A woman's reproductive system makes it possible for her to get pregnant and give birth. It includes two ovaries, two fallopian tubes, the uterus, the cervix, and the vagina.
Most women can become pregnant starting at puberty. This is when their menstrual cycles begin. They can get pregnant until menopause, when their cycles stop.
A pregnancy starts with fertilization. It happens when a woman's egg joins with a man's sperm. All the eggs for a woman's lifetime are stored in her ovaries.
About once a month, an egg is released. This is called ovulation. It usually happens in the middle of the menstrual cycle between periods. The day of ovulation and the 5 days before it are when a woman is most fertile. This means she's most likely to get pregnant if she has sex during this time.
The egg then enters the fallopian tube. It leads to the uterus. If the egg isn't fertilized or doesn't implant, the woman's body sheds the egg and the lining of the uterus. This shedding causes the bleeding in a woman's menstrual period.
What problems can happen?
Most women have problems with their reproductive system from time to time. These problems can be related to menstrual cycles, sex, infection, birth control methods, aging, medicines, or changes after pregnancy. Problems may include:
Infections, such as a yeast infection.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These include chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Rashes, sores, blisters, or lumps in the vaginal area.
Heavy bleeding during a period or between periods.
Fertility issues that keep a woman from becoming pregnant.
Cancer of the uterus, cervix, or ovaries.
How can you prevent problems?
Talk with your doctor about how often you should have certain screening tests, such as a Pap test.
Keep your vaginal area clean. Use mild, unscented soap and water. Rinse well.
After you use the toilet, wipe from front to back. This may help to avoid spreading yeast or bacteria from your anus to the vagina or urinary tract.
Wear underwear that helps keep your genital area dry and doesn't hold in warmth and moisture. One good choice is cotton underwear.
Change pads or tampons often.
Don't douche or use deodorant tampons or feminine sprays, powders, or perfumes. These items can change the normal balance of organisms in your vagina.
Avoid STIs by having one sex partner. Be sure your partner does not have STIs and does not have sex with anyone else. Use condoms.
Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.