While each person's body is a complex and amazing machine, women are given intricate systems which do not just sustain life, but may also create a new life. Harmony of all the systems must be present in order for the female body to perform as it was intended.
New advances continue to be made in understanding the physiology of a woman's body. Although many people are at least somewhat aware of how their organs function, countless women have no idea what a staggering influence hormones play in their lives, from birth to puberty, and later in pregnancy through menopause. These chemicals not only affect one's physical health, but have a role in emotional well-being as well.
Knowing how the female body works is a good way to begin understanding her own health.
The Female Organs
The workings of a woman's body can be found in a small area around the pelvis, where all the reproductive organs group together and play a crucial role in hormone function, fertility and overall health.
The main reproductive organs in women are their ovaries. About the size and shape of almonds, the ovaries are solid and a greyish-pink in color. The ovaries sit near the top of the pelvic bone and each is held in place by ligaments that anchor it to the pelvis and the womb.
The ovaries hold ovarian follicles, little sacs in which the eggs develop. The ovaries are also responsible for producing the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone and are tasked with storing and releaseing a woman's eggs. When an egg is fertilized by a male's sperm, it has the potential to become a baby.
Baby girls are usually born with two ovaries, though some are born with just one. Women sometimes need to have an ovary removed because of cysts or an ectopic pregnancy. Both ovaries are removed if the woman is at high risk for developing ovarian cancer. Many women with just one ovary have successful pregnancies.
When a female child is born the ovaries contain anywhere from one million to two million immature eggs - or a lifetime's supply. This number begins to diminish almost immediately. Until puberty, the eggs lie dormant within the follicles in the ovaries, at which time a cascade of hormones activate several changes in a girl's body and their reproductive system swings into action.
In girls with healthy ovaries, each month about 20 immature eggs begin to ripen. Together they move toward the surface of the ovary. Typically, only one follicle will fully mature and become dominant, while the others die away. The dominant follicle ruptures on the surface of the ovary, releasing an egg into the Fallopian tube. This is ovulation.
Sometimes more than one follicle is released. If two eggs are fertilized and released, the result is non-identical twins, three fertilized eggs produce triplets, etc. Identical twins are the result of one egg splitting after fertilization.
The ovaries also produce small amounts of testosterone (a male hormone) which is released into the bloodstream and helps to maintain muscle and bone strength and to boost one's libido.
The Fallopian Tubes
The two Fallopian tubes extend down from the upper edges of the uterus toward the ovaries and are usually about 10 cm in length. The tubes do not directly connect with the ovaries, but instead have flaring, tentacle-like extensions that catch the egg and guide the unfertilized egg toward the womb. It can take as long as three or four days for the egg to travel down the Fallopian tube, and if sperm meet the egg, fertilization can occur. If the egg is not fertilized, the egg makes it ways to the womb and is expelled during a woman's monthly menstrual period.
Also called the uterus, the womb sits low in the pelvis, hanging within the abdominal cavity between the rectum and the bladder. The womb is small at birth bu develops during puberty until it is as large as a clenched fist. The womb has the ability to expand to accommodate a growing baby and after menopause shrinks or atrophies due to falling levels of oestrogen.
Also called the "neck of the womb," the cervix is about 2.5 cm long. It joins the womb to the top of the vagina and enables menstrual blood to pass from the womb to the vagina. It also allows sperm to pass from the vagina into the womb. The cervix also is responsible for protecting the womb and a developing fetus from pathogens such as invading bacteria. The cervix is crucial for a woman's reproductive and sexual health.
Every month during the menstrual cycle, the position and shape of the cervix changes. During childbirth, the cervix can dilate up to 10 cm to allow the baby to pass through the vagina.
The lining of the cervix is one of it's most influential features. It contains a smooth, mucous membrane that secretes a mucus that can be fertile or hostile to the reproductive cycle.
The vagina is a muscular tube that provides a passageway between the womb and the world outside. The walls of the vagina constantly produce secretions which are intended to omptimize fertility. Sometimes the vagina can be so acidic that it becomes a hostile environment for sperm.
The Female Hormones
At every stage in a woman's life her hormones play a powerful role. Most notably are the sex hormones, which trigger the changes that take place in the body. Hormones are natural chemicals that serve to trigger activity in the different organs. They are produced by several glands, including:
- Pituitary gland - secreting growth hormones.
- Adrenal glands - secreting hormones which control energy levels and stress response.
- Thyroid gland - influencing metabolic rate and brain function.
- Thymus gland - which is essential in immune response.
- Reproductive glands - most notably, the ovaries in women and the testes in men.
- Endocrine glands - secreting hormones through the pancreas, liver and kidneys.
All of these glands and their hormones play an essential role in a woman having optimum health. It is extremely important for a woman to understand and monitor all of the above functions to ensure her body is performing at its peak.
- Glenville, M. (2010).The natural health bible for women : the complete guide for women of all ages. London : Duncan Baird Publishers
- Canas, M. et al. (2006). Women's health. Barcelona, Spain : Rebo
- Marieb, E.N. & Hoehn, K. Human Anatomy & Physiology (8 edition), Pearson Education, Inc (2004)
- McCracken, T. & Walker, R. New atlas of human anatomy, London : Constable (2001)
- Parker, S. The Concise Human Body Book, Dorling Kindersley Limited (2009)
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Women's Troubles & Illnesses
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a collection of psychological and physical changes that occur before the menstrual cycle. The changes may be severe enough to interfere with a woman’s normal function. 3 out of 4 women report experiencing at least one, if not many symptoms of PMS. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is described as severe emotional and physical symptoms that end after menstruation begins. 2-10 percent of all women may suffer from PMDD.
Infertility in Women
Infertility is a very widespread problem that affects approximately 17 percent of all couples who are of childbearing age. This translates to about five million Americans. Physical, emotional, and environmental factor may contribute to infertility. Women typically get evaluated for infertility if, after a year of unprotected sex, does not result in pregnancy. While many women do no experience any symptoms, other women may have irregular menstrual periods and pain during menstruation or sexual intercourse.
Endometriosis describes a condition in which the cells lining the interior of the uterus are displaced and grow outside the uterine cavity. The cells that are in the normal, regular state accumulate in the uterus every month when estrogen levels are high. Through this process, they assist in making the lining of the uterus appropriate for pregnancy.
Menopause is characterized by a period of transition where there are many physical, psychological, and hormonal changes. It is ultimately defined as the conclusion of a female’s reproductive phase of life.
Pregnancy is an exciting time filled with joy and promise. It is the addition of a new member to the family. It is also one of the most physically and mentally demanding things that one can ever go through. There are several physical problems and symptoms associated with it.
The classic symptoms of cystitis include a feeling of frequent and urgent need to urinate, even when there is very little urine inside the bladder. Urine which is passed usually causes a stinging sensation in the sore and inflamed lining of the urethra.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, more than 80 percent of all women who are expectant mothers will be stricken with some type and level of morning sickness. Although its name is a bit deceptive, morning sickness does not just happen in the morning: it can occur anytime of the day or night.
Dysmenorrhea usually occurs when contractions within the uterus become distorted. Receptors within the uterine lining govern the contractions, after receiving stimulation from psychological and hormonal factors.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal imbalance that causes irregular menstrual periods, weight gain, increased body hair.....
Female Sexual Dysfunction
Sexuality in a woman involves a complex variety of factors including emotional, physical and psychosocial elements, which in turn involve the vascular, endocrine and neurological systems. A disruption in any of these systems can result in female sexual dysfunction, or FSD.