Urinary tract infection What is that? Urinary tract infections (UTIs), also called bladder infections, are a common problem for a lot of people. Although anyone could get the infection, girls/women tend to get it more often. Not everyone with UTIs has symptoms, but most people tend to get a few of the following: A sharp burning pain during urination Frequent urination—or the urge to urinate a lot Cloudy, dark, or bloody urine Pain in the back or lower abdomen Nausea/vomiting Fever Girls Health — How do you get it? A woman’s urethral opening (which is sterile) is right near two big sources of bacteria: the rectum and the vagina. Bacteria from these areas can move toward the urethra from the rectum if a woman wipes the wrong way after going to the bathroom, and could cause a UTI. During sexual intercourse, bacteria in the urethra can be pushed toward the bladder. And using some types of birth control—like a diaphragm—can also cause bacteria to collect more, and eventually get into the urethra and the bladder. Girls Health — How do you treat it? If a bladder infection is diagnosed early, it’s usually not a big deal to treat. You can find out if you have UTI with a urine test at the doctor’s office. Other tests can also be done on a urine sample to determine which antibiotics are best for you. Most infections are curable with a few days of antibiotic treatment. A doctor could also prescribe other medications to ease some of the painful symptoms. One medication that’s commonly prescribed for pain is pyridium. It works well but it could turn your urine a reddish color. If that happens, don’t freak out—it’s normal. Abstaining from sexual intercourse during treatment also helps the healing process. When a bladder infection just starts, and if it isn’t too bad, many women treat it themselves by drinking a few glasses of cranberry juice and lots of water every day for a few days. This can "flush" the infection out of the bladder. Girls Health — How can you avoid it? You can help prevent UTIs by trying the following: drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day don’t drink a lot of caffeine (coffee or colas), or alcohol don’t wait to go to the bathroom—urinate when you get the urge take showers instead of baths wipe from front to back whenever you go to the bathroom urinate before and right after sexual intercourse Girls Health — Fibroids What are they? Fibroids are growths that may be found in the uterus. Made up of muscle and fibrous tissue, fibroids form when cells grow abnormally. Fibroids are found in 25% of all women in their 30s and 40s, and tend to appear in black women more than white women. Often more than one fibroid is present, and they can vary in size from as small as a walnut or as big as an orange. Fibroids can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant and can increase the chances of a miscarriage. In less than 1% of women, they may indicate cancer. Most women with fibroids experience no symptoms. But some develop menstrual problems, such as: Menorrhagia (excessive menstrual bleeding) Longer periods Bleeding between periods Anemia (due to high blood loss) Dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain) Girls Health — How do you treat it? A pelvic exam can help determine if you have fibroids. Other tests include an ultrasonography (similar to the ultrasound) and a laparoscopy. Fibroids don’t necessarily need to be removed. Your doctor might just continue monitoring them until they become a problem—which might never happen. If the fibroids grow or cause pain, they can be removed by surgery. Even after treatment, though, fibroids may reappear. Drugs called gonadotropin-releasing hormone antagonists may also shrink the fibroids. But if a woman stops taking the medication, the fibroids might grow back. Since these drugs increase the risk for osteoporosis, they are mainly used for just a few months before surgery. Girls Health — How can you avoid them? No one knows for sure what causes fibroids, but high levels of estrogen affect them. Fibroids may get larger during pregnancy, and in women who take high-dose estrogen oral contraceptives. Lower dose estrogen oral contraceptives don’t increase the size of fibroids, and may make them smaller and help reduce bleeding. Girls Health — Yeast Infection What is that? If you’re having vaginal discharge that’s white and clumpy or thick and milky, plus a really annoying itch, you probably have something known as a yeast infection or candidiasis—a common vaginal disorder caused by a yeast called Candida albicans. Girls Health — How do you get it? There’s always some yeast and bacteria in the vagina from the time you’re born and throughout your life. In fact, yeast is actually kept in check by these "good" bacteria. But when the amount of the bacteria is reduced, the yeast can grow and cause problems. Some of the things that can affect the natural bacterial balance and cause yeast to grow include: Antibiotics Oral contraceptives Wearing tight clothes, pantyhose and wet bathing suits. Possibly—eating too much sugar, artificial sweeteners, sodas, or even milk products Excessive douching Intrauterine devices Pregnancy Diabetes Like any fungus, Candida really gets going in warm, dark, moist places—like the vagina. So that’s why wearing clothes that trap moisture—like pantyhose or a wet bathing suit—can create the perfect conditions for developing a yeast infection. Girls Health — How do you treat it? The first time you think you may have a yeast infection you should see your doctor to get a definite diagnosis. After the first time (some women get recurring bouts) if you get a yeast infection, you don’t HAVE to go to a doctor. You can get anti-fungal vaginal suppositories or ointment at the drug store. But doctors can also give you a prescription or a one-dose oral prescription medication, if you prefer that. When treating your infection, use all the medication that the doctor prescribes or the full dose of cream/suppositories or ointment from the drug store, otherwise it may return. Whichever remedy you choose, avoid sex until the yeast infection disappears. Otherwise the infection could last longer. If the yeast infection does hang on after treatment or if you have abdominal pain, cramping or fever and chills, it’s definitely time to see a doctor (or go back). These might be signs that you have another type of vaginal infection. How can you avoid it? There are a lot of things you can do to avoid yeast infections. They include: Don’t wear tight pants or pantyhose all the time Wear cotton underwear Avoid douching, bactericidal or perfumed soaps, feminine sprays and powders Change out of sweaty underwear, workout clothes, and wet bathing suits quickly Also, if you’re sexually active, many vaginal infections can be passed back and forth between you and your partner. Only one of you may show symptoms even although you both may be infected. If the infection persists, or if your partner has any discharge, itching or burning, then both of you probably need to be treated. Girls Health — Ovarian Cysts What are they? Ovarian cysts are bubble-like growths in the ovaries—the part of the body that produces and releases eggs. These cysts can be filled with fluid, blood or other material. Most cysts are common and harmless. Many go away on their own or get smaller within two or three menstrual cycles. Sometimes, if they’re large, they may disrupt normal cycles, delaying bleeding and causing heavier bleeding than normal. But other cysts are more serious and need attention. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), for instance, an endocrine disorder, causes the ovaries to function in unpredictable ways. With PCOS, "follicle cysts" form in the ovaries, and inhibit the release of eggs. When women with PCOS menstruate, they may experience heavy bleeding since the endometrium is often thickened. Women with PCOS often have an elevated testosterone level, which is indicated by increased hair growth on the face and chest. Most cysts won’t produce symptoms unless they become ruptured or twisted —then you’ll feel intense abdominal pain and nausea. Another symptom or sign to watch for is an irregular menstrual cycle. If you’re irregular, it might be worth an exam to discover why. Girls Health — How do you get them? Often young and obese women suffer from PCOS. Otherwise, there isn’t really conclusive evidence on how and why women get cysts. But there is some indication that a high-fat diet and large amounts of caffeine contribute to their development and/or growth. Girls Health — How do you treat them? Any cyst should be checked by a doctor. Even though most ovarian cysts aren’t usually cancerous, you shouldn’t take the chance. Pelvic exams help doctors see if you have cysts at all. If, after an exam, your doctor suspects cysts, he/she may recommend other tests such as: Ultrasound—where sound waves are used (externally) to obtain a picture of your reproductive organs and the cysts can be identified and measured Laparoscopy—where a lighted tube is inserted into your body so the doctor can see inside Blood test Girls Health — There are several ways to treat cysts: Birth-control pills help regulate ovulation and help shrink cysts Surgery may be required for large cysts. The type of operation depends on when the cyst is found, its size, type and a woman’s age Hormone therapy can help with PCOS Dietary changes (like a low fat diet, and little to no caffeine) sometimes help cysts shrink Exercise Girls Health — How can you avoid them? There’s been some evidence that foods high in saturated fat (like fried foods, cheeses, and fatty meats) contribute to the development of cysts. Avoiding these foods has been very helpful for some women. Also, caffeine is a stimulant and some doctors believe it stimulates the growth of cysts. Cutting down on coffee and colas may help. Finally, oral contraceptives will prevent the more common functional cysts of ovulation from forming. Girls Health — Endometriosis What is that? Endometriosis is a disease that affects girls and women during their menstrual years. Basically with endometriosis, the uterine lining (endometrium) moves outside the uterus and builds up in other parts the body, mostly in the area around the uterus. This can affect how the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the other pelvic organs work. Wherever it starts building up, this endometrial tissue starts to act like the endometrium. This means that when hormones cue the endometrium to build up during the menstrual cycle, the misplaced endometrial tissue goes through the same process. So when it’s time for menstruation, the endometrial tissue "bleeds." But since the tissue isn’t in the uterus, the blood never leaves the body. This can lead to very bad pain, scarring and, even infertility. The symptoms of endometriosis can be really severe or mild. The main symptom is pain, and the level of pain doesn’t seem to have much to do with how serious a case of endometriosis. Women with a slight case of it may experience more pain than do others with severe cases. Girls Health — The specific symptoms may include: Dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation) Pain at ovulation (mid-cycle) Pain during sexual intercourse Heavy periods Spotting Irregular periods Girls Health — How do you get it? No one’s exactly sure why endometriosis happens—but it does seem to be somewhat hereditary. In fact, if your mother or sister had it, your risk is doubled. Hormones also play a part—higher estrogen levels and heavy periods increase risk. Finally, ethnicity is a factor: White women are at a higher risk than African American women. Because symptoms of endometriosis can be confused with other problems, like ovarian cysts, the disease can sometimes be hard to diagnose or identify. For an accurate diagnosis, a woman needs to have a pelvic exam and probably a laparoscopy, where a small incision is made below the belly button and a laparoscope (a narrow, lighted tube) is inserted. Then the doctor can examine the uterus, ovaries, and surrounding areas. Girls Health — How do you treat it? Standard treatments for endometriosis usually start with the first step listed below, and goes through the next steps if necessary. Step 1: Taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen Step 2: Staying on birth control pills continuously for at least three months Step 3: Taking a medication (called GNRH-agonist), which inhibits ovarian hormone production—this can help "dry up" the endometriosis Step 4: Laparoscopic surgery—A small incision is made in the lower abdomen and a tube with a viewing instrument is used to look around. If endometriosis is seen, it can be removed and/or "burned" away. Girls Health — How can I avoid it? While there is no way to avoid endometriosis, there are several factors that reduce risk: Lifestyle—Low body weight my reduce risk by decreasing estrogen levels Contraceptive Use—Oral contraceptives may reduce risk Obstetric History—Pregnancy and breastfeeding reduce risk Treatment History—Prior medical/surgical treatment reduces risk Learn about girls' health issues and find helpful information and advice at BeingGirl.com.