The main health problems that specifically affect women are those posed by periods, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, planning to become pregnant, knowing what to do if you want to continue your pregnancy and knowing what to do if you don’t want to continue your pregnancy, coping with the menopause, having regular cervical smears and self-examining your breasts.
Period problems are very common and can seriously affect a woman’s quality of life, causing pain, stress, embarrassment, anaemia and exhaustion. If there has been an unexplainable change in your usual cycle or you are suffering extremely heavy or painful periods, you should make an appointment to see your GP.
If you miss a period and you have had sex, take a home pregnancy test to check if you are pregnant. If you have no concerns then you do not need to see a doctor, you can book directly with the midwife. Ring your GP surgery to arrange this. You will normally be seen at around eight weeks when all the information you need will be provided.
If you do not want to continue your pregnancy or you are unsure about what you want to do and want to talk about it to figure out the best way forward for you and your partner, either see your GP or you can contact the BPAS clinic directly on 0845 730 4030 open 24 hours a day textphone service on 0845 3365 1450 or www.bpas.org
There are other causes for missed periods including stress, sudden weight loss, intense athletic activity, taking the contraceptive pill or using the contractive injection, the Nexplanon implant or the Mirena or Jaydess intrauterine system (IUS).
If you have had unprotected sex, see a pharmacist or your GP as soon as possible if you do not want to get pregnant.
See the Sexual Health section for information on contraception choices and about how to prevent and how to test for sexually transmitted infections.
If you are planning to become pregnant:
- See your pharmacist for advice on the correct dose of folic acid to take to reduce the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect, such as Spina Bifida.
- Stop smoking. Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to a variety of health problems, including: premature birth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – also known as cot death, miscarriage, breathing problems or wheezing especially in the first six months of life.
- Cut out alcohol. Experts are still unsure exactly how much, if any, alcohol is completely safe for you to have while you're pregnant, so the safest approach is not to drink at all.
- Keep to a healthy weight. If you're overweight, you may have problems getting pregnant, and fertility treatment is less likely to work. Havin a BMI over 25 also raises the risk of some pregnancy problems, such as high blood pressure, blood clots, miscarriage and gestational diabetes.
- Make sure you have had 2 doses of the MMR vaccination as rubella can harm your baby if you catch it during pregnancy. See your GP or practice nurse if you are not sure if you have had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. If you have a long term condition, see your GP or the specialist looking after you before you try to conceive. Do not stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor. Depending on your medical condition and the medication, it may be more harmful for you not to take your medication than any risk the medication poses to your pregnancy or your unborn baby.
The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
Periods usually start to become less frequent over a few months or years before they stop altogether. Sometimes they can stop suddenly.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman's oestrogen levels decline.
Common symptoms include: hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex, difficulty sleeping, low mood or anxiety, reduced sex drive (libido),problems with memory and concentration.
See your GP if you have menopausal symptoms that are troubling you or if you're experiencing symptoms of the menopause before 45 years of age.
Some menopausal symptoms can be relieved by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight.
Some women may need hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Cervical smears and self-examining your breasts - see the section on prevention of cancer.