5 Women’s Conditions That Are More Common Than You Think

There’s a reason women have a dedicated gynecologist on speed dial. Women’s health is an important topic, and your individual needs require a doctor who specializes in conditions and diseases strictly affecting females. While it seems there’s an infinite number of illnesses out there, we wanted to shed some light on those that affect women in particular. Here are five women’s conditions that are more common that you think.

1. Bacterial vaginosis

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BV can put a real damper on your day. | iStock.com/grinvalds

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused by an overgrowth of, or changes in, certain types of bacteria in the vagina. According to the Office on Women’s Health, “BV is the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44.” And although the infection is caused by an imbalance of proper bacteria, BV is not considered an STD.

While it’s possible a woman can get BV without ever having had sex, having new or several sexual partners — male or female — does increase your risk. Characteristics of BV include vaginal discharge with a fishy odor, burning sensation when peeing, and vaginal irritation and itching.

Protecting yourself from, and treating, BV

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Prescription pills will cure BV. | iStock.com/ANDROMACHI

Despite the growing prevalence of BV, researchers are still studying the exact causes of the common infection. And although it’s not an STD, having safe sex could help protect you from getting it. Additionally, try to keep your vaginal bacteria balanced by washing with just warm water, wiping front to back, and wearing cotton underwear. It’s also recommended women stay away from scented soaps and douching products.

There’s also a test your doctor can perform to determine whether or not you have BV. If diagnosed, prescription medication should knock it out. It’s also important to abstain from sex until you’ve completed the entire round of meds. Finally, if your partner is female, she should also see a doctor, as the infection can spread female to female. If your partner is male, he doesn’t need to see a doctor or be treated.

2. Yeast infection

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Yeast infections can totally ruin your day. | iStock.com/pecaphoto77

If the signs and symptoms of BV sound familiar, it’s because they’re fairly similar to this more well-known issue that affects lots of women. Hallmark signs of a yeast infection include vaginal burning, itching, and discharge. Regardless of whether you’ve had one yourself, you’re probably familiar with this type of infection. But do you know just how prevalent it is? According to the Office on Women’s Health, “Three out of four women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life. Almost half of women have two or more infections.” With odds like that, being prepared is the best thing you can do.

Protecting yourself from, and treating, yeast infections

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Wearing cotton underwear could help prevent infections. | iStock.com

Your vagina does have small amounts of yeast, but when there’s an overgrowth of a certain type of fungus, Candida, that’s when an infection can occur. Unlike treatment for BV, yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter meds. However, you should still see your doctor so he or she can determine if it is indeed a yeast infection, as opposed to another type of vaginal infection or STD, given the similarity in symptoms. You can lower your risk of yeast infections by wearing cotton underwear, avoiding scented soaps and feminine products, and using condoms.

3. Endometriosis

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Severe cramping is one sign of endometriosis. | iStock.com/PRImageFactory

Endometriosis occurs when tissue that’s supposed to grow inside the uterus grows outside, typically on the ovaries, fallpoian tubes, bowels, bladder, and, in rare cases, other parts of the body. According to MedlinePlus, symptoms include abdominal and pelvic pain, heavy periods, severe menstrual cramping, and even infertility.

Because there can be no symptoms, it’s hard to know exactly how many women have endometriosis. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reports an estimated 6 to 10% of women in their reproductive years have the condition, equating to approximately 5 million women in the U.S.

Causes of, and treatment for, endometriosis

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Surgery is the only way to know if you have the condition. | iStock.com

Exactly what causes endometriosis is unknown. But it’s a serious condition, and one that requires more research. And unfortunately, there’s no simple blood or urine test your doctor can perform to determine whether you have the disease.

According to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, “The only way to verify endometriosis is to undergo a diagnostic laparoscopy with pathology confirmation of biopsy specimens.” While removing the tissue is the best form of treatment, there is no cure for endometriosis. In addition to surgery, other methods of treatment management include oral contraceptives, an IUD, and NSAIDs.

4. Uterine fibroids

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Many women have fibroids and never experience symtoms. | iStock.com/DeanDrobot

Ranging in size from that of an apple seed to a grapefruit, fibroids are tumors that grow inside the wall of the uterus. In most cases, these lumps are noncancerous. According to the Office on Women’s Health, “About 20 percent to 80 percent of women develop fibroids by the time they reach age 50. Fibroids are most common in women in their 40s and early 50s.” If you’re wondering why there’s such a wide range of women who are estimated to have fibroids, it could be due to a lack of symptoms in many women.

Diagnosis of, and treatment for, fibroids

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Your doctor can detect a fibroid during a pelvic exam. | iStock.com

When women do experience symptoms, they include heavy bleeding or painful periods, pelvic pressure, pain during sex, and infertility, though very rare. In rare cases, fibroids can be dangerous, leading to other complications like anemia, Mayo Clinic says.

Your doctor can detect fibroids during a routine pelvic exam, and while they’re not usually a huge deal, they can become very painful for some. In such cases, treatment options include over-the-counter pain relievers, birth control pills, surgery, or other drugs called GnRHa, which are given by injection, nasal spray, or implanted.

5. PCOS

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PCOS affects a lot of women. | iStock.com/Halfpoint

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a hormonal endocrine disorder, and is quite common. In fact, the PCOS Awareness Association estimates the condition affects 10 million women globally. Additionally, the organization says, “[PCOS] is a leading cause of female infertility and is responsible for a number of symptoms that can affect the body physically and emotionally.”

Despite its name, many women don’t actually have cysts on their ovaries. There is, however, a wide range of symptoms that can wreak havoc on a woman’s body, including her physical appearance.

Symptoms of, and treatment for, PCOS

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Weight can definitely play a role in PCOS. | iStock.com

Weight gain, excess facial and body hair, and acne are just a few of the symptoms women with PCOS may experience. There is no cure for PCOS, but there are ways to help manage it. For instance, the PCOS Awareness Association says doctors may recommend a woman take oral contraceptives (if she’s not trying to get pregnant), other medications, and fertility treatments if she is trying to conceive.