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The Female Reproductive System

Some things you should know about your genitals and the female ‘Reproductive System’.

The female reproductive system contains these parts:

  • Ovaries
  • Egg tubes (fallopian tubes)
  • Uterus (pronounced “yoo-ter-russ”)
  • Cervix
  • Vagina.
  • Ovaries

The two ovaries hold hundreds of undeveloped female sex cells called egg cells or ova. Women have these cells in their bodies from birth – whereas men produce new sperm all the time.

Warning! The following image shows a detailed cross section diagram of the female sexual and reproductive organs. Click here to view the images

Egg tubes

Each ovary is connected to the uterus by an egg tube. This is otherwise known as the Fallopian tube. The fallopian tube is lined with cilia, which are tiny hairs on cells. Every month, an egg develops and becomes mature, and is released from an ovary. The cilia waft the egg along inside the fallopian tube and into the uterus.

Uterus and cervix

The uterus is also called the womb. It is a muscular bag with a soft lining. The uterus is where a baby develops until its born. The cervix is a ring of muscle at the lower end of the uterus. It closes to keep the baby in place while the woman is pregnant.

Vagina

The vagina is a muscular tube that leads from the cervix to the outside of the woman’s body. A man’s penis goes into the woman’s vagina during sexual intercourse. The opening to the vagina has folds of skin called labia that meet to form a vulva. The urethra also opens into the vulva, but it is separate from the vagina, and is used for passing urine from the body.

The Reproductive System – Periods

The female reproductive system includes a cycle of events called the menstrual cycle. It lasts about 28 days, but it can be slightly less or more than this because everyone is different. The cycle stops while a woman is pregnant. These are the main features of the menstrual cycle.

  • The start of the cycle, day 1, is when bleeding from the vagina begins. This is caused by the loss of the lining of the uterus, with a little blood. This is called menstruation or having a period.
  • By the end of about day 5, the loss of blood stops. The lining of the uterus begins to re-grow and an egg cell starts to mature in one of the ovaries.
  • At about day 14, the mature egg cell is released from the ovary. This is called ovulation. The egg cell travels through the egg tube towards the uterus.
  • If the egg cell does not meet with a sperm cell, the lining of the uterus begins to break down and the cycle repeats, (i.e. menstruation).
  • If the egg cell meets and joins with a sperm cell, it is fertilised. It attaches to the lining of the uterus and the woman becomes pregnant.

Period pain and how to cope with it

Periods affect women in different ways, some have irregular periods with few cramps and some have light or heavy periods with bad cramps. You should be able to carry on your life as normal without your life coming to a standstill every month.

Menstrual pain usually starts at the beginning of the period and feels like an ache or cramp in the lower abdomen, back and legs. These pains are due to contracting muscles in the uterus which are caused by certain hormones (prostaglandins). The higher the level of hormone, the worse your period is.

Some women also suffer from pain in their breasts, nausea, tiredness and headaches.

  • TIP: If you are suffering from bad cramps, cuddle up with a hot water bottle or climb into a warm bath to soothe the cramps.
  • TIP: Do plenty of exercise to keep yourself active and take your mind off things – try a nice brisk walk, a light jog or stretches.

As your body changes with age your periods will change too. Howvere lifestyle factors can affect periods too, for example stress and poor diet can lead to painful menstruation. See your GP or health professional if you have any concerns.

Dealing with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

It isn’t exactly certain what the cause of PMS is but it is safe to say that it is linked to the change in the hormone ‘progesterone’ which is released when you ovulate. It is very common for women to feel unwell and / or very emotional before their period. For most women, PMS is mild and they may just have one ‘bad day’. However, some women suffer from severe PMS which can lead to disruption in your life whether it is at work, home or both.

Symptoms:

  • Tiredness
  • Food cravings
  • Crying
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of concentration
  • Weight gain
  • Abdominal swelling or feeling bloated.

These symptoms can also be related to other health issues so it is important to keep a log of dates if you suffer from severe PMS, to make sure that they are definitely linked to your periods. Speak to your GP or health professional for guidance.

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