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Female Reproductive Diseases & Disorders

Female Reproductive Diseases & Disorders
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  • 0:02 Ovarian Disorders:…
  • 2:48 Uterine Disorder:…
  • 4:22 Uterine Disorder: Amenorrhea
  • 5:35 Uterine Cancer
  • 6:21 Breast Cancer
  • 7:33 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Heather Adewale

Heather has taught reproductive biology and has researched neuro, repro and endocrinology. She has a PhD in Zoology/Biology.

The female reproductive system can be complicated, and as you can imagine, many things can go wrong. Learn about some of the more common disorders of the female reproductive system in this lesson.

Ovarian Disorders: Cysts & PCOS

As you may already know, the job of the ovary is to recruit and mature eggs each month, choosing one lucky egg to grow to full maturity. Once this egg reaches maturity, it is released from the ovary and travels down to the uterus. But what happens when things go wrong? And would you even know it?

Let's start with that one egg. Each egg in the ovary is surrounded by a group of cells. These cells create a protective bubble or follicle around the egg that is filled with fluid. Together they resemble a water balloon with an egg inside of it. The water is the fluid surrounding the egg to protect it, and that fluid is kept in place by the balloon, which are the cells. Once the egg is mature, it leaves the follicle and the ovary to begin its trek towards the uterus. So what happens to that follicle?

Cysts

Under normal conditions, the follicle would break down and form another structure called a corpus luteum. If pregnancy doesn't occur, the corpus luteum breaks down and the female's cycle starts over the next month. However, sometimes that follicle doesn't break down properly and remains intact. If this happens it is called an ovarian cyst.

Ovarian cysts can enlarge over time. Usually they are symptom free, and you probably wouldn't even know you had one unless a doctor detected it. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Occasionally a cyst will get too large and can cause some bleeding and discomfort.

PCOS

Now, one lonely cyst hanging out in your ovary usually doesn't cause too many problems. But what happens when it invites its friends? If the ovary starts to develop multiple cysts, things can get trickier. All of those cysts can cause some discomfort and interfere with fertility.

The development of multiple cysts in a ovary is called PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome. Poly means 'many,' and cystic refers to the cysts in the ovaries, so polycysitic means 'many cysts.' Picture lots of little water balloons hanging out in your ovary, but these ones don't have any eggs in them. Instead, they are taking up space, interfering with normal follicle and egg development. This can lead to abnormal menstrual cycles and infertility.

While it may look like the cysts are the cause of abnormal egg development, it's actually the other way around. The failure of eggs to develop normally produces the cysts, which in turn prevent more eggs from maturing normally. What is the root of this problem? Well, it is usually hormones. Women with PCOS often have abnormal levels of the hormones that regulate reproduction.

Uterine Disorders: Endometriosis

While the ovary is going through egg maturation, the uterus is also undergoing changes. Under normal conditions, the uterus builds up and sheds a lining of tissue each month unless pregnancy occurs. This tissue is called endometrial tissue. Most women experience some bloating, cramping, and mild pain associated with this process. But some women have severe pain, and this can be a symptom of endometriosis.

Remember that tissue that builds up and sheds each month? Well, normally that tissue is found only in the uterus and exits the uterus through the vaginal canal. But, in some women, that tissue goes rogue! It starts growing outside the uterus on the ovaries, uterine tubes, bladder, and in rare cases, has even been found in the nostrils and lungs!

When endometrial tissue grows in places other than the uterus, it still follows the same cycle as the tissue in the uterus. It builds up and sheds each month. But, unlike the tissue in the uterus, which exits the body, the endometrial tissue outside the uterus has nowhere to go. The dead tissue and blood sheds into the abdominal cavity, causing severe pain.

In addition to pain during menstruation, endometriosis can also cause pain during intercourse, abnormal menstrual cycles, and may lead to infertility. While the causes of endometriosis can vary and are still being researched, some women have found that hormone treatments, like birth control, can help ease the symptoms. And in extreme cases surgery can be performed.

Uterine Disorders: Amenorrhea

PCOS, endometriosis, and many other things can alter the menstrual cycle and can sometimes even stop it. If the menstrual cycle is disrupted to the point where the female fails to menstruate, the condition is called amenorrhea. Sometimes amenorrhea is an indication that something is wrong, while other times it is a temporary condition.

Amenorrhea may have a medical basis, where abnormal hormone levels or anatomical problems with the ovaries are preventing the cycle from occurring normally. It may have be caused by physical activity or lifestyle decisions. Many hardcore athletes experience temporary amenorrhea due to extreme physical activity. Physical causes can include malnutrition, extreme stress, or obesity. And sometimes we cause our own amenorrhea purposefully by taking birth control or by getting pregnant.

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