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Common Reproductive Health Concerns for Women

Endometriosis (MedlinePlus)

Endometriosis is a problem affecting a woman's uterus—the place where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. Endometriosis is when the kind of tissue that normally lines the uterus grows somewhere else. It can grow on the ovaries, behind the uterus, on the bowels, or on the bladder. Rarely, it grows in other parts of the body.

This "misplaced" tissue can cause pain, infertility, and very heavy periods. The pain is usually in the abdomen, lower back, or pelvic areas. Some women have no symptoms at all, and having trouble getting pregnant may be the first sign they have endometriosis.

Uterine Fibroids (MedlinePlus)

Uterine fibroids are the most common noncancerous tumors in women of childbearing age. Fibroids are made of muscle cells and other tissues that grow in and around the wall of the uterus, or womb. The cause of fibroids is unknown. Risk factors include being African-American or being overweight. The symptoms of fibroids include

Three women walking away arm and arm.
  • Heavy or painful periods or bleeding between periods.
  • Feeling "full" in the lower abdomen.
  • Urinating often.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Lower back pain.
  • Reproductive problems, such as infertility, multiple miscarriages, or early labor.

But some women will have no symptoms. That is why it is important to see your health care provider for routine exams.

Gynecologic Cancer

CDC provides information and educational materials for women and health care providers to raise awareness about the five main gynecologic cancers. Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman's reproductive organs. Gynecologic cancers begin in different places within a woman's pelvis, which is the area below the stomach and in between the hip bones.

  • Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus.
  • Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are located on each side of the uterus.
  • Uterine cancer begins in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ in a woman's pelvis where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
  • Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina, which is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
  • Vulvar cancer begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs.

HIV/AIDS

HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. HIV affects specific cells of the immune system (called CD4 cells). Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infection anymore. The human body cannot get rid of HIV—that means once a person has HIV, he or she has it for life. There is no cure at this time, but with proper medical care, the virus can be controlled. HIV is the virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. AIDS is the late stage of HIV infection, when a person’s immune system is severely damaged.  

HIV in Women
Women who are infected with HIV typically get it by having sex with a man who is infected or by sharing needles with an infected person. Women of minority races/ethnicities are especially affected, and black or African American women are the most affected group.

HIV can be spread through breast milk, so mothers in the US who have HIV should not breast-feed their babies.

Pregnant Women
All pregnant women should know their HIV status. Pregnant women who are HIV-positive can work with their health care providers to ensure their babies do not contract HIV during pregnancy, delivery, or after delivery (through breast milk). It is possible for a mother to have HIV and not spread it to her baby, especially if she knows about her HIV status early and works with her health care provider to reduce the risk.
Learn more from CDC’s Act Against AIDS campaign including how HIV is spread, and how to prevent HIV.

Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a chronic bladder condition resulting in recurring discomfort or pain in the bladder or surrounding pelvic region. People with IC usually have inflamed or irritated bladder walls that can cause scarring and stiffening of the bladder. IC can affect anyone; however, it is more common in women than men. Some people have some or none of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal or pelvic mild discomfort.
  • Frequent urination.
  • A feeling of urgency to urinate.
  • Feeling of abdominal or pelvic pressure.
  • Tenderness.
  • Intense pain in the bladder or pelvic region.
  • Severe lower abdominal pain that intensifies as the urinary bladder fills or empties.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) (MedlinePlus)

Polycystic ovary syndrome happens when a woman's ovaries or adrenal glands produce more male hormones than normal. One result is that cysts (fluid-filled sacs) develop on the ovaries. Women who are obese are more likely to have PCOS. Women with PCOS are at increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Symptoms may include

  • Infertility.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Excess hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, thumbs, or toes.
  • Baldness or thinning hair.
  • Acne, oily skin, or dandruff.
  • Patches of thickened dark brown or black skin.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

STDs are infections that you can get from having sex with someone who has the infection. The causes of STDs are bacteria, parasites, and viruses. There are more than 20 types of STDs. Read more about specific STDs from these CDC fact sheets.

Logo image: GYT, get yourself talking, get yourself tested. Most STDs affect both men and women, but in many cases the health problems they cause can be more severe for women. If a pregnant woman has an STD, it can cause serious health problems for the baby.

If you have an STD caused by bacteria or parasites, your health care provider can treat it with antibiotics or other medicines. If you have an STD caused by a virus, there is no cure, but antiviral medication can help control symptoms. Sometimes medicines can keep the disease under control. Correct usage of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not completely eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading STDs.

Sexual Violence

A woman looking worried.Sexual Violence (SV) is a significant problem in the United States. SV refers to sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given. Anyone can experience SV, but most victims are female. The person responsible for the violence is typically male and is usually someone known to the victim. The person can be, but is not limited to, a friend, coworker, neighbor, or family member. Learn more about sexual violence risk and protective factors. The ultimate goal is to stop sexual violence before it begins.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious, preventable public health problem that affects millions of Americans. The term intimate partner violence describes physical, sexual, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.

 

Resources

Find a Health Center
Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) health centers care for you, even if you have no health insurance. You pay what you can afford, based on your income.

Womenshealth.gov:  A—Z Health Topics

Women's Health Research: Progress, Pitfalls, and Promise (Institute of Medicine)
This progress report on the state of women's health research describes the diseases and conditions where the greatest gains have been made and where advances have been minimal or lacking. It also recommends additional steps that researchers, medical journals, and others could take to achieve further gains.

 
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