What to do about vaginal cysts, sores, and bumps

Sometimes, lumps and bumps develop on the vagina. These lumps and bumps can occur for a variety of reasons and can cause pain and discomfort.

They can appear on the internal part of the vagina or the external area, known as the vulva, which includes the labia.

What are the causes?

The following are the most common causes of vaginal lumps:

1. Vaginal cysts

Lumps on vagina
When cysts form on the vaginal wall, they can cause pain and discomfort.

Vaginal cysts are pocket or pouch-like projections on the vaginal wall.

There are a variety of different types of vaginal cysts.

Some cysts contain pus and others contain air or scar tissue.

The types of vaginal cyst include:

  • Bartholin’s cysts: These are lumps on one or both sides of the vaginal opening.
  • Endometriosis cysts: Lumps of tissue form small cysts in the vagina.
  • Gartner’s duct cysts: These cysts typically only form during pregnancy.
  • Vaginal inclusion cysts: These often result after trauma to the vaginal walls, such as after giving birth. Injury causes tissue to become trapped under the skin’s surface, resulting in a cyst.

Some cysts may be large and painful, but most vaginal cysts are small and have no symptoms.

2. Vaginal polyps

Vaginal polyps are outgrowths of skin that doctors may also refer to as skin tags.

They usually do not require treatment unless they are painful or cause significant bleeding.

3. Vaginal warts

Vaginal warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. HPV is also a risk factor for cancer.

It is not usually possible to feel warts inside the vagina, but it is possible to notice growths just outside the vaginal opening. Vaginal warts typically feel like small, irregular growths. It may be possible to see the warts by holding a mirror under the vagina.

The sexually transmitted infection herpes can also cause genital blisters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sometimes, herpes lesions may resemble an ingrown hair or a pimple. Other times, they may have a sore or blister-like appearance.

4. Vaginal cancer

Rarely, vaginal cancer can cause lumps on the vagina. These lumps can grow due to the excess development of cancerous cells in the lining of the vagina’s skin cells or the glandular cells located in the vagina.

Other symptoms of vaginal cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge. If cancer becomes advanced, symptoms may include constipation, pelvic pain, back pain, or leg swelling.

However, these symptoms do not necessarily mean a person has cancer; they are much more likely to be caused by another condition, such as an infection.


When to see a doctor

Lumps on vagina doctor appointment
A person should see a doctor if they notice any physical changes in the vaginal area.

Anyone that notices any changes in the vaginal area, such as lumps or bumps, should see a doctor.

It is especially important to see a doctor for lumps if they:

  • are bleeding
  • cause an unusual or foul-smelling discharge
  • are painful

Most lumps on the vagina do not require invasive treatments.

A doctor can evaluate vaginal bumps to determine if they need further treatment.

How are lumps on the vagina diagnosed?

To diagnose vaginal lumps or bumps, a doctor will likley examine the outside of the vagina as well as perform a physical examination.

A doctor may also take a swab from the lump and send it to a laboratory to test for the presence of any harmful cells.

To help with diagnosis, a doctor may request some imaging tests to see how large the lump or lumps may be. Imaging tests may include transvaginal ultrasound imaging or abdominal imaging.

What are the treatment options?

Treatments for vaginal lumps depend upon the underlying cause:

Cysts

Lumps on vagina tampon
Using tampons may increase discomfort and disrupt healing.

If a vaginal cyst becomes infected, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to reduce the effects of the infection.

A doctor may also recommend at-home treatments and lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Having a sitz bath: A sitz bath involves sitting in a few inches of warm water. A person can either sit in shallow water in their bathtub or buy a special type of sitz bath that fits into the toilet bowl.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain (OTC) relievers: These include medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
  • Avoiding tight and non-breathable clothing: Wear underwear made with natural cotton fibers.
  • Avoiding sex and tampons: When a person has a painful or infected vaginal cyst, inserting a tampon or having sex may worsen symptoms and disrupt healing.

Lumps caused by HPV

A doctor cannot cure the HPV infection, but they can remove the warts if they are causing symptoms. Treatment includes freezing or using laser surgery to remove the warts.

Vaginal cancer

Doctors treat vaginal cancer in a variety of ways, depending on how far the cancer has progressed.

According to the American Cancer Society, if a person has pre-cancerous cells on their vagina, a doctor may recommend topical treatments to destroy the pre-cancerous cells or laser surgery to remove the pre-cancerous cells.

Invasive or more advanced vaginal cancers may require surgical removal.

Treatment may also include:

A doctor can also recommend individual treatments based on the underlying cause of lumps on the vagina.


Takeaway

Lumps on the vagina can be a normal occurrence.

Vaginal lumps are not usually painful. However, when lumps on the vagina grow too large, cause bleeding or pain, or result in infection, they might require treatment.

Anyone who develops vaginal lumps or experiences any other symptoms should see a doctor.

Ten tips to prevent stretch marks

Stretch marks appear on men and women of all ages, sizes, and skin types. They do not cause pain or health problems, but some people are bothered by their appearance. People often wonder how to prevent stretch marks from forming.

Skin can stretch to accommodate size changes, including those due to weight fluctuations, puberty, muscle gain, and pregnancy. If the skin stretches too quickly, the collagen and elastic tissues in the skin may break, resulting in stretch marks.

Stretch marks typically first appear as red, pink, or purple lines. Over time, the blood vessels heal, and the lines often fade and become less noticeable. However, they may not disappear entirely.

According to some estimates, up to 80 percent of the population get stretch marks. They are particularly common during and after pregnancy due to the rapid changes in the body.

Teenagers who experience fast growth and body changes during puberty may also develop stretch marks. Some people who gain muscle quickly, such as weightlifters, may get stretch marks on their arms, shoulders, and legs.


How to prevent stretch marks

While there is no way to guarantee that a person will not develop stretch marks, the following tips may help reduce the likelihood:

1. Eat omega-3s

Chia seeds on wooden spoon next to oil.
Chia seeds are a plant-based source of omega-3.

Omega-3 fatty acids help the skin stay supple. Many cold-water fish contain omega-3, including:

  • salmon
  • herring
  • mackerel
  • sardines

Vegetarian sources of omega-3 include:

  • chia seeds
  • flaxseed
  • walnuts
  • algae
  • soybeans

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 8 ounces (oz) of seafood per week. Pregnant women should talk with a doctor to confirm how much fish it is safe for them to eat. They should also avoid fish that is high in mercury.

2. Get vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for healthy skin. A person can often get vitamin D from sun exposure.

However, too much sun exposure also raises the risk of skin aging and cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation state that eating fortified foods and taking supplements when necessary is a safe way to get vitamin D without exposing skin to the sun.

3. Gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend 25–35 pounds (lb) of total weight gain for pregnant women who are already at a healthy weight.

Women who are overweight before pregnancy should gain 15–25 lb, while underweight women should gain up to 40 lb.

Pregnant women should talk to their doctor about how much weight to gain during pregnancy because underlying health conditions can also affect the range.

4. Use a moisturizer

Body lotion or cream in a moisturizer pot containing honey and flower oil.
Moisturizing the skin regularly may help prevent stretch marks.

There are no creams or oils proven to prevent stretch marks. However, keeping the skin supple may be helpful for reducing the risk in some people.

Moisturizers can often help reduce itching that happens as the skin stretches. One review found that creams and oils may also help prevent stretch marks, but more recent research is necessary to confirm this.

5. Avoid anabolic steroid usage

Anabolic steroids weaken the skin’s structure, so people who use them, such as some athletes, may be more prone to stretch marks.

Anabolic steroids are not the same as corticosteroids, which are medications that people use to treat asthma, allergies, lupus, arthritis, and many other conditions.

6. Limit or avoid steroid creams for itching

Steroid creams or corticosteroids, which usually contain cortisone, may weaken skin’s collagen and result in stretch marks. However, people concerned about this should speak to a doctor before discontinuing them.

People can try anti-itch creams that do not contain cortisone for minor bug bites and rashes. They can also ask a doctor about nonsteroidal creams for conditions such as eczema.

If a person must use creams containing cortisone, it is best to use them only for as long as necessary before switching to a milder cream.

7. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

Researchers have not been able to prove that any specific vitamins prevent stretch marks, but evidence shows that skin needs a variety of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E, and zinc, to stay healthy. Fruits and vegetables are rich in these and other vitamins and minerals.

8. Get regular exercise

Exercising regularly can help a person lose weight and avoid weight gain in the future. Remaining at a healthy weight can reduce the risk of excessive skin stretching.

Exercise also increases blood flow to the skin, which can help the skin rebuild itself.

9. Wear sunscreen and avoid direct sun

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays damage the skin’s collagen and elastin, which can make stretch marks more likely to form.

People should seek shade, wear UV-protective clothing, and apply sunscreen daily. It is essential to allow the sunscreen to absorb for 30 minutes before sun exposure and to reapply it at least every 2 hours while spending time in the sun.

10. Avoid smoking

Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin, which deprives it of the oxygen it needs to repair itself. In addition, smoking depletes nutrients in the body that the skin needs to stay healthy.

Smoking also releases damaging free radicals, which can break down the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin.


Risk factors

Pregnant woman sitting side profile holding baby bump
A woman may be more likely to have stretch marks from pregnancy if her mother had them.

Rapid growth and weight gain are the most common causes of stretch marks. However, not everyone who gains weight quickly or has a growth spurt as a teenager will develop them.

Experts believe that genetics may play a role in whether or not a person gets stretch marks. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery say that if a woman’s mother had stretch marks after pregnancy, she is more likely to get them as well.

Researchers also recently identified specific genes that may predispose people to stretch marks.

Other research indicates that women who are younger and have a higher body weight during pregnancy are more likely to get stretch marks than older pregnant women who weigh less.

Treatment

There is no proven way to get rid of stretch marks once they appear. However, some new treatments look promising, including:


Takeaway

A healthful lifestyle can help keep the skin looking supple and smooth and may help prevent stretch marks.

However, genetics also contributes to a person’s likelihood of developing stretch marks, so it may not be possible for everyone to prevent them.

People who are bothered by their stretch marks may wish to talk to a doctor about clinical treatment options.

What happens at each stage of breast cancer?

Breast cancer stages range from 0-4. Each stage has different symptoms and treatment options.

Breast cancer has four stages, and a doctor uses the TNM staging system to identify which of these four stages the breast cancer has reached.

The letters TNM mean the following:

  • T stands for tumor and indicates how much of the breast tissue is involved.
  • N stands for nodes and indicates whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • M stands for metastasis and indicates whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The TNM staging system also uses numbers. The numbers from 0-4 determine how advanced the cancer is.

The system is overseen by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC). This means all cancer doctors describe and classify the stages of cancer in the same way.

To determine which stage a person’s breast cancer has reached, a doctor will perform tests. Tests include blood tests, CT and PET scans, MRI’s, X-rays, including a mammogram, and ultrasounds.

Stage 0 breast cancer

woman wearing breast cancer awareness ribbons
The TNM staging system helps identify the stage of breast cancer and the appropriate treatment.

A person with stage 0 breast cancer has a noninvasive cancer type.

This means that cancer has not spread anywhere else in the body and that the cancerous cells remain in the breast where they started growing.

Noninvasive breast cancer is also known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). It means cancer remains in the milk ducts.

Early diagnosis of stage 0 breast cancer means that a person can receive prompt treatment.

This might prevent cancer from turning into an invasive breast cancer type.

Treatment for stage 0 breast cancer

There is a variety of treatment options for stage 0 breast cancer, including:

Surgery

A lumpectomy involves removing cancerous cells from the breast. It is an option when the cells remain in one area. This is a relatively short and simple procedure, and a person should be able to go home after the surgery on the same day.

If cancerous cells appear throughout the breast, the doctor may recommend a mastectomy, which involves removing the entire breast. Plastic surgeons can rebuild the breast at the same time or a later date.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy can help kill cancer cells and inhibit them from spreading. A person will typically undergo radiation therapy once the breast surgery site has healed. This is usually 4-6 weeks after surgery.

Hormone treatment

The hormone estrogen, found naturally in the body, can impact some types of breast cancer. If a person has estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) or progesterone receptor-positive (PR+) breast cancer, a doctor may suggest hormone treatment in addition to surgery.

The person may also require radiation therapy to manage the levels of these hormones in the body.


Stage 1 breast cancer

Stage 1 breast cancer means the cancerous cells are invading the surrounding breast tissue. Stage 1 breast cancer has two subcategories – 1A and 1B.

People with stage 1A breast cancer have breast cancer with:

  • A tumor measuring no more than 2 centimeters (cm) in diameter that has not spread outside the breast.

People with stage 1B breast cancer have invasive breast cancer that can present as:

  • No tumor in the breast, but the cancerous cells have formed into clusters that are between 0.2–2 (millimeters) mm in diameter and may also be in the lymph nodes.
  • A tumor no larger than 2 cm growing in the breast alongside small groups of cancer cells measuring between 0.2–2 mm developing in the lymph nodes.

If this is the case and the cancer is ER+ or PR+, a doctor is still likely to classify it as stage 1A cancer.

Microscopic invasion is where cancer cells have begun to spread outside the milk duct lining or lobule. If microscopic invasion is present, doctors may still classify cancer as stage 1 breast cancer, providing these cells do not measure more than 1mm.

Treatment for stage 1 breast cancer

Doctors can offer a variety of treatment options for stage 1 breast cancer, although surgery is the primary treatment.

Surgery

A lumpectomy or mastectomy are both viable surgical options for people with stage 1 breast cancer. A doctor will decide what surgery is most appropriate depending on the location of the primary tumor, how large it is, the size of the breast, family history, genetics, and the person’s preference.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a standard treatment for stage 1 breast cancer. However, a doctor may not recommend radiation therapy for people over 70 years old, particularly if hormone therapy is suitable.

Hormone therapy

If the breast cancer is ER+ or PR+, hormone therapy may be effective. Hormone therapy works by preventing the growth of estrogen, which helps cancer grow. Hormone therapy can reach cancer cells in the breast as well as other areas of the body and reduces the risk of the cancer coming back.

Chemotherapy

Before recommending chemotherapy, a doctor will test to see whether the cancer is hormone receptive.

If the test results show that the cancer is not receptive to estrogen and progesterone or to another protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), it is known as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).

Hormone therapy is ineffective against this cancer type, and people who have TNBC will usually need chemotherapy.

However, some people who do have ER+ or PR+ breast cancer may still undergo chemotherapy. A doctor may need to run a test on the tumor to help decide whether chemotherapy is appropriate.

Sometimes, doctors will recommend that people who have HER2+ breast cancer use Herceptin, which is a targeted therapy, alongside chemotherapy.


Stage 2 breast cancer

Stage 2 breast cancer also has subcategories known as 2A and 2B.

Stage 2A breast cancer is an invasive cancer where:

  • There is no tumor growth in the breast itself, but cancerous masses that are over 2 mm in diameter are growing in up to three axillary lymph nodes (in and around the armpit) or lymph nodes near the breastbone.
  • There is a tumor in the breast that is under 2 cm in diameter that has spread to the axillary lymph nodes.
  • The tumor is 2–5 cm in diameter but has not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Stage 2B breast cancer is an invasive breast cancer where:

  • A tumor that measures 2–5 cm in diameter is growing in the lymph nodes alongside clusters of cancerous cells. These cancerous cells form groups between 0.2 mm–2 mm in size.
  • There is a tumor that is 2–5 cm in diameter, and cancerous cells have spread to one to three axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes by the breastbone.
  • The tumor is larger than 5 cm, but cancerous cells have not spread to the axillary lymph nodes.

Treatment for stage 2 breast cancer

The most common type of treatment for stage 2 breast cancer is surgery.

Surgery

In most cases, treatment involves removing the cancer.

A person with stage 2A or 2B breast cancer may undergo a lumpectomy or mastectomy. The doctors and the individual can decide based on the size and location of the tumor.

Combination therapy

A doctor may recommend a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy (if the cancer is hormone receptive) to people with stage 2A or 2B breast cancer.


Stage 3 breast cancer

woman having chemotherapy accompanied by partner
Chemotherapy will generally be the first phase of treatment for stage 3 breast cancer.

The subcategories for stage 3 breast cancer are 3A, 3B, and 3C.

3A breast cancer is an invasive breast cancer where:

  • There is no tumor in the breast, or a tumor of any size is growing alongside cancer found in four to nine axillary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes by the breastbone.
  • A person has a tumor greater than 5 cm, as well as clusters of breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes that are between 0.2–2 mm in diameter.
  • The tumor is larger than 5 cm, and cancer has also spread to one to three axillary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes near the breastbone.

Stage 3B breast cancer is invasive breast cancer where:

  • A tumor of any size has spread into the chest wall or skin of the breast, causing swelling or an ulcer to develop. It could also have spread to up to nine axillary lymph nodes or may have spread to lymph nodes by the breastbone.

If cancer spreads to the skin of the breast, a person may have inflammatory cancer.

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include:

  • the skin of the breast turning red
  • swelling of the breast
  • the breast feeling unnaturally warm

Stage 3C breast cancer is an invasive breast cancer where:

  • There is no actual tumor in the breast, or the tumor may be any size and has spread into the wall of the chest or the skin of the breast. Cancer may also be present in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes.
  • Cancer has spread to a person’s lymph nodes above or below the collarbone or axillary lymph nodes or lymph nodes located close the breastbone.

Treatment for stage 3 breast cancer

Treatment for people with stage 3 breast cancer includes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Typically, doctors administer the chemotherapy before performing the surgery in an attempt to shrink a tumor.

People with stage 3 breast cancer will probably need radiation therapy to kill off any remaining cancer cells. Doctors may also recommend hormone therapy, as well as additional targeted therapies, if necessary.

Stage 4 breast cancer

A person with stage 4 breast cancer has cancer that has spread not only to the nearby lymph nodes but also to more distant lymph nodes and other organs in the body.

Stage 4 breast cancer is the most advanced stage. It is also known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer. Stage 4 breast cancer may be recurrent breast cancer that has now spread to other parts of a person’s body.

Treatment for stage 4 breast cancer

Typically, treatment for stage 4 breast cancer includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy (if appropriate).

Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the protein that allows cancer cells to grow and this type of therapy may also be an option for people with stage 4 breast cancer.

Sometimes, surgeons will operate to try and remove tumors though this is not usually the first option for treatment.

Doctors, however, may recommend surgery to help with pain relief by treating some of the issues that may develop as a result of having stage 4 breast cancer. These include spinal cord compression, removing single masses caused by metastasis, and fixing any broken bones.

A doctor may also prescribe medication to treat related symptoms such as:

  • antidepressants to help mood
  • anticonvulsants to manage pain or neurologic conditions
  • local anesthetics to manage pain

New treatments and therapies are emerging all the time, and anyone who has breast cancer at any stage can volunteer to try out these new treatments. People considering this should talk to their doctor to see whether any trials are available in their area.

Trials for a new treatment called immunotherapy are currently taking place. Immunotherapy works by raising the body’s natural ability to fight off cancer and has fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not yet approved immunotherapy, but anyone who wishes to put themselves forward for these trials should discuss their options and suitability with their doctor.


More about the TNM staging system

As well as numbers, a zero or an ‘X’ often follow the letters T, N, and M. According to the AJCC, the meanings are as follows:

  • TX means doctors do not have information about the presence or size of the tumor
  • T0 means no evidence of an invasive primary tumor is present. This indicates that the cancer is “in situ” (which means that the tumor has not yet grown into healthy breast tissue).
  • NX means doctors do not have information about the lymph nodes
  • N0 means there is no evidence of cancer in the nearby lymph nodes
  • MX means doctors do not have information about metastasis
  • M0 means no evidence of distant metastasis is present

Breast cancer treatment considerations

female family members wearing breast cancer awareness ribbons
There is increased risk of breast cancer if a close family member has it.

The stages of breast cancer give a doctor an indication of how developed the breast cancer is and the kind of treatment options that may be effective.

There are, however, other factors that doctor’s take into consideration when determining how successful a specific type of breast cancer treatment might be.

These include:

  • Age: Those under 40 tend to have more aggressive breast cancers.
  • Pregnancy: Doctors may delay chemotherapy until the second or third trimester and delay hormone and radiation therapy until after the baby is born.
  • How fast cancer grows and spreads: More aggressive cancers require more aggressive treatments.
  • Family history: People whose close relatives have experienced breast cancer are more likely to experience it themselves.
  • Genetic mutation status: If someone tests positive for the breast cancer genes known as BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two), their risk of developing breast cancer increases significantly. Some people may require tests for other genes associated with breast cancer.


Outlook

A person’s outlook depends on early diagnosis and the stage of their cancer. The earlier a person receives treatment, the better the prognosis.

People should routinely check for any signs of breast cancer by performing monthly breast exams and should talk to their doctor about having regular mammograms.

Some people may need to begin screening earlier than others depending on their risk factors. Discuss this with the doctor. Other people may be candidates to start screening later, but it is a good idea to share the decision making with a doctor who will be able to advise on the best way forward.

Treatment depends on many factors, including the stage of breast cancer, family history, genetics and a person’s personal preferences. Doctors will tailor treatment to each individual and will adjust it depending on how well a person responds initially.

Migraines are more common in women, but why?

Migraines are not typical headaches; they are extremely painful events and are often accompanied by nausea, blurred vision, or ultrasensitivity to smells, light, or sounds. These episodes can be debilitating and highly disruptive to day-to-day life. More women than men tend to experience them, and researchers ask why.
woman experiencing a migraine
New research looks to hormones to understand why women are more predisposed to migraines.

Scientists at the Universitas Miguel Hernández in Elche, Spain, believe that the answer as to why migraines are more common among women may lie with the activity of sex hormones.

“We can observe significant differences in our experimental migraine model between males and females and are trying to understand the molecular correlates responsible for these differences,” says Prof. Antonio Ferrer-Montiel.

Although this is a complex process, we believe that modulation of the trigeminovascular system by sex hormones plays an important role that has not been properly addressed.”

Prof. Antonio Ferrer-Montiel

The trigeminovascular system is made up of neurons that are found in a cranial nerve known as the trigeminovascular nerve. Researchers have suggested that this system is involved in migraine mechanisms.

In the new study, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and his team argue that the activity of sex-specific hormones interact with the trigeminal system in a way that renders its nerve cells more sensitive to migraine triggers.

These findings now appear in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, as part of a special issue focusing on the importance of targeting proteins in cell membranes as an effective therapeutic approach in medicine.

In the future, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and colleagues hope that their findings may lead to a better, more personalized approach to migraine management.

Does estrogen hold the answer?

The researchers conducted a review of existing studies about sex hormones, what drives migraine sensitivity, and how nerves react to migraine triggers. In doing so, they were looking to understand how specific sex hormones might facilitate the development of migraines.

Soon enough, they found that certain sex hormones — such as testosterone — actually appear to play a protective role. However, other hormones — such as prolactin — seem to intensify the severity of migraines, according to the scientists.

These hormones, the authors say, either boost cells’ sensitivity to migraine triggers or desensitize them, by interacting with the cells’ ion channels. These are a type of membrane protein that allow ions (charged particles) to pass through and influence the cells’ sensitivity to various stimuli.

Through their research, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and team identified the hormone estrogen as a key player in the development of migraines.

At first, the team saw that estrogen was tied to higher migraine prevalence in women experiencing menstruation. Moreover, they also found that certain types of migraine were linked to changes in hormone levels around menstruation.

Specifically, Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and colleagues noticed that changes in estrogen levels means that trigeminal nerve cells may become more sensitive to external stimuli, which can lead to a migraine episode.

At the same time, the researchers warn that nobody should jump to any conclusions based on the evidence gathered so far. This study, they say, is preliminary, and much more research is needed to determine the exact roles that hormones play in the development and prevention of migraine.

Also, the new study has focused on findings from research conducted in vitro, or on animal models, so Prof. Ferrer-Montiel and colleagues advise that in the future, it will be important to conduct longitudinal studies with human participants.

If their findings are confirmed and consolidated, the scientists believe they could lead to improved strategies for the management of migraines.

“If successful, we will contribute to better personalized medicine for migraine therapy,” concludes Prof. Ferrer-Montiel.

What are the long-term side effects of birth control?

Hormonal methods of birth control are considered safe for most people. But is there a limit to how long you can safely use birth control?

Some people take the birth control pill for much of their adult lives without a break. Others use long-term hormonal contraception devices, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), that can stay in place for several years.

The safety of using long-term hormonal birth control may depend on a person’s risk factors, age, and medical history.

Read on to find out the short-term and long-term effects of birth control.

Short-term side effects

woman holding birth control and wondering about the long term effects of birth control
Short-term side effects of birth control may include headaches, nausea, weight gain, and mood swings.

Hormonal methods of birth control contain artificial progesterone or estrogen and progesterone. They affect the hormone levels in a person’s body, so many people experience side effects shortly after taking them.

Not all people will experience side effects. Some side effects will go away within several months as the body adjusts to the hormones. Other side effects may develop after taking hormones for some time.

Possible short-term side effects of birth control include:

  • bleeding between periods, or spotting
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • breast tenderness
  • weight gain
  • mood swings


Long-term side effects

For most people, using contraceptives for a long time does not cause significant problems.

Many people use hormonal birth control for contraception. But, others take hormonal birth control to manage long-term medical conditions. Conditions include heavy or painful periods, endometriosis, and menopause symptoms. Doctors approve the use of the pills for these conditions, so they should be okay to take.

A doctor can advise individuals about the safety and risks of using long-term birth control according to their medical history.

There are several factors and possible side effects to consider when taking long-term birth control:

Birth control and cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is mixed evidence that hormonal contraceptives may increase the risk of breast and cervical cancer but reduce the risk of endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancers.

The hormones in birth control, including progesterone and estrogen, may stimulate the growth of some types of cancer cells and reduce the risk of others developing.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that people who have taken birth control pills are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than those who have never used them. However, this risk goes away when people have been off the pill for 10 or more years.

The ACS also report that taking birth control for more than 5 years may increase the risk of cervical cancer. The longer people take the pill, the higher their risk. However, the risk should go back down gradually when someone stops taking the pill.

A large-scale study published in 2018 looked at the cancer prevalence in over 100,000 women aged 50 to 71 who were currently taking birth control pills. The study indicated that long-term use of birth control decreased the risk of both ovarian and endometrial cancer.

Researchers are not sure why birth control pills may lower the risk of certain cancers. It may be because the pill decreases the number of ovulations a person has in their lifetime, which exposes them to less naturally occurring hormones.

Birth control and blood clots

A 2013 meta-analysis of 26 studies indicated that the use of oral contraceptives containing both progesterone and estrogen increased people’s risk of developing a blood clot.

Blood clots increase a person’s risk of a stroke and heart attack. People who smoke may be especially at risk for developing blood clots when using birth control pills.

Is it safe to use birth control indefinitely?

Most people can safely use hormonal contraceptives for many years, provided their doctor has recommended it.

However, many long-term birth control methods contain hormones. This can cause problems depending on a person’s medical history, age, and overall health. Doctors may advise some people to avoid using certain types of birth control.

If a birth control pill causes side effects, people can speak to their doctor and change pills until they find one that works for them.

People with a history of blood clots may prefer progesterone-only birth control pills or the hormone-free IUD.


Long-term contraception options

contraceptive pills iud and vaginal ring
Long-term contraception methods include birth control pills, intrauterine devices, and the vaginal ring.

There are several long-term birth control options. All hormonal methods of birth control, including the pill, patch or implant, may cause similar side effects and long-term risks.

There is no one “best” method of birth control. The best option depends on a person’s lifestyle and medical history.

Most long-term birth control options involve the use of hormones. The hormones work in two main ways: stopping ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus, which makes it difficult for the egg and sperm to meet.

Long-term non-hormonal options are also available, including the non-hormonal IUD.

Long-term contraception methods include the following:

  • Birth control pills: Contraceptive pills often contain both artificial progesterone and estrogen. People can also use progesterone-only pills.
  • Contraceptive shots: Contraceptive shots contain progesterone and prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation. A doctor can give a contraceptive shot every 3 months.
  • Contraceptive implants: An implant is a small, thin rod that a doctor inserts under the skin in the arm. It releases hormones that prevent ovulation. The implant protects from pregnancy for up to 4 years.
  • Vaginal ring: A person inserts a vaginal ring inside their vagina. The person leaves the ring in for 3 weeks and then takes it out for 1 week. The ring releases hormones, which prevent ovulation.
  • Contraceptive patch: The patch contains hormones that prevent pregnancy. A person sticks the patch on their back, bottom, or arm. The person changes the patch weekly for 3 weeks then takes the fourth week off. They must repeat this every month.
  • Intrauterine device (IUD): An IUD is a small device that a doctor inserts in the cervix. Currently, IUDs last anywhere from 3 to 12 years. People can get hormonal or non-hormonal versions of the IUD.
  • Surgical Sterilization: Options are available for both sexes. However, these are permanent methods. They are completely hormone-free.

Outlook

Using hormonal birth control is safe for as long as you need, provided that a doctor has given the okay. People should discuss their individual needs and risk factors with a doctor when deciding whether to stay on hormonal contraception for an extended period.

Consider all the options and discuss all possible health risks and benefits with a healthcare provider.

Why can the birth control pill make your breasts bigger?

Birth control pills contain hormones, and they can increase a person’s breast size. However, the effect is usually temporary.

The two primary hormones present in most types of birth control pill are:

  • estrogen, a female sex hormone
  • progestin, a synthetic version of progesterone, which is another female sex hormone

The body produces estrogen and progesterone. During the menstrual cycle, levels fluctuate, and this can cause a change in breast tissue.

Estrogen is also the hormone primarily responsible for the development of breasts during puberty.

When a person starts taking the birth control pill, their levels of these hormones rise, and this can result in an increase in breast size.

However, the size of the breasts may return to normal after a few monthly cycles or after a person stops taking the pill.

Can birth control affect breast size and how?

does birth control make your boobs bigger
Birth control pills contain hormones that can increase the size of a person’s breasts.

Birth control pills can increase the size of a person’s breasts.

Estrogen and progesterone levels change during the menstrual cycle, and this can cause changes in the breast tissue. A person may feel that their breasts are tender or sore, as a result.

Many birth control pills contain the same hormones, estrogen and progestin, which is a synthetic form of progesterone. Starting to take the pill can stimulate the breasts to grow. However, any increase in size is typically slight.

Within a few months of taking the pill, the breasts generally return to their regular size. This usually also happens if a person stops taking the pill.

There is another link between the birth control pill and breast enlargement. When a person starts taking birth control, the changes to hormone levels can cause the body to retain fluid. This can make the breasts feel engorged.

When fluid retention, or edema, is responsible for breasts that feel bigger, a person may notice that their breast size returns to normal during the week that they are not taking an active pill. During this week, they will get a period.


Can birth control make people gain weight?

Weight gain is a side effect of many birth control pills. Like the possible increase in breast size, any associated weight gain is typically slight.

In 2014, researchers published a review of 49 trials. They had tried to find a causal link between weight gain and types of birth control that contained both estrogen and progestin. The researchers found that these pills tended to have no significant impact on weight.

If a person who starts taking the birth control pill does experience minor weight gain, it is because hormonal changes have caused the body to retain fluid.


Other side effects of birth control

does taking birth control make your boobs bigger
Potential side effects of birth control pills include nausea, headaches, and changes in menstruation.

In general, doctors consider the pill to be safe. However, a person should be aware of some possible side effects, which include:

  • changes in mood
  • changes in menstruation, involving either more or less bleeding
  • tenderness in the breasts
  • nausea
  • headaches

The increase in hormones, particularly estrogen, can also cause more serious side effects. Birth control pills that only contain progestin are less likely to cause these effects.

Serious, though rare, side effects of birth control include:

Before starting or changing a method of birth control, discuss the risks with a doctor.


When to see a doctor

does birth control make your boobs bigger doctor consultation
A person should see a doctor before taking the birth control pill.

A person must see a doctor before they can start taking the birth control pill and before switching pills.

It is essential for each person to discuss the potential side effects and risk factors with a medical professional.

Some risk factors to consider include:

  • being overweight or obese
  • smoking
  • being over the age of 35
  • having a history of migraines with auras
  • having a history of high blood pressure
  • the presence of a clotting disorder
  • having high cholesterol

If a person has any of these risk factors, a doctor may recommend a different type of birth control. The doctor should be able to provide additional options.


Takeaway

When taking a birth control pill, a person should be aware of the potential risks and side effects.

One of the milder side effects is a slight, temporary increase in breast size. Though rare, some other side effects are more severe, and they can even be life-threatening.

Before a person starts using hormone-based birth control, it is essential to discuss the advantages and disadvantages with a doctor.

What is labial hypertrophy and is it normal?

Labial hypertrophy is the medical term for when one or both of the vaginal lips or labia is larger than usual.

Having enlarged labia is normal and not a cause for concern. Many people are born with large and often asymmetrical labia and experience no negative side effects.

People can have surgery to safely change the shape of the labia, though this is not usually necessary.

Is labial hypertrophy normal?

Young woman at gynecologists office.
The labia varies in shape and size from person to person.

Labial hypertrophy describes the enlargement of the vaginal lips. The labia help cushion the inner vagina and clitoris from friction, impact, and damage.

The size and shape of people’s genitals vary significantly from person-to-person. The vaginal lips, or labia, are often asymmetrical, and it is normal for each side to have its own shape.

The outside of the vagina, which is called the vulva, contains:

  • the labia majora or outer lips or skin folds
  • the labia minora or inner lips or skin folds

Labial hypertrophy can affect both sets of labia, but it is more likely to change the labia minora or inner lips.

Hypertrophy in the labia majora may cause them to appear enlarged. Hypertrophy in the labia minora may cause them to stick out past the labia majora.

Labial hypertrophy is harmless. It does not impact a person’s sexual health and does not mean they have an underlying medical condition.

Many people have labial hypertrophy without knowing it, and most do not experience adverse symptoms.


Side effects of labial hypertrophy

Most people with labial hypertrophy will not have any additional symptoms or side effects.

In others, enlarged labia may cause discomfort or put them at risk for other issues. Possible side effects include:

Discomfort or irritation

Woman outdoors cycling on a book wearing a helmet
An enlarged labia may cause discomfort when cycling.

The labia are a sensitive area, and longer labia may become irritated more easily.

Some people with enlarged labia may feel discomfort when doing physical activities that add friction or pressure to the vaginal area, such as horseback riding or cycling. They may also notice pain from friction during sexual activity.

Enlarged labia may rub against a person’s underwear, causing persistent irritation to this sensitive area.

Keeping clean

A person who has labial hypertrophy will often have additional areas of folded skin around the vulva. This makes it especially important to thoroughly clean the area when washing, as there are more areas for bacteria to become trapped.

People should always wash their hands before touching the sensitive vaginal area to prevent the transfer of bacteria. It is essential to wash the area well if it becomes itchy or irritated.

Incorrect vaginal hygiene can make people more susceptible to bacterial growths and yeast infections.

Causes

There is no known direct reason for labial hypertrophy. Doctors see it as a natural fluctuation in the human body. Just as one breast may be larger than the other, differences in the labia are usual.

Some people are born with enlarged labia, while it may develop over time due to hormonal fluctuations in others. In some people, the labia become larger as they go through puberty.

Some people also notice that their labia grow after pregnancy, while others see changes in their vulva with age.


Diagnosis

Diagnosing labial hypertrophy is simple. A physical examination by a doctor or gynecologist is usually all that is required. There is no standard of measurement for how large labia should be.

Treatment

In most cases, people do not need treatment. However, if labial hypertrophy causes physical or psychological discomfort, there are treatment options, as follows:

Lifestyle changes

Woman holding a pair of cotton underwear pants next to washing machine.
Wearing loose cotton underwear may help to prevent discomfort around the labia.

Some people with labial hypertrophy may notice that their discomfort goes away if they stop wearing tight clothing or underwear. Wearing loose-fitting underwear, shorts, and pants may help prevent unnecessary friction in the area.

Wearing natural materials, such as cotton or linen, may also help improve airflow around the vulva.

Doctors may also be able to provide women with topical ointments to reduce irritation or manage symptoms.

Other tips to help manage possible symptoms include:

Choose natural, unscented tampons or menstrual pads, avoiding any additional ingredients or chemicals.

Wear a protective pad or use a cushioned seat when doing physical activities that may irritate the labia, such as cycling.

Practice good hygiene and wash with a hypoallergenic soap that is free from harsh chemicals or perfumes.

Surgery

Some people may choose to have surgery to reduce the size of their labia. This involves a procedure called a labioplasty.

A labioplasty is typically done for cosmetic reasons and involves removing excess skin and reshaping the labia to be more symmetrical. The surgery usually requires general anesthesia.

The surgery may cause bruising or swelling in the vulva, as it heals. The vulva will also be very delicate during the healing process. People will need to take extra care to keep the area clean and dry to avoid infections or bleeding.

Doctors may also advise people to avoid friction and wear loose clothing while the labia recover.

Surgery always carries risks, such as having a reaction to anesthesia or developing scar tissue. Doctors will discuss these risks and a person’s other options before continuing with any treatment.

Doctors will give specific instructions to people about when they can resume physical and sexual activity.

Is labioplasty safe in teens?

Surgeons may also perform a labioplasty on teenagers going through puberty who may be developing enlarged labia. However, because the labia may still be growing, doctors usually advise people to wait until after puberty before having surgery.

Doctors will talk through labial hypertrophy with teens to help them understand that it is a normal change in the body. They will also talk about the emotional and mental health factors involved in cosmetic surgery.


Outlook

Labial hypertrophy is usual in individuals and, in many cases, causes no adverse side effects. Surgery is an option in severe cases or cases that cause emotional discomfort. The outlook for surgery is generally good and has a very high satisfaction rate.

Doctors may have additional tips about soothing irritation or managing effects of hypertrophy, and many people find they can relieve any discomfort by making a few lifestyle changes.

Is it safe to skip your period using birth control?

According to doctors, using the birth control pill to skip a period is generally safe, and it poses very few risks. However, there are a few things to consider, including the possible side effects.

Keep reading for more information about how to skip a period, birth control options that reduce the frequency of periods, and other factors to consider.

Is it safe to skip or delay a period?

Calendar showing when a period is due
Before skipping a period, a person should check with a doctor.

According to the National Women’s Health Network, skipping a period is just as safe as having a regular menstrual cycle. In fact, people can safely skip periods for several months in a row.

Still, it is best to check with a doctor before skipping a period. If a person has an underlying medical condition or health issue, it may be a good idea to allow the period to occur naturally.

Skipping a period once or several times in a row will not affect the overall effectiveness of taking birth control.


Benefits

A person may wish to skip their period for many reasons, including to:

  • avoid mood swings
  • avoid painful menstruation
  • avoid cramps
  • help prevent complications from bleeding disorders
  • avoid migraines

Having fewer periods may also mean spending less money on personal hygiene products.

Some people try to skip periods to avoid inconvenience, while traveling, for example.


How to skip or delay a period using birth control

To skip a period using a traditional combined pill, a person must take active pills every day without interruption.

If a pack contains active pills and placebo pills, they are usually clearly labeled. Or, the placebo pills may be a different color from the active pills.

A person can continue taking active pills until they are ready to have a period. Taking no active pills for 1 week will trigger menstruation.

Some types of birth control pill suppress periods for a set amount of time.

Pill brands that suppress menstruation for 3 months at a time include:

  • Quartette
  • Jolessa
  • Seasonique
  • Camrese
  • Seasonale
  • Quasense

Other methods of birth control also reduce the frequency of periods. Some examples include:

  • NuvaRing, a type of contraceptive vaginal insert
  • an intrauterine device, or IUD, that releases progestin
  • a progestin implant or injection, such as the Depo-Provera shot


Risks and side effects

woman holding a tampon
Breakthrough bleeding may look like spotting.

It is generally safe to use birth control pills to skip a period. However, there can be a few risks and side effects.

One risk is breakthrough bleeding.

Breakthrough or withdrawal bleeding can occur after a person misses a few periods or more. The bleeding may look like spotting, but it can resemble a regular period. The timing of breakthrough bleeding is variable, and it may not happen in some people.

Some brands of pill are more likely to causing breakthrough bleeding than others. If this type of bleeding occurs frequently, a person should speak to a doctor about alternatives.

Anyone interested in switching types of birth control should also check with their insurance provider about which brands their policy covers.

Another risk involves accidental pregnancy. A woman may not realize that she is pregnant for weeks or even months if she does not expect her period.


Outlook

If a person wants to skip a period, the birth control pill provides a safe and effective method. There are little or no risks associated with skipping one or more periods this way.

However, a person should check with a doctor before skipping a period and if withdrawal or breakthrough bleeding occurs.

A doctor may also be able to recommend a type of birth control that either delays periods or has fewer side effects.

Q:

Is it safe to skip your period? What are the benefits and risks?

A:

Skipping periods using a hormonal contraceptive is generally considered safe. The hormones protect your uterus and keep the inner lining thin so that you do not have periods as often. One drawback that some people experience is unexpected bleeding. If this happens often, people may have to schedule their period to occur every 2–3 months, rather than spacing out the cycle longer. Other people never have issues with breakthrough bleeding and can space out periods so that they only have a couple a year. These are things to discuss with your doctor when deciding which approach is right for you. People who are not using hormonal contraception and not having regular periods should see their doctor, as there may be an underlying health concern.

Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

What can cause cramps after menopause?

Many people experience pelvic cramps as part of their menstrual period. But cramping may still occur after menopause and can sometimes be a sign of an underlying condition, such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, constipation, or ovarian or uterine cancers.

In this article, we look at the possible causes of cramps after menopause, as well as their diagnosis and treatment.

What is menopause?

Mature woman with abdominal pain or menstrual cramps lying on side on sofa holding stomach.
An underlying condition may cause pelvic cramps after menopause.

Menopause refers to the time in a person’s life when their monthly periods stop. In the United States, most people go through the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55 years old, with the average being 51 years of age.

A person has reached menopause when their monthly periods have stopped for 12 months in a row. Other symptoms vary from person-to-person and can include:

  • hot flashes and difficulty sleeping
  • mood swings and irritability
  • vaginal dryness
  • less interest in sex

The months leading up to menopause is known as perimenopause. A person may notice their periods begin to get lighter and less frequent during this time. While this happens, it is perfectly normal to experience period-like cramping before bleeding occurs.


Causes

Many different conditions can cause pelvic cramps postmenopause.

If a person has been through menopause and has pelvic cramps, they may also experience the following symptoms:

  • light or heavy vaginal bleeding
  • abdominal swelling or bloating
  • swelling or pain in the legs
  • lower back pain
  • pain during sex
  • pain when urinating or during bowel movements
  • extreme tiredness, or fatigue
  • constipation
  • unexplained weight loss or gain
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

A person should see a doctor if they have any vaginal bleeding after the menopause or have gone 12 months without a period. They should get diagnosed right away.

While pelvic cramping that occurs after menopause may not be of concern, it can sometimes be a symptom of a more severe condition that may need medical treatment, such as:

Uterine fibroids

Uterine fibroids are small growths that can occur in the wall of the womb, or uterus.

These growths are usually benign, which means they are not cancerous. Although uterine fibroids are more likely to develop before a person goes through menopause, it is still possible for older people to have them.

Fibroids usually stop growing or shrink after a person goes through menopause. However, someone may still experience symptoms of uterine fibroids, such as pelvic pressure or cramps, after their periods have ceased.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that lines the womb starts to grow in other parts of the body, such as around the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or bowel.

Endometriosis is most common in those aged between 30 and 40 years old, but rarely, symptoms can still occur postmenopause.

Symptoms of endometriosis may include:

  • pelvic pain and cramping
  • pain in the lower back
  • pain during or after sex
  • pain when urinating or during bowel movements

For some people, endometriosis can have a significant impact on their lives and can lead to feelings of depression.

Also, undergoing hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms may make the pain of endometriosis worse.

Chronic constipation

Mature post-menopausal woman reaching for medication in pill bottles in bathroom cabinet.
Certain medications may cause chronic constipation.

Chronic constipation is also a common cause of lower pelvic pressure and pain and gastrointestinal upset.

Doctors define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. A person’s stools may also be hard, dry, or lumpy and painful or difficult to pass.

Causes of constipation include:

  • low fiber diet
  • certain medications
  • lack of exercise
  • some medical conditions

Anyone who has severe or persistent constipation should see a doctor.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the digestive tract that can cause abdominal and pelvic cramps alongside nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Causes of gastroenteritis include:

  • a viral infection, also known as viral gastroenteritis or stomach flu
  • a bacterial infection, also known as food poisoning

While many cases of gastroenteritis resolve alone, severe cases may need medication and even hospitalization.

People who experience persistent vomiting and diarrhea can quickly become very dehydrated, which can lead to severe complications, including death.

Ovarian and uterine cancers

Ovarian and uterine cancers can cause abdominal or pelvic cramping. Older people are at higher risk of developing these cancers than younger people.

Other symptoms of these cancers can include:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • abdominal bloating
  • extreme tiredness
  • unexpected weight loss


Risk factors

Conditions that cause cramps after menopause may be more likely to occur in people who:

  • started their periods before the age of 12
  • began menopause after the age of 52
  • take estrogen to help control the symptoms of menopause
  • have a family history of ovarian or uterine cancers


When to see a doctor

If abdominal or pelvic cramps are accompanied by other concerning symptoms, especially vaginal bleeding, a person should see a doctor, as soon as possible.

Anyone who is concerned about abdominal or pelvic cramping should also see a doctor.

Diagnosis

Mature woman in doctor or gynecologists office.
A doctor may recommend tests to diagnose an underlying condition accurately.

A doctor will ask a person about their symptoms and medical history and do a physical examination. They may recommend referral to a specialist for further testing.

To discover if an underlying condition is causing abdominal cramps, a doctor may perform one or more of the following tests:

  • Transvaginal ultrasound scan: A doctor will insert a small device into a person’s vagina to check for any problems.
  • Hysteroscopy: A doctor will pass a thin tube with a camera, known as a hysteroscope, through the vagina, and into a person’s womb to collect a tissue sample for testing. This will usually take place under a local or general anesthetic.
  • Endometrial biopsy: A doctor will insert a thin tube into a person’s womb to collect a tissue sample, which they will examine for signs of abnormal or cancerous cells.
  • Sonohysterography: A doctor will pass a saltwater solution into a person’s womb and then perform an ultrasound to check for problems.
  • Dilation and curettage: A doctor will open the person’s cervix and use a thin tool to collect a sample of the womb lining. An examination of the sample allows doctors to check for signs of abnormal growths, such as polyps, endometrial hyperplasia, or cancer.


Treatment

Treatment for postmenopausal cramps will vary depending on the underlying cause. Some possible treatment options may include:

  • Progestin therapy: Doctors usually prescribe progestin therapy to treat people with endometrial hyperplasia. Progestin is available as oral tablets, an injection, a vaginal cream, or an intrauterine device that a doctor fits.
  • Dilation and curettage surgery: A doctor can perform dilation and curettage surgery to remove thickened parts of the uterine lining due to endometrial hyperplasia.
  • Hysterectomy: This is surgery that removes part or all of a person’s womb. Doctors usually use a hysterectomy to treat endometrial or cervical cancer or large fibroids, though they may also use it for treating a precancerous form of endometrial hyperplasia.

Other cancer treatments include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. A doctor may prescribe one or all of these treatments, depending on the type and stage of a person’s cancer, and whether it has spread.

Home remedies

People with abdominal cramps may find benefit from the following home remedies:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • a heat pack or hot water bottle
  • gentle exercise, such as walking
  • maintaining normal bowel movements


Outlook

Cramps that occur postmenopause may be nothing serious. However, anyone who experiences abdominal pain or cramping with no apparent cause should arrange to see a doctor.

What to do if you’ve lost a birth control pill

Birth control pills are designed to be taken every day — so what should a person do if they lose one from the packet?

It can be easy to lose a pill in a handbag or down the drain. If this happens, the best course of action depends on the type of pill.

In this article, we discuss what a person should do if they lose a combination or progestin-only birth control pill. We also explore how missing a pill can affect pregnancy rates and medical conditions.

What to do if you lose a combination pill

Woman reading leaflet after losing a birth control pill
If a person loses a combination pill, they should take the next active pill and request a replacement pack.

Combination pills contain both estrogen and progestin.

Combination pills come in 21- or 28-day packs, which have slightly different instructions:

  • People need to take every pill in a 21-day pack to prevent pregnancy. After finishing these pills, they take no pills for 7 days, then start a new pack.
  • People also need to take every pill in a 28-day pack, but the final seven pills will contain no medication. These are placebo pills.

If a person loses a pill, they should call their doctor and ask for a replacement pack as soon as possible. In the meantime, the doctor may offer the following advice:

  • If you lose an active pill, take the next active pill in the pack as soon as possible.
  • If you lose a placebo pill, it is fine to skip the dose, as these pills do not contain any hormones.

If a person loses a pill and fewer than 48 hours have passed since they took their last pill, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:

  • taking the skipped dose as soon as possible
  • continuing to take a pill at the regular time of day, even if it involves taking two pills in 1 day
  • considering using emergency contraception if pills were also lost or skipped in the last week of the previous cycle or earlier in the current cycle

If a person has lost only one pill and returned to a regular dosage immediately, it is not usually necessary to use alternative methods of contraception, such as condoms. However, it is best to use these if there are any doubts.

Returning to a reliable dosage of birth control becomes more difficult if a person has missed two or more doses, or it has been longer than 48 hours since the last dose.

If this is the case, a person should:

  • Take the skipped dose or doses as soon as possible.
  • Continue taking a new pill at the regular time, even if it means taking more than one pill in a day.
  • Use an additional form of contraception for the next 7 days, until a week of regular doses has passed.
  • Consider using emergency contraception. This is especially important if a person has had sex in the past 5 days and the missed dose or doses were in the first week of the cycle.
  • If using a 28-day pack, and the missed doses took place on days 15–21 of the cycle, skip the hormone-free doses and start a new pack right away. If this is not possible, a person should use additional methods of contraception until they have taken doses that contain hormones for 7 days.


What to do if you lose a progestin-only pill

Progestin-only pills are also called POPs or mini-pills. A person must take them within the same 3-hour period every day to prevent pregnancy.

Progestin-only pills take effect more quickly than combined pills, typically within about 2 days, but the effects also wear off more quickly. This means that there is less room for error.

If a person misses their 3-hour window, and it has been 27 hours or more since their last dose, the CDC recommend:

  • taking the next dose as soon as possible
  • returning to a regular dosage schedule, even if it means taking two pills in a day
  • using additional methods of contraception for 48 hours, until a person has taken the pill regularly for at least 2 days
  • considering using emergency contraception if a person has had sex before 2 days of regular doses have passed


Possible effects on pregnancy and medical conditions

pregnancy test
Although they are 99 percent effective, a person can still become pregnant while taking the pill.

If a person takes birth control pills correctly, they are 99 percent effective for preventing pregnancy. The pill is much less effective if a person does not follow the instructions. Typical use generally results in a 9 percent failure rate.

A person can still become pregnant while taking the pill. This can occur on purpose or by accident.

Many wonder if the hormones in the pill can affect the fetus. A study from 2016, which looked at more than 880,000 live births in Denmark, reported no link between birth control pills and birth abnormalities.

Missing doses of birth control pills or taking them too far apart can also result in unscheduled bleeding, which can be bothersome.

It is important to note that some people take birth control pills for reasons other than contraception. Birth control pills can also help to treat medical conditions, including:

  • polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • endometriosis
  • menorrhagia (heavy periods)
  • dysmenorrhea (painful periods)

If a person taking birth control pills to manage PCOS or endometriosis loses a pill or misses a dose, they should follow the relevant advice from the CDC above.

PCOS is an endocrine disorder that is closely linked with hormonal imbalances. It affects about 10 percent of women of childbearing age, and it is associated with a wide variety of health problems.

In people with PCOS, birth control pills can help to reduce:

For people with endometriosis, hormonal birth control pills can help to reduce pain and make periods lighter, shorter, and more regular.

Losing a pill or missing a dose may cause a slight increase in these symptoms. It will last until the dosage is back on track.


Outlook

Like any medication, birth control pills work best if a person follows a doctor’s instructions. In the case of these pills, this involves taking one a day.

The pill is 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy if a person takes it correctly, but after factoring in human error, it is only 91 percent effective.

If a person has missed a pill and is wondering what to do, Planned Parenthood’s information quiz can provide information about options and next steps.

The best guidance will depend on:

  • the type and brand of pill
  • whether it was a combination or a progestin-only pill
  • whether the pills came in a 21-, 28-, or 91-day pack
  • when the missed dose occurred in a person’s cycle
  • how many doses they missed
  • whether the person has had sex after missing a dose

Healthcare providers can provide personalized advice.

A soy-based diet could help strengthen bones

A new study has investigated the impact of dietary soy on bone strength in postmenopausal women. The authors conclude that eating more soy might in fact strengthen bones in women of all ages.
X-ray knees
Could soy improve bone health in women?

The reduction in bone density and strength that is common in postmenopausal women is of huge concern.

As women age, osteoporosis, reduced activity levels, and weight gain act together to decrease bone health and negatively impact metabolism.

Osteoporosis and bone weakness increases the risk of fractures, which then lead to even more inactivity and weight gain, exacerbating the issue further.

As the population becomes — on average — older and heavier, bone health is an important area of medical science to study.

Recently, researchers from the University of Missouri in Columbia set out to test how alterations to a woman’s diet might impact the resilience of her bones. In particular, they were interested in the effects of soy-based proteins.

Soy and bone strength

To investigate, the scientists utilized so-called low-capacity running rats, which have low fitness levels. Study co-author Victoria Vieira-Potter explains why they chose this model.

“Prior research has shown,” she says, “that these rats are good models, as average American women are relatively inactive both before, and especially after, menopause.”

The researchers surgically removed the ovaries of half of the rats to mimic menopause. They have now published their findings in the journal Bone Reports.

The scientists fed half of the rats a soy-based diet and the remaining animals a corn-based diet. Both diets contained the same amount of calories. They weighed the rats every week for the duration of the 30-week trial.

Then, the team took blood samples, tested bone strength, and assessed body composition using EchoMRI, an imaging technique that can accurately measure levels of body fat and water mass in live animals.

From the blood, they assessed markers for bone formation and bone resorption, a process wherein bones are broken down and minerals released into the blood. Markers of resorption and formation are collectively known as bone turnover markers.

The scientists inspected the microscopic structure of the animals’ bones, and they also tested them mechanically to breaking point.

Marked improvements in bone strength

The analysis showed that, although turnover markers were not significantly altered, the leg bones of soy-fed rats were stronger than the bones of the rats that were fed a corn-based diet.

Bottom line, this study showed that women might improve bone strength by adding some soy-based whole foods to their diet.”

Lead study author Prof. Pamela Hinton

Prof. Hinton continues, “Our findings suggest that women don’t even need to eat as much soy as is found in typical Asian diets, but adding some tofu or other soy, for example, foods found in vegetarian diets, could help strengthen bones.”

The study also showed that the soy-based improvement in bone strength occurred in rats with and without ovaries; the authors write that, in both sets of rats, soy “significantly improved whole-bone strength and stiffness.” In other words, even “postmenopausal” rats’ bones benefited from the change in diet.

As Prof. Hinton concludes, “The findings suggest that all women might see improved bone strength by adding some soy-based whole foods, such as tofu and soy milk, to their diet. We also believe that soy-based diets can improve metabolic function for postmenopausal women.”

The results are interesting and merit further investigation. The next step will be to understand the molecular mechanisms that underly the benefits of increased soy intake.

Once the team understands the process in more detail, it might be possible to harness the reactions involved and find ways to yield even greater benefits to bone strength.

Sex after a C-section: Everything you need to know

Most women need to wait at least 6 weeks before having sex after a C-section, or until their doctor or midwife says it is safe.

They may also need to take a few precautions and make some adjustments to their sexual activities in the short term.

A C-section, also known as a cesarean delivery, involves a doctor delivering a baby through a long incision in the abdomen instead of through the vagina.

An estimated one in four pregnant women will undergo cesarean delivery, and questions about how it affects postpartum sexual activity are very common.

In this article, we address some common concerns, including how long to wait, what to expect, and if there will be an increased risk of bleeding.

How long to wait

Could holding hands and considering having sex after a c-section
A doctor will tell a woman when it is safe to have sex after cesarean delivery.

While there is no standard amount of time a woman should wait before returning to regular sexual activities following cesarean delivery, it is best to wait until a doctor says it is safe.

Most women get the OK from doctors at their 6-week postnatal checkup and may choose to start having sex after this point.

In a 2013 study that included more than 1,500 women, 53 percent had attempted sexual activity within 6 weeks of giving birth. Of these women, 41 percent had tried vaginal sex.

Everyone’s recovery is different, and the pace may depend on whether the cesarean delivery was extensive or unplanned.

Many women who have undergone cesarean delivery chose to wait at least 4–6 weeks before having sex because they experience soreness, vaginal bleeding, and fatigue following the birth.

Women should also avoid wearing tampons until postpartum bleeding, or lochia, is complete.


Precautions

After a doctor says that it is safe to try sexual activity, people may still need to take some precautions to reduce the risk of complications.

There may be some soreness and swelling around the incision site, and the surrounding skin may feel tight or stretched.

As the incision site heals, it will also be more prone to tearing, so it is essential to avoid strenuous activities, including some sexual activities. It is best to avoid lifting anything heavier than the baby.

There is also usually heavy bruising along and around the incision site, and this will slowly fade in the weeks following the surgery.

A doctor may remove the surgical staples before a woman leaves the hospital, but the abdomen will still be very sore and tender for a few weeks.

The vagina usually feels wider, swollen, or bruised after giving birth. The cervix also needs time to heal and return to its regular size before a person can start having sex or using tampons again.

Anyone who has recently undergone a cesarean delivery should watch out for signs of infection and other complications. These signs include:

  • a fever over 100.4° F
  • severe pain
  • leaking urine
  • heavy vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding that soaks a maxi pad in 1 hour
  • large clots
  • bad-smelling discharge oozing from the incision
  • severe or continual bleeding from the incision
  • swelling around the incision site
  • swelling or pain in the lower legs
  • pain when peeing
  • vomiting, diarrhea, or nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • hives or a rash
  • an intense headache that comes on suddenly and does not go away
  • unexplained anxiety, depression, or panic
  • flu-like symptoms

What to expect

Couple holding a baby
Sex may not be a high priority after a baby is born.

Many women do not feel like having sex for a few weeks or months after giving birth, either vaginally or by cesarean delivery.

There is no need to rush. Most women and their partners are exhausted from taking care of a newborn, so sex may not rank high on the list of priorities.

It is essential to keep in mind that sex should be pleasurable. If sexual activity causes any pain or discomfort, it is best to stop.

If the incision site is sore, try positions that do not put any pressure on the woman’s abdomen.

Hormonal changes after birth may lead to vaginal dryness, so it may be a good idea to use a lubricant.

If penetration is uncomfortable or painful, it can help to focus on nonpenetrative activities. Some types of foreplay, such as massage, can also help people to relax and enjoy their experience.

It is crucial to keep in mind that everyone heals differently. If sexual activity becomes more painful over time, talk to a doctor.

Authors of one study reported that the rate of sexual problems in first-time mothers rose from 38 percent before pregnancy to 83 percent in the first 3 months following delivery. This figure declined to 64 percent 6 months after birth.

In one cohort study, the researchers found no differences regarding sexual problems after delivery among women who gave birth vaginally and those who underwent cesarean delivery.

However, results of another cohort study suggested that women who had undergone cesarean delivery were more likely to delay having sex longer than those who had given birth vaginally.

Is there an increased risk of bleeding?

After giving birth, all women experience a period of vaginal bleeding called lochia. This bleeding continues until the uterus shrinks back to its regular size.

Lochia causes bright red blood to leak from the vagina. Most women wear extra-absorbent pads or padded underwear during this time.

Lochia bleeding eventually changes from bright red to dark red or pale pink. Over time, it fades to an orange or yellowish color.

Activity levels can also affect this period of bleeding. If the amount of blood suddenly increases, it may mean that a woman is doing too much too quickly after surgery.

For 1 or 2 weeks after cesarean delivery, a woman may also notice some periodic, minor bleeding from the incision site.

Strenuous activity, including sex, can increase the risk of opening the incision or experiencing a blood clot.


Birth control after giving birth

Technically, a woman can get pregnant as soon as 3 weeks after giving birth, regardless of whether they are breast-feeding.

Women can even get pregnant after giving birth if they have not yet had a period.

This means that women who may become pregnant through sexual intercourse usually wish to use birth control.

Many women return to their preferred method of birth control. It is best to speak to a doctor or nurse about the best methods before leaving the hospital or during the 6-week checkup.

Recovery

mother and newborn baby in hospital
After cesarean delivery, most women will spend 3–4 days in the hospital.

Most women need to spend 3–4 days recovering in the hospital after cesarean delivery.

After 24 hours, a doctor or nurse will often recommend getting up and gently moving around, even just to go to the bathroom. A nurse may also demonstrate ways of moving that are less likely to cause pain from the incision site.

A doctor may leave the dressing on the incision site for at least 24 hours after the surgery.

Most cesarean delivery incisions are between 10 and 20 centimeters long. They run horizontally across the abdomen, usually just above the underwear line.

Before a woman leaves the hospital, the doctor will give instructions to ensure that the wound heals properly and remains free from infection.


Takeaway

There is no right time to begin having sex again after cesarean delivery.

However, the cervix needs time to heal, and the incision site will be more prone to infection in the initial weeks, so it is best to wait until a doctor says it is safe.

A doctor will usually give the go-ahead close to the 6-week checkup, but many women prefer to wait longer.

Take things slowly and communicate what feels pleasurable and what does not. If sex is painful, it is essential to say so. People may choose to stop or try a different position or activity.

If sex becomes more painful over time instead of less, speak to a doctor.

Is it normal to notice blood clots during your period?

People may worry if they notice clots in their menstrual blood, but this is perfectly normal and rarely cause for concern.

Menstrual clots are a mixture of blood cells, tissue from the lining of the uterus, and proteins in the blood that help regulate its flow.

Some medical conditions can cause large blood clots, often alongside heavy menstrual bleeding or period pains. People should see a doctor if they are concerned about their menstrual clots.

Is it normal to have clots in menstrual blood?

Panty liner or menstrual pad with pink cotton ball on it to represent a blood clot.
Blood clots are a natural part of menstruation.

It might be surprising to see a thick glob of menstrual blood, but, in most cases, blood clots are a natural part of menstruation.

They are also an example of the body’s natural defense mechanism. The thick, jelly-like texture of a menstrual clot helps prevent too much blood from escaping.

This clotting function is beneficial elsewhere in the body when there is an injury to the tissue, such as a cut or laceration.

Menstrual clots generally occur when the flow is heavy. As a result, they are more common during the first 2 days of menstruation, which is typically the heaviest part of a period.

Clots arise as a result of the uterine lining shedding increased amounts of blood. When the blood pools in the uterus or vagina, it begins to coagulate, much like it would on an open skin wound.

The consistency of menstrual blood varies both throughout the period and from one period to another. People may experience a heavy flow containing menstrual clots one month, and a lighter flow with no clots the next month. This variation is natural and changes may occur due to diet and lifestyle factors.

Menstrual clots can be bright in color, or a darker, deeper red. More sizeable clots may look black. Menstrual blood begins to appear darker and more brown toward the end of each period as the blood is older and leaving the body less quickly.


Causes of menstrual clots

During menstruation, the endometrial cells that line the uterus strip away and leave the body. As this happens, the body releases proteins that cause the blood in the uterus to coagulate. This coagulation prevents the blood vessels in the uterine lining from continuing to bleed.

The blood that the body has already shed also contains these coagulation proteins.

When the flow is most substantial, the coagulation proteins within the blood may start to clump together, resulting in menstrual clots. This generally occurs when menstrual blood pools in the uterus or vagina before leaving the body.

Although it is normal to have clots in the blood during menstruation, this symptom can sometimes signal a medical issue. It is advisable to seek medical advice if the clots:

  • are larger than a quarter in size
  • are very frequent
  • occur with an abnormally heavy flow that requires a person to change their pad or tampon at least every 1–2 hours
  • occur with significant pain

The following conditions may cause abnormal menstrual clots:

Uterine polyps or fibroids

A blockage in the uterus may stop it from contracting as it should, meaning that it cannot force the blood out as quickly as usual. The blood will leave the body more slowly so it will have more time to pool and form clumps.

The blockage can also cause a heavier flow, which results in more blood pooling.

Blockages may occur as a result of growths in the uterus. These include uterine polyps and fibroids, which are not cancerous but can cause other health issues without proper management.

Uterine polyps and fibroids consist of either endometrial or muscular tissue that grows in the uterine wall. They can cause symptoms such as:

  • persistent lower back pain
  • pain during sex, or dyspareunia
  • feeling bloated
  • fertility issues
  • irregular spotting

Endometriosis

Woman with endometriosis lying on side holding stomach because of abdominal pain.
Endometriosis can cause painful and heavy periods.

Endometriosis is a condition that causes the tissues of the uterine lining to grow outside of the uterus. This abnormality can lead to several symptoms, which may be worse around the time of menstruation.

Symptoms of endometriosis often include:

  • pain and cramping in the pelvis or lower back
  • very heavy periods, or menorrhagia
  • painful periods, or dysmenorrhea
  • discomfort or pain during sex
  • fertility issues

Adenomyosis

In people with adenomyosis, the uterine lining grows into the muscular wall of the uterus. This can make the endometrial lining and uterine wall much thicker, which can lead to a much heavier flow during a period. As a result, it is more likely that blood clots will appear in the menstrual blood.

Hormonal imbalances

The balance of hormones in the body is essential for maintaining a healthy uterus. If the levels of specific hormones become unbalanced, many issues can occur, including heavy menstruation or clotting.

Miscarriage

During a miscarriage, or pregnancy loss, a person will usually pass a number of large clots, depending on the stage of the pregnancy. Pregnancy loss can sometimes occur before a person knows that they are pregnant so they may mistake an early miscarriage for a regular menstrual cycle.

Enlarged uterus

After numerous pregnancies, a person’s uterus will remain somewhat larger than it was before. An enlarged uterus can also be due to structural issues, such as fibroids. There will be additional space for the blood to pool in, which could lead to further clotting before it exits the body.

Bleeding disorders

Some bleeding disorders may be responsible for heavy menstrual flow, as they can affect the coagulation proteins that the uterine lining needs to stop menstrual bleeding.

Disorders such as platelet function disorder or von Willebrand’s disease (VWD) may cause abnormally heavy menstruation.


When to see a doctor

People who are experiencing very heavy menstrual bleeding or have clots larger than a quarter in their menstrual blood should see a doctor.

A person with heavy menstruation may have to change their pad, tampon, or menstrual cup more than once every 2 hours for part of their period. They may also need two pads at a time and may miss out on everyday activities due to their menstrual flow.

People with very heavy periods have a higher risk of iron-deficiency anemia. Anemia occurs when there are fewer red blood cells in the body than usual. Low iron levels can cause this because the body needs iron to make new healthy blood cells.

Other symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • general fatigue
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath

Anyone who is uncertain about their menstrual clots should see a doctor.


Diagnosis and treatment

Bean stew with spinach as an iron rich meal for vegans
A diet that includes iron-rich foods may help with menstrual blood clots.

To diagnose the cause of abnormal menstrual clots, a doctor may ask about signs and symptoms, order blood or imaging tests, or carry out a physical examination.

Finding out the cause will allow a doctor to recommend the most appropriate course of treatment.

Doctors may advise taking an iron supplement if they believe that someone is losing too much blood or may be at risk of anemia. They may also suggest some actions that people can take at home, such as:

  • staying hydrated with water
  • avoiding aspirin, which may make bleeding worse
  • eating a healthful diet that includes iron-rich foods
  • doing regular physical activity

Medication

Doctors may prescribe hormonal medications to help balance the hormones and control heavy bleeding. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) containing progestin may reduce blood flow, and some birth control pills may also help.

Doctors may recommend taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) during the period to help reduce symptoms, such as cramping, pain, and discomfort. The NSAIDs may also help with excessive bleeding.

People who prefer not to use hormone treatments may wish to try medications that control blood clotting instead.

Outlook

Menstrual clots are normal and usually a symptom of heavy menstrual flow. However, anyone who notices a pattern of heavy flow or heavy clotting alongside other symptoms should see a doctor.

There are a few different causes of abnormal menstruation. A doctor can help find effective ways to treat the underlying issues and control frequent or large menstrual clots.

What to expect at 5 days past ovulation (DPO)

A pregnancy test can detect pregnancy before a woman misses her period, but some may notice symptoms even earlier than this.

The first sign of pregnancy is often a missed period, which happens around 15 days past ovulation (DPO). Some women may notice symptoms as early as 5 DPO, although they won’t know for certain that they are pregnant until much later.

Early signs and symptoms include implantation bleeding or cramps, which can occur 5–6 days after the sperm fertilizes the egg. Other early symptoms include breast tenderness and mood changes.

In this article, we look at the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy and discuss how soon women can get an accurate reading from a pregnancy test.


Can you experience pregnancy symptoms at 5 DPO?

Woman at 5 dpo with cramps
Implantation cramps are an early sign of pregnancy.

Women who are trying to conceive are often particularly sensitive to what is happening with their bodies as they are looking for symptoms of pregnancy.

Some women share anecdotes about their pregnancy symptoms as early as 4–5 DPO, while others report not noticing any changes to their body until much later.

Although signs are possible this early on, they are unlikely to appear this soon in the majority of people. Many of the early symptoms, such as breast tenderness or fatigue, are instead linked to hormonal changes during ovulation or menstruation.

Implantation may already have taken place at 5 DPO, or it may be about to happen soon. As a result, depending on the time of conception, it is possible for women to feel some symptoms of pregnancy this early on.

Pregnancy tests are not accurate at 5 DPO, but some women later find that their early symptoms were indeed due to pregnancy.


What is happening in the womb at 5 DPO?

At 5 DPO, if the sperm has reached and fertilized the egg, the cells within the newly formed zygote begin multiplying to create a lump of cells called a blastocyst.

These cells continue to multiply as the blastocyst makes its way down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus.

When the blastocyst reaches the uterine wall, it attaches itself to get access to nutrients through the blood. At 5 DPO, the blastocyst may either be traveling to the uterine wall or already connected to it.

If it is attached, the blastocyst has started its journey toward becoming a fetus, and pregnancy is underway.

Earliest signs of pregnancy

The specific symptoms of pregnancy vary hugely from woman to woman. There is no “normal,” as each pregnancy is unique.

However, some of the earliest symptoms that women may notice tend to include the following:

Implantation cramping and bleeding

Women may experience cramps very early on in pregnancy. These are due to implantation, which is when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus.

Implantation cramps may occur a few days after ovulation, and many women say that they feel cramps around 5 DPO. These cramps may occur in the lower back, abdomen, or pelvis.

Around 25 percent of women may notice slight bleeding around the time of implantation. This is called implantation bleeding, and it tends to be lighter in color and flow than a menstrual bleed.

Raised basal body temperature

Many women keep track of their basal, or baseline, body temperature while trying to conceive because it changes throughout the menstrual cycle. The temperature increases after ovulation and may stay higher than usual until the period begins.

A basal body temperature that remains unusually high beyond the typical length of time may indicate pregnancy.

However, these signs are not unique to pregnancy and can be due to another hormonal or lifestyle factor.

Other early signs and when they happen

Lady saying not to a cupcake
Food aversion may be an early sign of pregnancy.

According to the National Institutes of Health, other early signs and symptoms of pregnancy may include:

  • Breast tenderness. Hormone fluctuations may cause the breasts to swell, feel tender, and tingle or itch. Women may notice these symptoms as early as 1–2 weeks after conception.
  • Fatigue. Changes in hormones, especially a steep rise in progesterone during the early stages of pregnancy, may make women feel sleepy throughout much of the day. Fatigue can occur as soon as 1 week after conception.
  • Headaches. Raised hormone levels may also trigger headaches early on in a pregnancy, although the stage at which they appear can vary.
  • Food cravings. Many women find that they have very specific cravings during pregnancy, and these often begin early on.
  • Food aversion. Just as women may crave particular tastes, they can begin to find other flavors repellant. The smell or taste of some foods may make them lose their appetite or feel nauseous.
  • Urinating more frequently. The need to urinate more often is a sign of pregnancy in some women. It may be due to the increased levels of pregnancy hormones in the body, which increase blood flow in the kidneys and pelvic region.
  • Mood swings. Significant mood swings may also be an early sign of pregnancy. Again, these can result from significant changes in hormone levels. Mood swings may begin a few weeks after conception.
  • Morning sickness. Women may experience nausea and vomiting at any time throughout the day and as early as 2 weeks after conception.

Some women also report feeling dizzy or wobbly early on in pregnancy, often when they get up after lying down. This symptom may be due to changes in the blood vessels carrying oxygen to the brain.

Some women cannot explain any specific symptoms or changes in their body, but they intuitively feel that something is different.

They might describe it as not feeling like themselves or feeling as though they are suddenly always a step behind. This may be a sign of fatigue and an indication of hormonal changes.


When can you accurately test for pregnancy?

As tempting as it can be to take pregnancy tests early and often, it may not be helpful. At 5 DPO, there is no reliably accurate way to check for pregnancy.

Most tests check for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which the placenta makes. This hormone starts building up in the body after implantation.

While implantation may occur early on in some women’s menstrual cycles, it does take time for the hormone to build up to a level in the blood that will make it detectable in a blood or urine test.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, blood tests for hCG levels should be accurate 11 days after conception, while it would be best to wait 12–14 days before taking a urine test.

Taking a pregnancy test too early may give inaccurate results. It is possible that a pregnant woman could still get a negative result if the level of hCG has not yet built up in her body.

A false positive is also possible, which is a positive result on a pregnancy test when the woman is not pregnant. This can happen when a woman performs the test incorrectly, has a chemical pregnancy, or is taking certain hormonal medications as part of fertility treatment.

Takeaway

When a woman thinks that she might be pregnant, she may wish to note any signs and symptoms and discuss them with a doctor. It will only be a few more days until the level of the pregnancy hormone hCG in the blood or urine is sufficient to allow an accurate reading on a pregnancy test.

Is there a link between IUDs and weight gain?

IUDs are one of the most effective forms of contraception. They are generally safe but can have side effects. Some people may experience weight gain while using an IUD.

In this article, we look at how IUDs work and whether they can cause weight gain. We also discuss the safety and effectiveness of IUDs, their pros and cons, alternative methods of contraception, and general tips on weight management.

What is an IUD?

mirena iud br image credit sarahmirk 2016 december 8 br
An IUD will either be hormonal or non-hormonal.
Image credit: Sarahmirk, 2016

An intrauterine device (IUD) is a long-term method of contraception. This small device sits inside the womb, preventing pregnancy by stopping sperm from getting to an egg and fertilizing it.

There are two main kinds of IUD:

  • Non-hormonal. Also known as a copper IUD, the copper in the device kills sperm before it reaches the egg. It can be used as emergency contraception and lasts for up to 10 years.
  • Hormonal. This IUD releases a hormone that causes the mucus in the cervix to thicken. This stops sperm from reaching an egg. It can take a week to start working and remains effective for 3 to 5 years.

A nurse or doctor inserts the IUD through the vagina and into the uterus. This is a quick and easy procedure that does not need an anesthetic.

However, the insertion of the IUD may cause some pain, cramping, or dizziness. The medical practitioner may offer the person medication before the procedure to help with this.

A non-hormonal IUD begins protecting against pregnancy immediately. A hormonal IUD protects against pregnancy from 7 days after insertion.


IUDs and weight gain

The medical community has not done enough scientific research into whether IUDs cause weight gain. Existing studies do not show a clear link between contraceptive use and weight gain.

This is a difficult area to study because researchers would need to compare a large group of people using the IUD to a large group using a placebo. A placebo looks exactly like the real thing but does not do anything. Researchers use placebos to test medication.

Understandably, many people do not want to take part in a long-term study using birth control that does not protect against pregnancy.

Some people have reported gaining weight from using a hormonal contraceptive, while others report losing weight. Consequently, many hormonal contraceptives list both weight gain and weight loss as possible side effects.

Researchers generally agree that it is unlikely that hormonal contraceptives lead to significant weight gain. As people age, they often gradually gain weight. A person may link their weight gain to contraceptive use, but it could be down to a natural increase in body fat or muscle.

Everyone is different. There is a delicate balance of hormones in the body, and anything that affects them can cause noticeable changes.

Some research suggests that getting married or moving in with a partner may be linked to weight gain. These life events may coincide with starting to use an IUD.

Of course, people who are single, not married, or not living with a partner also use IUDs. These people may also report weight gain, and researchers need to carry out more studies on possible links between weight gain and relationship status.


Are IUDs safe and effective?

Woman on weighing scales
Studies on IUDs and weight gain remain inconclusive.

The IUD is more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that if 100 people used an IUD over 1 year, less than one would become pregnant.

Other forms of contraception are often less effective because people can make errors when using them; for example, by forgetting to take a birth control pill or not putting a condom on correctly.

The IUD does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A person may wish to use an additional method of contraception, such as a condom, to protect against STIs.

There is a possibility that an IUD can cause an infection in the pelvis, which may happen if bacteria enter the uterus during insertion of the IUD.

Symptoms of a pelvic infection include pain, cramping, and soreness in the lower part of the belly. A person may also have a fever, feel cold, or have difficulty breathing. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice as the infection will usually need treatment.

It is possible but unlikely for an IUD to slip out. If the IUD does come out, a person should use another form of birth control until they can see a doctor.

An IUD can pierce the wall of the uterus, although this is very unlikely. If the IUD does penetrate the wall, it can be quite painful and cause increased bleeding. A doctor may need to remove the IUD surgically.


Pros, cons, and side effects of IUDs

Like all forms of contraception, the IUD has advantages and disadvantages. Everyone is different, and an IUD may cause side effects for some people but not others.

Advantages of IUDs include:

  • very effective at preventing pregnancy
  • cost-effective
  • long-lasting
  • reversible
  • no need to remember to take it
  • private
  • can be removed at any time
  • may be used as emergency contraception
  • ability to get pregnant returns to normal quickly following removal

Disadvantages of IUDs include:

  • requires a medical professional for insertion
  • does not protect against STIs
  • can cause side effects
  • rarely may cause a pelvic infection

Insertion of an IUD can cause pain, backache, or cramps for a few days. Side effects can include:

  • worse menstrual cramps than usual
  • irregular bleeding
  • heavy bleeding
  • spotting between periods

Side effects should go away after a few months, but they can last for longer. If side effects do not improve or continue for a long time, talk to a nurse or doctor for advice.

There are many alternative forms of contraception. Sometimes, a person may need to try a few different types before finding one that suits them and does not cause bothersome side effects.

Alternatives to IUDs

There are many alternative forms of contraception to the IUD. Every individual may have different priorities for their birth control. For example, a person may prioritize the easing of heavy menstrual bleeding or the prevention of STIs.

The birth control implant is as effective as the IUD at preventing pregnancy and lasts up to 3 years.

A wide range of contraceptive pills is also available. People who have experienced side effects from other forms of contraception could consider trying different birth control pills.


General tips for managing weight

family walking in the woods
A healthy lifestyle includes taking regular exercise.

Putting on some weight is often a natural part of aging. But gaining a lot of weight can have an impact on health and wellbeing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a body mass index calculator that can help a person to find out if they are a healthy weight.

Maintaining a healthy weight works best through long-term changes to diet and lifestyle. Some tips on a healthful lifestyle include:

  • eating only the amount of calories recommended for a person’s sex and activity level
  • including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the diet
  • choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy options
  • avoiding or cutting down on saturated fats, added salt, and sugar
  • choosing lean meat, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts as a protein source
  • taking regular exercise

The CDC recommend that each week people should aim to do:

  • around 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling at a casual pace
  • about 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as jogging, swimming, or competitive sports

Takeaway

IUDs are a safe and effective method of contraception. Studies have not shown a clear link between contraceptive use and weight gain, but more research is needed.

There are many different forms of birth control, each with their pros and cons. If a person is unhappy or has concerns about their current method of contraception, they should speak to their doctor to discuss alternative options.

Is postpartum gas normal?

Postpartum gas is when a woman experiences increased flatulence after having a baby. Postpartum gas is common and usually goes away on its own but can also be a sign of a pelvic injury or underlying health condition.

In this article, we explore the causes of postpartum gas and bloating. We also cover when to see a doctor and treatment options, including home remedies.

Is it normal?

woman holding stomach in pain
After giving birth, many women will experience increased abdominal gas.

A woman’s body goes through many changes during and after pregnancy.

After giving birth, or postpartum, it is normal for a person to notice changes to their bowel movements. These changes may include:

  • postpartum gas
  • feeling bloated
  • involuntary or loose bowel movements
  • constipation

These changes may happen whether the person had a vaginal or cesarean delivery.

The symptoms of postpartum gas include:

  • flatulence, or farting
  • belching
  • sharp abdominal pain
  • abdominal cramping

Depending on the cause, these digestive changes may resolve naturally or may require treatment.


Causes

Some causes of postpartum gas relate to an underlying health condition or factors that may be part of the birth process. These causes are often outside of their control. Other reasons relate to lifestyle factors and may be preventable.

Possible causes of postpartum gas include:

Pelvic floor damage

woman shopping for cheese
Eating dairy products may increase postpartum gas.

Pregnancy and giving birth may stretch and injure muscles and nerves in the pelvic floor. This may reduce the control a person has over passing gas.

The back of the pelvic floor controls the anus. It is not unusual for the anal sphincter muscles to tear during birth.

Anal injuries can lead to reduced control over gas. These injuries can also reduce a person’s control over their bowel movements, known medically as anal incontinence.

Symptoms of anal incontinence may include:

  • needing to pass stool urgently
  • losing control over passing gas
  • losing control over passing stool
  • experiencing anal leakage

Episiotomy

A person may need to undergo a minor surgical procedure called an episiotomy while they are giving birth. The doctor cuts between the vaginal opening and the anus to prevent tearing.

Sometimes an episiotomy can take a while to heal. It may also weaken the pelvic floor muscles and lead to symptoms of anal incontinence, including postpartum gas.

Constipation

If a person has painful trapped gas after giving birth, this could be due to constipation.

A person with constipation has infrequent bowel movements, and their stools may be hard and lumpy. Constipation can also cause bloating and abdominal pain.

Constipation is common after giving birth and can sometimes be an ongoing problem.

Certain pain medications may cause a person to have immediate constipation, following the delivery. Long-term constipation is often due to diet or lifestyle factors.

Diet and lifestyle

Eating foods that contain fructose, lactose, sorbitol, or soluble fiber may increase gas. Examples of these are:

  • processed foods
  • chewing gum and candy
  • dairy products
  • fruits
  • beans
  • whole grains
  • vegetables

When a person wants to cut down on excess gas, it is a good idea to avoid processed foods, chewing gum, and candy. People can enjoy the other foods on this list as part of a balanced and healthful diet.

If a woman experiences postpartum gas, she can try eating less of each food type in turn. This can help identify what foods trigger their gas.

Swallowing too much air when eating may also increase gas. Being aware of this and trying to eat more slowly may help.

Underlying conditions

Some underlying health conditions may increase gas. These include:

  • Crohn’s disease. This is a form of inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Diverticulitis. This is a disease that affects the lining of the bowel.
  • Ulcerative colitis. This is a type of inflammatory bowel disease.

When to see a doctor

If a person has symptoms of anal incontinence, such as losing control over passing stools, they should see a doctor.

Losing control over bowel movements means a person may have a pelvic floor or anal injury. They may have had the damage dealt with previously, but it might still require further treatment.

If a person has constipation for more than a few days, they should also consider seeing a doctor.

Postpartum gas that occurs without other symptoms does not typically require treatment.

Many people experience increased flatulence after giving birth. Postpartum gas usually goes away on its own or following changes in diet.

If people find that gas and bloating become an ongoing problem, they should speak to their doctor. For some, these symptoms could be due to an underlying health condition.


Treatment and home remedies

yoga class doing kegel bridge
Kegel exercises can be beneficial for people with anal incontinence.

Following a delivery, and while a woman is still in the hospital, a doctor will normally repair any injury to the pelvic floor. If the wound does not heal properly, the individual may require further treatment.

Pelvic floor exercises called Kegels can help with recovery from anal incontinence.

Kegel exercises involve repeatedly tensing and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles a person uses to stop passing gas or urine.

It may also be helpful to see a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor care, as these specialists can advise what exercises are most appropriate. A person can discuss the need for seeing a physical therapist with a doctor following delivery.

Over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives may provide relief from constipation in the short term. Dietary changes can also help to prevent constipation and gas from reoccurring.

Drinking plenty of water and yoga poses that improve digestion, such as the triangle pose, may also be of benefit to people with postpartum gas.

If a person has ongoing gas and bloating due to an underlying condition, a doctor will recommend an appropriate course of treatment.


Takeaway

Postpartum gas is a natural part of having a baby and typically goes away on its own. Most people recover control of their bowels a few months after giving birth.

If other symptoms accompany postpartum gas, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. The doctor can check if any pelvic floor injuries need further repair.

Kegel exercises can help a person regain control over their pelvic floor. If constipation is a factor, dietary changes may also help.

If a person has an ongoing health condition that is causing gas, the doctor can advise them on the best way to manage this.

What happens when a woman has low testosterone?

A woman’s testosterone levels naturally change throughout her life, her menstrual cycle, and even at different times of the day. A woman with low testosterone does not contain enough to help produce new blood cells, maintain sex drive, or boost levels of other reproductive hormones.

Testosterone belongs to a group of hormones known as androgens. Testosterone levels affect:

  • fertility
  • sex drive
  • red blood cell production
  • muscle mass and fat distribution

Most people think of testosterone as a male sex hormone, but everyone requires a certain amount. While males have more testosterone than females, female adrenal glands and ovaries produce small amounts of this hormone.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, a woman should have a total of 15–70 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl) of testosterone in her blood. At this time, there are no conclusive guidelines for what should be considered “low” testosterone levels in women.

Symptoms

tired woman sitting on settee
A woman with low testosterone may feel tired and lethargic.

Low testosterone can cause one or more of the following symptoms in women:

  • sluggishness
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • sleep disturbances
  • reduced sex drive
  • decreased sexual satisfaction
  • weight gain
  • fertility issues
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • vaginal dryness
  • loss of bone density

It is important to note that research in this area is still limited.

Because the symptoms linked to low testosterone are so common, a doctor will look for signs of other issues or conditions before making a diagnosis.

The doctor may check for:


Causes

three women walking at the beach
Testosterone levels naturally reduce with age and the menopause.

The two main causes of low testosterone are:

  • diminishing levels of the hormone as a normal result of menopause and aging
  • problems with the ovaries or the pituitary or adrenal glands.

Testosterone decreases naturally as a woman ages. Levels of other hormones, such as estrogen, also reduce over time, especially when a woman reaches menopause.

Around the time that menopause begins, a woman may be more likely to have less testosterone because the ovaries are producing fewer hormones.

Also, medications that combat the side effects of menopause can lower testosterone levels. One such medicine is oral estrogen.

Problems with the ovaries and adrenal glands can also cause lower levels of testosterone. A woman may have reduced levels if her ovaries have been removed, for example, or if she has adrenal insufficiency, which means that the adrenal glands do not work correctly.

Diagnosis

There is currently a lack of research into the treatment of low testosterone in women. Many doctors are much more concerned about testosterone levels that are too high.

In 2014, a task force recommended against routinely measuring testosterone levels in women, as research has yet to prove a link between testosterone levels and symptoms.

If a woman reports any of the symptoms listed above, a doctor will likely check for other, more common, conditions first.

To diagnose low testosterone in women, a doctor will start with a physical exam and ask about any symptoms. If the doctor suspects low testosterone, they will order a blood test.

If a woman has not yet reached menopause, the doctor will likely advise on the best time to test the testosterone levels. This is because they fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.


Treatment

mature lady sleeping in bed
Improving sleep quality may help the symptoms of low testosterone.

Some estrogen replacement drugs contain testosterone.

However, the quantity of testosterone in the drugs may not be enough to raise levels, or the body may not be able to absorb them sufficiently.

A doctor may administer testosterone injections or pellets, expecting these treatments to have the same effect on women as on men: raising energy levels, decreasing fatigue, and increasing the sex drive.

However, many doctors advise women not to take testosterone. Likewise, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved few testosterone-based treatments for women. This is because the side effects can include:

  • hair loss
  • acne
  • excess facial hair
  • a deepening voice
  • an enlarged clitoris

The 2014 task force advised against treating low testosterone levels in women due to a lack of research. However, they noted as an exception that women with a condition called hypoactive sexual desire disorder should receive treatment.

A doctor may instead recommend alternative therapies to treat the symptoms of low testosterone in women. These treatments and lifestyle changes can include:

  • sex therapy
  • taking steps to manage stress
  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthful diet
  • taking over-the-counter dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplements

DHEA is a steroid hormone that is also produced by the adrenal glands. Supplements are also available to purchase online. The Endocrine Society advise against routine supplementation with DHEA, however, as researchers have yet to prove that supplementation is safe and efficient in the long term.

The side effects of DHEA supplementation can be similar to those of excess testosterone.

Takeaway

Doctors and researchers still do not fully understand how low testosterone levels affect women or how best to treat the deficiency.

Testosterone levels change as a person ages, and they may drop as a woman approaches menopause.

If a woman experiences symptoms of low testosterone, the results of a blood test can help a doctor to make a diagnosis.

Never take testosterone replacement therapy without a doctor’s recommendation. Supplements and replacement therapies may cause more unpleasant side effects than they relieve.

14 possible causes for irregular periods

What causes irregular periods?

Your menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of your last period to the start of your next period. Your period is considered irregular if it’s longer than 38 days or if the duration varies.

Irregular periods can have several causes, from hormonal imbalances to other underlying conditions, and should be evaluated by your doctor. Here’s a look at the possible causes and their symptoms.

1. Pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause you to miss your period or experience spotting. Other symptoms of early pregnancy may include:

If you miss a period or notice changes in your period and you’ve had sex, you can take a pregnancy test at home or see your doctor to find out if you’re pregnant.

If you may be pregnant and experience sharp, stabbing pain in the pelvis or abdomen that lasts more than a few minutes, see your doctor right away to rule out ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.

2. Hormonal birth control

Hormonal birth control pills and hormone-containing intrauterine devices (IUDs) can cause irregular bleeding.

Birth control pills may cause spotting between periods and result in much lighter periods.

An IUD may cause heavy bleeding.


3. Breastfeeding

Prolactin is a hormone that’s responsible for breast milk production. Prolactin suppresses your reproductive hormones resulting in very light periods or no period at all while you’re breastfeeding.

Your periods should return shortly after you stop breastfeeding. Read on to learn more the effects of breastfeeding on your period.

4. Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the transition phase before you enter menopause. It usually begins in your 40s, but can occur earlier.

You may experience signs and symptoms lasting from 4 to 8 years, beginning with changes to your menstrual cycle. Fluctuating estrogen levels during this time can cause your menstrual cycles to get longer or shorter.

Other signs and symptoms of perimenopause include:

5. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Irregular periods are the most common sign of PCOS. If you have PCOS, you may miss periods and have heavy bleeding when you do get your period.

PCOS can also cause:


6. Thyroid problems

irregular periods causes
An underactive thyroid may cause longer, heavier periods.

A 2015 study found that 44 percent of participants with menstrual irregularities also had thyroid disorders.

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can cause longer, heavier periods and increased cramping. You may also experience fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and weight gain.

High levels of thyroid hormones, which is seen in hyperthyroidism, can cause shorter, lighter periods. You may also experience:

Swelling at the base of your neck is another common sign of a thyroid disorder.


7. Uterine fibroids

Fibroids are muscular tumors that develop in the wall of the uterus. Most fibroids are noncancerous and can range in size from as small as an apple seed to the size of a grapefruit.

Fibroids can cause your periods to be very painful and heavy enough to cause anemia. You may also experience:

  • pelvic pain or pressure
  • low back pain
  • pain in your legs
  • pain during sex

Most fibroids don’t require treatment and symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and an iron supplement if you develop anemia.

8. Endometriosis

Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. This is a condition in which the tissue that normally lines your uterus grows outside the uterus.

Endometriosis causes very painful, even debilitating menstrual cramps. Endometriosis also causes heavy bleeding, prolonged periods, and bleeding between periods.

Other symptoms may include:

  • gastrointestinal pain
  • painful bowel movements
  • pain during and after intercourse
  • infertility

Exploratory surgery is the only way to diagnose endometriosis. There’s currently no cure for the condition, but symptoms can be managed with medication or hormone therapy.

9. Being overweight

Obesity is known to cause menstrual irregularity. Research shows that being overweight impacts hormone and insulin levels, which can interfere with your menstrual cycle.

Rapid weight gain can also cause menstrual irregularities. Weight gain and irregular periods are common signs of PCOS and hypothyroidism, and should be evaluated by your doctor.

10. Extreme weight loss and eating disorders

Excessive or rapid weight loss can cause your period to stop. Not consuming enough calories can interfere with the production of the hormones needed for ovulation.

You’re considered underweight if you have a body mass index lower than 18.5. Along with stopped periods, you may also experience fatigue, headaches, and hair loss.

See your doctor if:

  • you’re underweight
  • have lost a lot of weight without trying
  • you have an eating disorder


11. Excessive exercise

Intense or excessive exercise has been shown to interfere with the hormones responsible for menstruation.

Female athletes and women who participate in intensive training and physical activities, such as ballet dancers, often develop amenorrhea, which is missed or stopped periods.

Cutting back on your training and increasing your calorie count can help restore your periods.

12. Stress

Research shows that stress can interfere with your menstrual cycle by temporarily interfering with the part of the brain that controls the hormones that regulate your cycle. Your periods should return to normal after your stress decreases. Try these 16 techniques to relieve your stress.


13. Medications

Certain medications can interfere with your menstrual cycle, including:

Speak to your doctor about changing your medication.

14. Cervical and endometrial cancer

Cervical and endometrial cancers can cause changes to your menstrual cycle, along with bleeding between periods or heavy periods. Bleeding during or after intercourse and unusual discharge are other signs and symptoms of these cancers.

Remember that these symptoms are more commonly caused by other issues. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.


When to call your healthcare provider

There are several possible causes of irregular periods, many of which require medical treatment. Make an appointment to see your doctor if:

  • your periods stop for more than 3 months and you’re not pregnant
  • your periods become irregular suddenly
  • you have a period that lasts longer than 7 days
  • you need more than one pad or tampon every hour or two
  • you develop severe pain during your period
  • your periods are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
  • you experience spotting between periods
  • you experience other symptoms, such as unusual discharge or fever

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and want to know about:

  • any stress or emotional issues you’re experiencing
  • any changes to your weight
  • your sexual history
  • how much you exercise

Medical tests may also be used to help diagnose the cause of your irregular bleeding, including:

  • a pelvic examination
  • blood tests
  • abdominal ultrasound
  • pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI

Treatments

Treatment depends on what’s causing your irregular periods and may require treating an underlying medical condition. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • oral contraceptives
  • hormonal IUDs
  • thyroid medication
  • metformin
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • exercise
  • vitamin D supplements

Stress reduction techniques may also help, including:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • deep breathing
  • cutting back on work and other demands

How to track your period

Tracking your period is a good idea even when your period is regular. You can track your period on a calendar or in a notebook, or use one of the many period tracking apps available.

Begin tracking your period by marking the first day of your period on a calendar. Within a few months you’ll begin to see if your periods are regular or different each month.

Keep track of the following:

  • PMS symptoms, such as headaches, cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, and moods
  • when your bleeding begins and whether or not it was earlier or later than expected
  • how heavy your bleeding was, including how many pads or tampons you used
  • symptoms during your period, such as cramping, back pain, and other symptoms and how bad they were
  • how long your period lasted and whether or not it was longer or shorter than your last period

Outlook

Irregular periods can be caused by a number of things, some of them serious. Your doctor can help you determine the cause and help you get your cycle back on track. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding stress can also help.

What to know about vaginal steaming

Vaginal steaming involves exposing the vagina to steam to cleanse it and enhance its health. Other names for the practice include V-steaming or yoni steaming.

The practice has recently made the news due to celebrity reports that tout a variety of benefits, ranging from relieving period discomfort to improving fertility.

However, there is not any scientific evidence to prove that vaginal steaming works. No research studies have tested vaginal steaming or its benefits.

There are also a lot of dangers involved in vaginal steaming, especially burning very delicate tissues.

Learn more about vaginal steaming in this article.

How does vaginal steaming work?

Boiling water being poured into bowl creating steam.
Vaginal steaming involves exposing the vagina to steam.

Vaginal steaming involves sitting over a steaming pot of water that often contains added herbs. Possible herbs may include basil, mugwort, rosemary, and wormwood.

People who practice vaginal steaming believe the herbs can penetrate vaginal tissues and offer a variety of benefits.

Some people try vaginal steaming at home, but it is also available at spas. The treatment typically lasts between 20 and 45 minutes.


Potential benefits

Some people believe vaginal steaming offers many health benefits and have called the practice a “facial” for the vagina.

Some of the reported benefits of vaginal steaming include:

  • reducing menstrual symptoms, such as bloating, cramps, exhaustion, and heavy bleeding
  • boosting fertility
  • promoting healing after childbirth
  • reducing stress
  • treating hemorrhoids
  • increasing energy and reducing fatigue
  • treating headaches

Currently, there are no scientific studies that prove these purported benefits. However, some people say it works by enhancing blood flow to the vaginal tissues, which can promote healing.

What are the safety concerns?

The primary safety concern is that the steam could burn the sensitive vaginal tissues if it is too hot.

Adding extra moist heat to the vagina and exposing the vagina to certain additives within the steam could also increase a woman’s risk for yeast or bacterial infections.

If the vaginal steaming equipment is not kept clean, a person could also be at risk for infections and other side effects. Therefore, it is essential to clean all equipment thoroughly before using it.

If a person goes to a spa for a vaginal steaming, they should ask the spa staff how they clean their equipment and what steps they take to reduce infection risk.

Vaginal steaming can be dangerous if a woman is pregnant. This is because the vaginal steam could affect the growing fetus.

Doctors generally recommend that pregnant women avoid using hot tubs, saunas, and heating pads around the pelvis for the same reason.


Considerations

Female doctor in office at desk with laptop explaining something to woman patient.
A doctor can offer advice on how to restore vaginal pH safely.

If a person does try vaginal steaming, it is essential to avoid getting too close to the steam or using water that is too hot.

If the steam feels uncomfortable or as if it is getting too hot, a person should move away from the steam.

Women who are trying to restore pH balance to their vagina due to frequent infections should see their doctor before they try vaginal steaming.

There are prescription treatments available to help restore pH balance. These are more likely to be effective than vaginal steaming.



Takeaway

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ that regularly maintains pH balance. Additional interventions, such as vaginal steaming or douching, are not necessary to maintain vaginal health.

Keeping the vagina clean, dry, and free of perfumes is the best way to keep the vagina healthy. Therefore, most people should not try vaginal steaming.

If they do try it, it is best to exercise extreme caution to reduce the risk of burns and infections.

What are the side effects of an IUD?

An intrauterine device, or IUD, is a small device that doctors place inside the uterus as a contraceptive. Many people experience IUD side effects, especially in the first few weeks to months following insertion.

There are two types of IUD available. One type secretes hormones while the other contains copper. Hormone-secreting IUDs release the synthetic hormone progestin while the copper option prevents sperm from fertilizing the egg.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, hormonal IUDs may help to reduce the incidence of painful or heavy periods.

While the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved IUDs as a safe contraceptive, some people may experience bothersome side effects. In this article, learn about the side effects of each type of IUD, as well as when to see a doctor.

IUD side effects

IUD side effects
An IUD is a contraceptive device that a doctor places inside the uterus.

Before inserting an IUD, a doctor should make sure that the individual is aware of the potential side effects and risks, including the known side effects of particular brands.

Common IUD side effects include:

  • irregular bleeding for several months
  • lighter or shorter periods or no periods at all
  • symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which include headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, and skin blemishes

Rarer side effects of IUDs include:

  • Expulsion, which is when the device comes out of the uterus by accident. If the IUD falls out of place, a doctor will have to re-implant it.
  • Uterine perforation, where the IUD punctures the uterine wall. This can cause severe bleeding and result in infection.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may occur if the IUD insertion procedure introduces bacteria into the uterus.

The FDA have approved five IUD brands to date. One is a copper IUD called Paragard. The others are hormonal IUDs known as Kyleena, Liletta, Mirena, and Skyla. The side effects of each IUD type are listed below.

Kyleena side effects

Kyleena is a hormonal IUD. In addition to the common IUD side effects, Kyleena can cause:

  • inflammation of the outer part of the vagina, called vulvovaginitis
  • pelvic pain
  • headaches
  • painful periods
  • sore breasts

According to the manufacturer, an estimated 22 percent of people who use Kyleena experience ovarian cysts. While these cysts typically go away in 2–3 months, they can cause pain and discomfort.

Kyleena may increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy that implants outside of the womb, usually in the fallopian tube.

An ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment is vital to prevent severe bleeding and preserve fertility.

Liletta side effects

A Liletta IUD can also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. People should call a doctor if they experience severe bleeding or abdominal pain with a Liletta IUD, as these signs could indicate an ectopic pregnancy.

Other potential side effects of a Liletta IUD include:

  • irregular bleeding and spotting in the first 3–6 months
  • ovarian cysts, which can cause pain and discomfort

Mirena side effects

IUD side effects include bleeding
Some people experience irregular bleeding as a side effect of an IUD.

Mirena is a hormonal IUD that releases the synthetic hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy.

Some of the symptoms that people often experience after Mirena placement include:

  • pain, bleeding, and dizziness immediately after insertion, although these symptoms should usually go away within about 30 minutes
  • missed or irregular periods
  • bleeding more or less than usual during a period in the first 3–6 months

According to the manufacturer, an estimated 12 percent of women who use Mirena develop an ovarian cyst.

Skyla side effects

Side effects specific to Skyla may include:

  • missed menstrual periods
  • ovarian cysts
  • risk of ectopic pregnancy if a woman becomes pregnant while using the IUD

According to the manufacturer, one in every 16 people will stop having menstrual periods after 1 year of using Skyla, while about 14 percent of people will develop an ovarian cyst.

Paragard side effects

Paragard IUDs do not secrete hormones. Instead, they have a copper coating that acts as a deterrent for sperm. However, they can still cause side effects, including:

  • allergic reactions to the metal
  • a backache
  • feeling faint
  • low blood counts
  • menstrual-like cramping
  • pain during sex

If a woman with this IUD thinks she is pregnant, she should call her doctor. If she is pregnant, the doctor will need to remove the IUD.

According to the manufacturer, pregnancy with a Paragard IUD in place can result in life-threatening complications.


When to see a doctor

IUD side effects doctor
Seek medical advice if heavy bleeding persists.

A person should see a doctor if they experience any of the following after an IUD insertion:

  • fever
  • long-lasting or heavy bleeding
  • painful sex
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • pregnancy symptoms

A person should also speak to a doctor if they can no longer detect the IUD strings in the vagina.

The doctor may check to ensure that the IUD is still in the right place.


How to manage IUD side effects

Most IUD side effects occur within the first few months after IUD insertion. Some ways to manage the side effects include:

  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain-relieving medications, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen, to reduce pain.
  • Applying warm, moist heat to the pelvis just below the bellybutton to relieve cramping and discomfort.
  • Wearing loose-fitting, comfortable clothing for the IUD insertion and the days that follow the procedure.
  • Wearing panty-liners or pads to absorb any extra bleeding or spotting.


Takeaway

If a person experiences side effects that are unusual for an IUD or are not in the safety information that the doctor provides, they should report them to the FDA. They can do this by calling 1-800-FDA-1088 or visiting the website at www.FDA.gov/medwatch.

It is essential to remember that IUDs do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Adverse IUD side effects should resolve within a few months as the body gets used to the device and any new hormones.

If the IUD causes intolerable symptoms, it is best to speak to a doctor about removing the device.