As far as our reproductive systems are concerned, the symptoms of something larger at play are usually pretty noticeable (or at least not completely negligible), but what is it our body is trying to tell us? Any body-literate gal knows when something isn’t right, and when it comes to our fertility (remember, fertility isn’t just about getting pregnant) we can’t afford to take chances that the issue might resolve or might not be that serious. Without further ado, here are 10 signs you might have a reproductive disorder and don’t realize it.
1 & 2. Acne and Hirsutism
As physical symptoms go, acne and excessive hair growth (also known as hirsutism) are about as noticeable as you can get. Actress and television personality Keke Palmer recently revealed that her stubborn acne (well past puberty and into adulthood), as well as hair growth, clued her into her recent diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). As Palmer tells it, these two symptoms, in particular, let her know that “there had to be something deeper going on.”
With regards to PCOS specifically, excess hair growth and troubling acne are caused by an overwhelming amount of androgens, or male hormones, in the body, which may result in other complications like fluid-filled sacs which sit on the ovaries, development of diabetes or insulin resistance, and difficulty with fertility.
3. Pain During Sex
Pain during intercourse isn’t something we can physically see manifested, but boy, do we notice it when it’s there. If sharp, stabbing pain during sex is also accompanied by bleeding between periods or other pelvic pain, the culprit could be uterine fibroids.
20-70% of women of childbearing age develop uterine fibroids.
The cause of uterine fibroids isn’t really known, but we do know that fibroids are noncancerous tumors that grow around and on the uterine wall. Fibroids are harmless most of the time, and 20-70% of women of childbearing age develop them. Still, pain during sex is a pretty serious indication that not all is well down there, and fibroids can usually be diagnosed with a transvaginal ultrasound or exam.
4. Urinating Frequently
Though interstitial cystitis isn’t strictly a reproductive disorder (it’s actually a bladder condition), it could have serious consequences for women. Interstitial cystitis usually results from mixed-up brain signals which tell our bladder to empty itself when it’s not full, versus when it is, resulting in frequent and oftentimes painful urination. For women who are menstruating or trying to get pregnant, these symptoms can be even worse, especially if the bladder is irritated, inflamed, or scarred.
Frequent urination can also be an indication of vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina, which encompasses three different types of conditions – yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and the sexually transmitted infection trichomoniasis.
5. Ovarian Cysts
Ovarian cysts – sacs filled with fluid that sit on the ovaries – are sometimes an indication of PCOS, but not always. A woman without PCOS can easily develop ovarian cysts, and they’re actually more common than you might think. They can range in size from that of a dime to even larger. While ovarian cysts are usually harmless, they do require monitoring and attention, as they can sometimes rupture or cause ovarian torsion.
Ovarian cysts range in size from that of a dime to even larger.
6. Heavy and/or Painful Periods
Heavy or extreme bleeding during the menstrual cycle is known as menorrhagia. Heavy periods are usually accompanied by passing large clots, soaking through pads and tampons frequently, and bleeding longer than a week, along with symptoms of anemia, like weakness or fatigue.
Heavy and painful periods (so painful that your activities are limited and basic over-the-counter medicine doesn’t seem to be working) might be indicative of a hormonal imbalance or endometriosis, a disorder where the inside lining of the uterus abnormally grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis is serious and can be debilitating for women, but can be diagnosed and treated.
7. Irregular Periods
Sometimes missing a period is just as scary as having a heavy or painful one. Irregular periods are one of the biggest indications that something isn’t right with our reproductive system. An irregular period can usually point to an issue with ovulation, which may mean we’re experiencing anovulation (or no ovulation at all), a hormonal imbalance, or even an ectopic pregnancy.
8. Heavy Feeling in the Abdomen or Pelvis
If I hadn’t experienced uterine fibroids myself not too long ago, I almost wouldn’t be able to articulate what this symptom feels like. The closest thing I can compare it to is feeling like a stone or a buoy is sinking in the pit of your stomach. While a feeling of heaviness in your pelvis or abdomen might indicate fibroids, it also might indicate PCOS, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or one or multiple cysts.
9. Inability To Stand Up Straight
Also called the “PID shuffle,” hunching over due to extreme uterine and cervical inflammation is one of the biggest indicators of pelvic inflammatory disease. PID is one of the most serious consequences of a sexually transmitted infection, and occurs when bacteria spread through the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. With PID, the pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis is so severe and extreme that patients are often unable to walk standing up straight. When left untreated, PID can often result in loss of fertility and ability to conceive.
PID occurs when bacteria spread through the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
10. Multiple Miscarriages
The sudden ending of an early pregnancy (normally before 20 weeks gestation) is one of the most tragic and jarring things a woman can experience. While many women do go on to have healthy pregnancies after a miscarriage, not all of them do, and multiple miscarriages in succession point to a much larger reproductive issue, such as a hormonal imbalance (insufficient progesterone or other vital hormones that help maintain the pregnancy), or even poor egg quality and poor implantation.
Miscarriages, while heartbreaking and traumatic, can be a big clue that our reproductive health isn’t where it should be, but fortunately, many can recover with the right knowledge and insight and go on to have a sustainable and successful pregnancy.
Whether it’s painful or irregular periods, acne, cysts, or difficulty getting pregnant, not all symptoms are created equal. But they are all trying to motivate us towards looking inside ourselves, slowing down from the hustle of life, and truly, actively listening to our bodies. There’s power in paying attention, and even more power in listening.
Yes, these symptoms can be painful, both physically and emotionally, to overcome, but isn’t it amazing that our body cares enough at all to tell us when something’s wrong? Truth be told, your body really only wants what’s best for you, and the sooner we start listening, the sooner we can learn what it needs.
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