Ovulation method (cervical mucus)
About 10% of women in the US have problems getting pregnant, or carrying a pregnancy full term. Both men and women can have fertility problems. In fact, men and women each contribute about 1/3 when it comes to fertility problems. The other 1/3 are caused by a mixture of problems with both men and women or other problems that aren't identifiable.
Vagina PictureThe vagina is an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining that provides lubrication and sensation. See a picture of the Vagina and learn more about the health topic.