Women's health refers to the branch of medicine that focuses on the treatment and diagnosis of diseases and conditions that affect a woman's physical and emotional well-being.
Women's health includes a wide range of specialties and focus areas, such as:
- Birth control, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and gynecology
- Breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other female cancers
- Menopause and hormone therapy
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Sexual health
- Women and heart disease
- Benign conditions affecting the function of the female reproductive organs
PREVENTATIVE CARE AND SCREENINGS
Preventative care for women includes the following services:
- Regular gynecological checkups, including a pelvic exam and breast exam
- Pap smear and HPV testing
- Bone density testing
- Breast cancer screening
- Discussions about colon cancer screening
- Age-appropriate immunizations
- Healthy lifestyle risk assessment
- Hormonal testing for menopause
- Screening for STIs
Breast self-exam instruction may also be included.
BREAST CARE SERVICES
Breast care services include the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, which may involve:
- Breast biopsy
- Breast MRI scan
- Breast ultrasound
- Genetic testing and counseling for women with a family or personal history of breast cancer
- Hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy
- Mastectomy and breast reconstruction
The breast care services team may also diagnose and treat noncancerous conditions of the breast, including:
- Benign breast lumps
- Lymphedema, a condition in which excess fluid collects in tissue and causes swelling
SEXUAL HEALTH SERVICES
Your sexual health is an important part of your overall well-being. Women's sexual health services may include:
- Birth control (contraceptives)
- Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of sexually-transmitted infections
- Therapies to help with problems with sexual function
GYNECOLOGY AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES
Gynecology and reproductive health services may include the diagnosis and treatment of various conditions and diseases, including:
- Abnormal Pap smears
- Presence of high-risk HPV
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Heavy menstrual cycles
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Other vaginal infections
- Ovarian cysts
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Pelvic pain
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Uterine fibroids
- Uterine and vaginal prolapse
- Vaginal yeast infection
- Various conditions affecting the vulva and vagina
PREGNANCY AND CHILDBIRTH SERVICES
Regular prenatal care is an important part of every pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth services include:
- Planning and preparing for pregnancy, including information about proper diet, prenatal vitamins, and review of pre-existing medical conditions and medicines used
- Prenatal care, delivery, and postpartum care
- High-risk pregnancy care (maternal-fetal medicine)
- Breastfeeding and nursing
Infertility specialists are an important part of the women's health services team. Infertility services may include:
- Testing to determine the cause of infertility (a cause may not always be found)
- Blood and imaging tests to monitor ovulation
- Infertility treatments
- Counseling for couples who are dealing with infertility or loss of a baby
Types of infertility treatments that may be offered include:
- Medicines to stimulate ovulation
- Intrauterine insemination
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) -- Injection of a single sperm directly into an egg
- Embryo cryopreservation: Freezing embryos for use at a later date
- Egg donation
- Sperm banking
BLADDER CARE SERVICES
The women's health services team can also help diagnose and treat bladder-related conditions. Bladder-related conditions that may affect women can include:
- Bladder emptying disorders
- Urinary incontinence and overactive bladder
- Interstitial cystitis
- Prolapse of the bladder
If you have a bladder condition, your women's health specialist may recommend that you do Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles in your pelvic floor.
OTHER WOMEN'S HEALTH SERVICES
- Cosmetic surgery and skin care, including skin cancer
- Diet and nutrition services
- Psychological care and counseling for women dealing with abuse or sexual assault
- Sleep disorders services
- Smoking cessation
TREATMENTS AND PROCEDURES
Members of the women's health services team perform a variety of different treatments and procedures. Among the most common are:
- Cesarean section (C-section)
- Endometrial ablation
- Endometrial biopsy
- Mastectomy and breast reconstruction
- Pelvic laparoscopy
- Procedures to treat precancerous changes of the cervix (LEEP, Cone biopsy)
- Procedures to treat urinary incontinence
- Tubal ligation and reversal of tubal sterilization
- Uterine artery embolization
WHO TAKES CARE OF YOU
The women's health services team includes doctors and health care providers from a variety of different specialties. The team may include:
- Obstetrician/gynecologist (ob/gyn) -- A doctor who has received extra training in the treatment of pregnancy, reproductive organ problems, and other women's health issues.
- General surgeons specializing in breast care.
- Perinatologist -- An ob/gyn who has received further training and specializes in the care of high-risk pregnancies.
- Radiologist -- Doctors who received extra training and interpretation of different imaging as well as performing different procedures using imaging technology to treat disorders such as uterine fibroids.
- Physician assistant (PA).
- Primary care doctor.
- Nurse practitioner (NP).
- Nurse midwives.
This list may not be all-inclusive.
Freund K. Approach to women's health. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 237.
McGarry K, Babb K, Edmonds L, Duffy C, Anvar M, Jeremiah J. Women's health topics. In: Benjamin IJ, Griggs RC, Wing EJ, Fitz JG, eds. Andreoli and Carpenter's Cecil Essentials of Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 70.
Schrager SB, Paladine HL, Cadwallader K. Gynecology. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 25.
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.