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Women's reproductive health - Statistics & Facts

A woman’s reproductive health is integral to her overall well-being. Reproductive health is defined as a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to all aspects of reproduction, not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. An often-forgotten aspect is also menstrual health marking the beginning and menopause marking the end of reproductive health. While women in the United States generally enjoy better reproductive health than women of less developed countries, they are still plagued by issues such as a lack of education and information on various topics, period poverty or stigma, a lack of access to services, and gender disparities.

Menstrual health

The average age a girl in the United States reaches menarche – first menstruation period – is usually around 12 years old. For millions of women, menstruation is associated with pain and for nearly a quarter of teens, menstruation is associated with financial difficulties otherwise known as 'period poverty' – the inability to access menstrual hygiene products. This is a problem in the United States not just in developing nations and it has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, government action around the world show that something can be done, such as the abolition of the 'tampon tax'. In countries such as Kenya, Ireland, Canada, India, and many more, female sanitary items come tax-free. In comparison, in the U.S., tampon tax is still in effect in 30 states where women pay up to 10 percent in taxes for period products. Education is often lacking in menstrual health and a survey in 2021 found that roughly three quarters of teens agreed they “were taught more about the biology of frogs than of the human female body at school” and 40 percent were confused or unprepared for their first menstruation. Despite menstruation being a sign of fertility and health, even today, there is stigma and shame associated with it and young women are suffering for this.

Menopause and perimenopause

On the opposite end of menarche there is menopause, the end of a woman’s menstruation cycle. While the average age of menopause is 51 years, most women go through perimenopause, the transitional period before menopause, usually starting around the age of 45. While women experience various symptoms during menopause, the top three seem to be hot flashes, weight gain, and sleep difficulties. The length of time before women receive a formal menopause diagnosis from their health care provider could be up to a year for one fifth of women experiencing symptoms. This shows that there is again a lack of information and education, and not enough discussion about the physical and mental impact of menopause and hormone changes.

Reproductive health concerns

There are several female reproductive health concerns that lack public awareness and receive little attention despite being highly prevalent and possibly debilitating. One of them is endometriosis which is when lining of the uterus (endometrial tissue) grows outside the uterus causing chronic inflammation and severe pain. Other gynecological concerns include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is a hormone imbalance and metabolic disorder, and uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths in the uterus. It is estimated that all three conditions are underdiagnosed. In fact, endometriosis, PCOS, and uterine fibroids are leading causes of infertility and not until they have trouble conceiving, do many women find themselves confronted with these disorders and receive a diagnosis.

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