What is X?
A Wholesome Story Blog Series on Women’s Health & Fertility Issues
Post #1: The Lingo
Ah, the feminine mystique. Virtually every society on earth, past and present, has been obsessed with the female body. And why wouldn’t they be? We are beautiful and fascinating. Our biology is complex, variable, and quite sensitive. Yet, we are also incredibly resilient, strong, and we are capable of life’s greatest physical feat…creating and birthing new life. Yeah, you can bench 300 lb? Impressive. Well, I can make a whole, new person. Ha!
Sometimes this sense of feminine mystery and power is fun, sexy, and quite frankly, super cool. Other times, its complexities are just confusing and frustrating.
Regardless of how you’re feeling about your femininity today, we’re here to help pull back the curtain on a few medical conditions that are common, but not always well-understood.
You see, we believe that women deserve to have their biology understood and cared for, so whether you’re reading this for yourself, your partner, a family member, or a friend, we hope you can use your newfound understanding to be an empathetic and non-demeaning voice in society on behalf of all womankind.
Wow, that was a lot, but we’re really feeling it!
If you’re like most people, when a conversation arises about a medical issue, you probably find yourself thinking, “Am I the only one who doesn’t understand what’s being talked about?”
No, you’re not the only one; that’s why we’re writing this series.
In upcoming posts, we’ll get in-depth on some hot issues in women’s health, including hyperandrogenism, hirsutism, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), irregular periods, endometriosis, and ovarian cysts.
- We’ll discuss how these medical terms are used, both at the doctor’s office and in every-day conversation.
- We’ll talk about how conditions like these can affect your health, and we’ll give you the language you need to communicate more effectively with your healthcare providers.
- And, most importantly, we’ll talk about ways you can support your body to promote better health when dealing with women’s health issues.
Let’s get on with the learning, shall we? We’ll start by helping you to understand some terms you may hear bantered about at work, your doctor’s office, or your next family gathering. What do these terms mean in plain, simple English?
And with that, here is your first set of terms and definitions.
We’ll provide a list like this in each post of the series, just to make sure you have all the information you need to understand what you’re reading.
- Androgen - A type of hormone associated with male sex characteristics.
Androgens are typically found in large amounts in men and in small amounts in women.
Men with low androgen levels, and women with high androgen levels, may present with sex characteristics typically associated with the opposite sex, such as breast tissue in men or facial hair in women. 1
- Androgenic Alopecia - This condition, also known as male pattern baldness, can occur in both men and women.
In women, however, this condition rarely leads to a full bald spot, but rather causes excessive thinning of hair.
Scientists attribute this type of hair loss to an overabundance of the androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which has a marked effect on hair follicles. 2
- Endometriosis - In this regrettably common condition, uterine lining (endometrial tissue) grows outside the uterus.
This growth can happen on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, or pretty much anywhere in the pelvic region.
People with this condition usually have very painful periods and often struggle with fertility. 3
- Hirsutism - Excessive hair growth, in a male pattern, typically on a woman’s body.
So women with coarse, thick hair on the face, neck, chest, back, thighs, etc. are said to have this condition.
Hirsutism is typically caused by hormonal imbalances. 4
- Hyperandrogenism - A condition in which a woman’s body has more androgen hormones than is normal in a female body.
Physical signs of this condition include hirsutism (see above), hormonal acne, and androgenic alopecia (see above). 5
- Infertility - Medically, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 or more months of regular, unprotected sex.
Infertility can be caused by a number of factors, some male, some female, and is not “just a woman’s problem.” 6
- Irregular Period / Irregular Menstruation - An irregular period is basically any menstrual cycle where things are not quite as they should be, whether that’s too long, too short, too much variation between cycles, abnormally severe pain or bleeding, or any combination of the above.
A normal menstrual cycle is between 21 and 35 days long and should not vary more than 9 days between cycles or cause severe blood loss or pain. 7
- Ovarian Cyst - An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac of tissue that forms on or in the ovary.
There are many kinds of ovarian cysts, including follicle cysts, which can be a normal part of a monthly cycle, or if there are many follicle cysts, may be a sign of an abnormality such as PCOS.
Some cysts do not contain follicles (eggs) and may be benign, cancerous, or something non-cancerous but still harmful.
It’s important to speak with your doctor if you think you may have a cyst(s) so that you can have it evaluated and cared for properly. 9
- Polycystic (PCOS) - A hormonal disorder affecting women.
This disorder is characterized by abnormal sex hormone levels and high numbers of immature eggs on the ovaries which create small cysts.
Women with this condition often have long periods, no periods, irregular periods, high androgen levels, fertility problems. 10
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) - PMS is a set of symptoms that appear a few days before the start of the menstrual period and usually subside within 4 days of the start of menses.
PMS is experienced by as many as 75% of women and girls of childbearing age.
Symptoms can present as physical, mental, or emotional abnormalities such as headache, fatigue, breast tenderness, anxiety, depression, acne flare ups, change in libido, alcohol intolerance, and constipation or diarrhea. 11
Feeling a bit more ready for those medical conversations now? We hope so! By the time you finish reading this series, you’ll be providing informal educational talks for your female colleagues.
The First of Many
We’re excited to learn and grow with you as we research and write about women’s health issues. We hope these blog posts will leave you feeling empowered and in awe of your body. Women are incredible!
Next up, we’ll be learning about Endometriosis. Read our next blog post to find out more about what this condition is, who it affects, and ways to help manage symptoms.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plant foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such as a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
Let us know what you'd like to read about next time by clicking on the suggestions button below!
- Cleveland Clinic Medical Professional. Androgens: Function, measurement and related disorders. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22002-androgens. Published 2021. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- MedlinePlus. Androgenetic alopecia: Medlineplus genetics. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/androgenetic-alopecia/. Published 2015. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Johns Hopkins Medcine. Endometriosis. Endometriosis | Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/endometriosis. Published 2023. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Solorzano CB, Martin K. Hirsutism. Endocrine Society. https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/hirsutism. Published March 31, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- BO; Y. Diagnosis of hyperandrogenism: Clinical criteria. Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16772149/. Published June 2006. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Infertility. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm. Published March 1, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic Medical Professional. Irregular periods (abnormal menstruation): Causes & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14633-abnormal-menstruation-periods. Published January 2023. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Ferrer CM, Gómez MB, Calvo PC. Symptoms of irregular periods. inviTRA. https://www.invitra.com/en/what-is-irregular-menstruation-like-and-what-are-its-causes/symptoms-irregular-periods-menstruation/. Published May 6, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Iglesia CB, ed. Ovarian cysts. Ovarian cysts | Office on Women's Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/ovarian-cysts. Published February 2021. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439. Published September 8, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premenstrual-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20376780. Published February 25, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2023.
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