While aging can seem daunting, it doesn't have to hinder your growth or the possibility of new experiences. Accepting the changes within and outside your body can certainly help here.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 24, 2020. It has since been updated.
As we go through school, we are taught a lot of things about the female reproductive system. Despite that, as we grow older, we sometimes feel uninformed about the basics of it, even after we've achieved various milestones such as periods, pregnancy, birth and menopause. We see the externals signs of our aging but we are not as knowledgable about the internal transitions that our organs go through. Which is where Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' chief medical correspondent comes in.
In order to help us gracefully go through these processes, Ashton breaks down the four things all women should know about their reproductive system. "When we look down the road, it should be with optimism and understand that everyone will get through it," she says. "Just like we all got through puberty."
"We’re talking about the whole external and internal urogenital system," she explains, and this also includes your bladder, urethra, and vulva. This means that when you go for check-ups, it's important to make sure that these parts of your system are also in good health. It'll also help you catch related diseases like urinary incontinence, urinary tract infections or Bartholin gland cysts.
The main function of your ovaries is the production of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and a portion of the body’s testosterone, all of which decrease as a woman approaches menopause. And estrogen levels are the main cause for the change in your body. "Everything in the pelvic, genital area is affected by a decrease in estrogen levels," she states. "Dropping estrogen levels are responsible for hot flashes, vaginal dryness, weakening of bones -- you name it and estrogen is likely involved."
The drop in this hormone can also result in your pelvic tissues becoming weaker and fragile, increasing the risk of injuries and infections. Additionally, when progesterone levels drop, it can cause drastic changes in your mood and even memory loss. Even testosterone, though generally known as the male reproductive hormone, can affect you. "A lot of people don’t realize that women have testosterone as well," the doctor explains. "That drop in testosterone level in a woman is responsible for the dreaded, 'I don’t understand why I am gaining weight while I’m still exercising and eating well.'"
In simpler terms, a prolapse means your organs start to slip out of place or fall down. And as you grow older, the strength and elasticity of muscles in the pelvic region, which could lead to the prolapse of your bladder, uterus and rectum. "Any of those organs can prolapse or protrude through the vagina, in most severe cases, outside of a woman’s body, but most of the time just into the vagina." Though age plays a part, even women who've had multiple deliveries can face this issue. That's why it is important to strengthen your pelvic floor.
"The most common symptom is the sensation of pressure," Ashton explains. "Some women will feel a lot of pelvic pressure and some women might have to urinate more frequently." Certain devices and exercises can help strengthen your pelvic floor.
Most women go through menopause in their 40's or 50's, according to Mayo Clinic. However, Ashton says, factors such as family history, smoking, and medical conditions can affect the age at which you go through menopause.
Some common symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings, an increase in body fat and more, but these symptoms differ per person. There is one common factor though. Most women who share a sense of dread as it approaches. To that, Ashton says, "For many women, it might feel like the worst thing ever, but there are treatments and ways to manage it," she said. "Women are now living a third of their life after menopause and those can be really vital and vibrant years."
While aging can seem daunting, it doesn't have to hinder your growth the possibility of new experiences. Accepting the changes within and outside your body can certainly help here. But in order to get there, it's essential to keep yourself informed and making regular visits to the physician and a gynecologist and to ensure you're in good health.