Monday, March 30, 2020
vagina

Sexual problems are more common in postmenopausal women, which suggests that menopause can reduce libido.

The reduced sex drive is often caused by decreased estrogen levels, which can dampen arousal and result in sex being more painful.

In this article, we look at how menopause might affect someone’s sex drive, along with what can be done to improve libido.

Menopause and libido

What is menopause?

Menopause refers to when a woman stops having her period permanently, but it can affect more than a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Menopause can cause physical and emotional changes that impact a woman’s life, including her sex life.

Some symptoms and side effects associated with menopause include:

  • anxiety
  • bladder control issues
  • decreased sex drive and desire (libido)
  • depression
  • difficulty sleeping
  • thinning hair
  • weight gain

Each of these effects can impact a woman’s quality of life and relationship with her partner.

What is libido?

Libido refers to sexual interest and sexual enjoyment.

Some women going through menopause report reduced libido, but the causes vary from person to person.

According to one review, the reported rates of sexual problems in postmenopausal women are between 68 and 86.5 percent.

This range is much higher than in all women in general, which is estimated to be between 25 and 63 percent.

Why does menopause affect libido?

Decreased estrogen levels can result in reduced blood flow to the vagina, which can cause the tissues of the vagina and labia to become thinner. If this happens, they become less sensitive to sexual stimulation.

Decreased blood flow also affects vaginal lubrication and overall arousal. As a result, a woman may not enjoy sex as much and may have difficulty achieving orgasm. Sex may be uncomfortable or even painful.

Fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause and menopause can also affect a woman’s mental health, which in turn, may cause a decrease in her libido.

Stress can also impact a woman’s libido, as she may be juggling a job, parenting, and be caring for aging parents. The changes in hormone levels a woman may experience during menopause may make her irritable or depressed, so dealing with everyday stress may feel more difficult.

According to an article published in the Journal of Women’s Health, women who have more significant side effects associated with menopause are more likely to report lower libido levels.

Examples of these side effects include hot flashes, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and fatigue.

Other factors that make a woman going through menopause more likely to experience a reduced libido include:

  • history of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or depression
  • history of smoking
  • engaging in low levels of physical activity

A woman should talk to her doctor about how these conditions could affect her sex drive.

Tips for improving libido

There are several steps a woman can take to increase her libido. These include medical treatments, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.

Medical treatments

middle aged couple enjoying a bike ride
Spending time together on shared hobbies, exercising, and planned dates will help increase a couple’s intamacy.

If a woman experiences changes to her vaginal tissue, such as thinning and dryness, she may wish to consider estrogen therapy.

Prescription estrogen can be applied directly to the vagina in the form of creams, pills, or vaginal rings. These usually contain lower doses of estrogen than regular birth control pills.

Some women may wish to take estrogen pills that contain higher levels of hormones. This treatment, known as hormone replacement therapy, might help reduce symptoms, such as hot flashes and mood changes, but may also carry risks.

A woman thinking about hormone replacement therapy should discuss it with her doctor before starting to take any medication.

One study found that women using hormone therapies reported higher levels of sexual desire compared with women who did not.

Less commonly, a doctor may prescribe testosterone therapy. However, not all women respond to this treatment, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not approve it for treating sexual disorders in women.

A woman may not experience any changes in her sex drive after using estrogen or testosterone therapies.

A woman may also choose to see a therapist who specializes in sexual dysfunction or enhancing sex. Sometimes, couples may want to attend therapy together.

Lifestyle changes

Some women may benefit from using water-soluble lubricants during sex. These can be purchased over-the-counter at most drugstores.

However, women should avoid non-water soluble and silicone-based lubricants, as these can break down condoms used to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Increasing physical activity, such as getting 30 minutes or more of exercise on a routine basis, may help reduce menopause-related symptoms, including a low libido. Eating a healthful diet can also enhance a person’s overall sense of well being.

Changing sexual habits

There are many ways a person can foster a sense of intimacy with their partner, including:

  • Changing sexual routines: Try spending extended periods on foreplay, use vibrators or other sex toys to enhance an intimate experience, or engage in sexual activity or touching without the goal of orgasm.
  • Relieving stress together: There are many stress-relieving techniques a couple can do outside of the bedroom to increase intimacy. Examples include going on planned dates together, taking a walk, or spending time doing hobbies together, such as exercise, crafts, or cooking.
  • Practicing masturbation: Spending time alone and exploring what types of touch and sexual stimulation work well for an individual can help them talk to a partner about their needs and preferences. It can also help a person feel more comfortable with sexual activity without the pressure of a partner.

Natural remedies

Some women use natural supplements to try to increase their libido. It is important to keep in mind that the FDA do not regulate herbs and supplements, so women should be sure to choose a reputable brand.

Some natural remedies used to increase libido in women include:

  • black cohosh
  • red clover
  • soy

A woman should discuss these remedies with a doctor before taking them to ensure they will not interact negatively with other prescriptions and supplements she may be taking. Soy contains estrogen, so it may react with other estrogen therapies.

When to see a doctor

A woman should speak to her doctor whenever perimenopause or menopause is having a significant impact on her day-to-day activities, including sexual activity.

Sometimes, a doctor can recommend changes in health habits as well as discuss whether prescription medications may help relieve the symptoms, including a low libido.

Speaking with a doctor can also rule out any other underlying medical conditions that may cause a reduced libido. These conditions include urinary tract infections, uterine prolapse, endometriosis, or pelvic floor dysfunction.

Outlook

While some women do experience a decreased libido in menopause, others do not.

Some women may even experience a heightened libido after menopause. This can be due to reduced stresses over pregnancy and fewer child-rearing responsibilities.

If a woman’s libido is impacted after menopause, she should talk to her doctor about treatments that could enhance her quality of life.

The muscles, ligaments, and tissues of the pelvic floor support the bladder, rectum, and sexual organs. When the supportive structures weaken or become especially tight, doctors describe it as pelvic floor dysfunction. It is a common health issue.

When a person has pelvic floor dysfunction, the organs in the pelvis may drop. They often press down on the bladder or rectum, causing a leakage of urine or stool. Or, a person with this condition may have trouble urinating or passing stool.

Keep reading to learn more about pelvic floor dysfunction — including the symptoms, treatments, and some exercises that may help.

What is pelvic floor dysfunction?

The pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments, and tissues that surround the pelvic bone. The muscles attach to the front, back, and sides of the bone, as well as to the lowest part of the spine, called the sacrum.

The function of the pelvic floor is to support the organs in the pelvis, which can include the:

  • bladder
  • rectum
  • urethra
  • uterus
  • vagina
  • prostate

People with pelvic floor dysfunction may have weak or especially tight pelvic floor muscles.

When the muscles tighten, or spasm, people may have trouble urinating or passing stool. When they weaken, the organs within the pelvis may drop and press down on the rectum and bladder.

The table below outlines several common types of pelvic floor dysfunction.

Type of pelvic floor dysfunctionDescription
Obstructed defecationThis occurs when stool enters the rectum, but the body cannot fully evacuate the bowels.
RectoceleThis involves tissue from the rectum protruding into the vagina. Stool may get caught in this pocket, forming a bulge in the vagina.
Pelvic organ prolapseThis refers to the pelvic floor stretching and the pelvic organs dropping as a result of age, childbirth, or a collagen disorder.
Paradoxical puborectalis contractionThis involves a pelvic floor muscle called the puborectalis contracting. When it happens, trying to pass stool may feel like pushing against a closed door.
Levator syndromeThis involves the pelvic floor muscles spasming after bowel movements. It can cause lasting dull pain or achy pressure high in the rectum.
CoccygodyniaThis refers to pain in the tailbone that worsens during and after bowel movements.
Proctalgia fugaxThis involves painful spasms of the rectum and muscles in the pelvic floor.
Pudendal neuralgiaThis refers to irritation or damage to the pudendal nerves, which help the pelvis function.
UrethroceleThis refers to the urethra pressing into the vagina.
EnteroceleThis involves the small intestine descending and pushing into the vagina, forming a bulge.
CystoceleThis involves the bladder dropping and pushing into the vagina.
Uterine prolapseThis refers to the uterus descending and pushing into the vagina.

Symptoms

Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause a variety of symptoms, and some can interfere with daily life.

Depending on the type of pelvic floor dysfunction, a person may experience:

  • pelvic pain
  • pressure
  • a bulge somewhere in the lower pelvic region
  • stress urinary incontinence, which involves a small amount of urine leaking from the body due to an activity such as coughing
  • involuntary leakage of stool
  • incomplete urination
  • bowel movement dysfunction
  • pain during sexual intercourse

Also, some people who see their doctors about bladder overactivity find that pelvic floor dysfunction is responsible.

Causes

Many issues can cause the structures of the pelvic floor to weaken, including:

  • age
  • systemic diseases
  • lasting health issues that cause increased pressure in the abdomen and pelvis, such as a chronic cough
  • pregnancy
  • trauma during delivery
  • multiple deliveries
  • large babies
  • operative delivery

Research indicates that stress urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, or both occur in about half of all women who have given birth. These issues are closely associated with birth-related injury to the pelvic floor muscles.

The pelvic floor muscles can also stretch naturally with age. Stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse become more common with increasing age in females, for example.

Collagen disorders can also affect the muscles’ ability to support the pelvic organs.

Meanwhile, coccygodynia usually stems from trauma to the tailbone, such as from a fall. That said, in about one-third of people with the condition, the cause of coccygodynia is unknown. The pain can make having a bowel movement difficult.

Exercises

Doctors recommend pelvic floor exercises in various situations.

They may particularly benefit pregnant women because the pelvic floor muscles can stretch and weaken during labor. Strengthening these muscles may help prevent incontinence after the baby is born. Some doctors recommend that women who wish to become pregnant start the exercises ahead of time.

Males can also benefit from pelvic floor exercises, though the dysfunction is more common in females. In males, these exercises can help prevent pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence and improve sexual intercourse.

To exercise these muscles, a person should be sitting comfortably. Then, they should attempt to squeeze their pelvic muscles without holding their breath.

It is important to isolate the correct muscles without tightening those of the stomach, buttocks, or and thighs.

Doctors recommend that females aim to do 10 long squeezes — holding each for 10 seconds — followed by 10 short squeezes. However, initially, it may be a good idea to practice holding a squeeze for a few seconds at a time.

By practicing frequently, a person should be able to add more contractions to their routine week by week. It is important to do this gradually and to avoid overworking the muscles.

Within a few months, a person may notice a reduction in their symptoms. Even if symptoms resolve completely, a person should continue strengthening these muscles.

There are physical therapists who specialize in pelvic floor dysfunction. A person may find that consulting one of these professionals leads to a better outcome.

Treatment

Doctors determine the cause of pelvic floor dysfunction before recommending treatment because different types of dysfunction require different approaches.

The purpose of treatment is to relieve or reduce symptoms and improve the person’s quality of life. For some people, a combination of treatment methods works best.

Doctors may recommend:

  • Dietary changes: For example, eating more fiber, drinking more fluids, and taking certain medications can make bowel movements easier.
  • Laxatives: Taking a daily laxative may help people with pelvic floor dysfunction pass stool, but it is important to consult a healthcare provider first because not all laxatives are equally effective.
  • Pain relief: Some people require injections of pain relief or anti-inflammatory medication to relieve their symptoms.
  • Biofeedback: This involves electrical stimulation, ultrasound therapy, or massage of the pelvic floor muscles to help improve rectal sensation and muscle contraction.
  • Pessary: A doctor or nurse inserts a pessary into the vagina to support prolapsed organs. This type of device can help treat various symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, either as an alternative to surgery or while a person awaits surgery.
  • Surgery: When prolapse interferes with daily activities, a doctor may recommend surgery. Large rectoceles also require surgery if the person experiences symptoms.

Stem cell therapies

Researchers behind a 2016 study investigated whether a stem cell-based therapy could resolve pelvic floor dysfunction in rats.

The researchers engineered the stem cells to produce and release elastin and collagen into the pelvic floor and injected them into rats with pelvic floor dysfunction.

The elastin and collagen promoted the repair of pelvic floor structures and decreased signs of stress urinary incontinence.

In a final component of the study, the researchers developed stem cells that blocked a factor that stops the production of elastin. This promoted increased production and release of elastin into the pelvic floor.

With further studies, researchers may find that similar therapies are effective in humans.

When to see a doctor

Anyone who experiences painful bowel movements, difficulty urinating or passing stool, pelvic pain, or pain during sexual intercourse should speak with a doctor.

An unusual bulge in the lower pelvic region may also be a reason to see a doctor, though a bulge alone may not be a cause for concern.

People with pelvic floor dysfunction have plenty of treatment options. While the topic may be uncomfortable to bring up with a doctor, it is important to seek professional advice about these symptoms.

While some family doctors may not be familiar with pelvic floor dysfunction, specialists such as colorectal doctors, urologists, and gynecologists can help diagnose the issue and recommend the best course of action.

Summary

Pelvic floor dysfunction can affect anyone, but pregnant women have the highest risk.

The various types of pelvic floor dysfunction stem from different causes, and a doctor must identify the underlying issue before developing a treatment plan.

Exercises can help some people with pelvic floor dysfunction. Depending on the cause, a doctor may also recommend dietary changes, medication, a pessary, biofeedback, or surgery.

Regular vaginal discharge is a sign of a healthy female reproductive system. Normal vaginal discharge contains a mixture of cervical mucus, vaginal fluid, dead cells, and bacteria.

Females may experience heavy vaginal discharge from arousal or during ovulation. However, excessive vaginal discharge that smells bad or looks unusual can indicate an underlying condition.

This articles discusses why someone may have heavy vaginal discharge and what they can do about it.

1. Arousal

Sexual arousal triggers several physical responses in the body. Arousal increases blood flow in the genitals. As a result, the blood vessels enlarge, which pushes fluid to the surface of the vaginal walls.

Arousal fluid is clear and watery with a slippery texture. This fluid helps lubricate the vagina during sex.

Other signs of female arousal include:

  • increased heart rate and breathing
  • flushing of the face, neck, and chest
  • swelling of the breasts
  • erect nipples

2. Ovulation

Cervical fluid is a gel-like liquid that contains proteins, carbohydrates, and amino acids. The texture and amount of cervical fluid both change throughout a female’s menstrual cycle.

For example, after menstruation, cervical fluid has a thick, mucus-like texture. It can be cloudy, white, or yellow.

Estrogen levels increase closer to ovulation. This causes the cervical fluid to become clear and slippery, similar to that of raw egg whites.

Cervical fluid discharge increases during the days leading up to ovulation and decreases after ovulation. Females may have no discharge for a few days after their period.

3. Hormonal imbalances

Hormonal imbalances related to stress, diet, or underlying medical conditions can cause heavier vaginal discharge.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), for example, refers to a set of symptoms that occur as a result of hormonal imbalances. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PCOS affects up to 5 million females in the United States.

Those with PCOS have higher levels of male hormones called androgens. Increased androgen levels can:

  • change the amount or texture of cervical fluid
  • cause irregular periods
  • prevent ovulation

Not everyone with PCOS will have increased vaginal discharge. Paying attention to other PCOS symptoms may help someone identify and seek treatment for the condition faster.

Some other symptoms of PCOS to look out for include:

  • fewer than eight periods in 1 year, or periods that occur every roughly 21 days
  • excess facial and body hair
  • thinning hair or hair loss
  • acne on the face and body
  • weight gain
  • darkening of the skin on the neck, groin, or breasts
  • skin tags on the armpits or neck

Hormonal birth control, such as birth control pills and intrauterine devices, can also cause increased vaginal discharge, especially during the first few months of use.

Excess vaginal discharge and other symptoms, such as spotting and cramping, usually resolve once the body adjusts to the hormonal birth control.

4. Vaginitis

Vaginitis refers to inflammation of the vagina, which can occur from an infection or irritation due to factors such as douches, lubricants, and ill-fitting clothing.

Vaginitis can cause thick vaginal discharge that may be white, gray, yellow, or green.

Other symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • foul vaginal odor
  • an itching or burning sensation in the genital area
  • redness or inflammation of the vagina
  • pain or discomfort when urinating
  • pain during sexual intercourse

5. Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a condition that results from an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. This vaginal infection is the most common among females aged 15–44 years.

The exact cause of bacterial vaginosis remains unclear. Females can develop bacterial vaginosis after sexual intercourse. However, this condition is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

According to the Office on Women’s Health, those who have bacterial vaginosis may notice a milky or gray-colored vaginal discharge. Some also report a strong, fishy vaginal odor, especially after sexual intercourse.

Bacterial vaginosis can also cause:

  • discomfort when urinating
  • painful burning or itching in the vagina
  • irritation of the skin around the vagina

6. Yeast infection

Vaginal yeast infections result from an overgrowth of the Candida fungus. Females of all ages can develop a vaginal yeast infection, and nearly 70% will have a yeast infection at some point in their lives.

The most common symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is an intense itching in the vagina and vulva.

Vaginal yeast infections can also cause an odorless vaginal discharge that looks similar to cottage cheese.

Vaginal yeast infections are treatable at home using over-the-counter antifungal ointments. Symptoms should improve within a few days. However, severe infections can last longer and may require medical treatment.

7. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is an STI caused by a parasite. Females can develop trichomoniasis after having sex with someone who has the parasite.

Although most people who have trichomoniasis do not experience symptoms, some may have an itching or burning sensation in the genital area.

Trichomoniasis infections can also cause excess vaginal discharge that has a foul or fishy odor and a white, yellow, or green color. It may also be thinner than usual.

What is healthy discharge?

Healthy vaginal discharge varies from person to person. It also changes throughout their menstrual cycle.

In general, healthy vaginal discharge can appear thin and watery or thick and cloudy. Clear, white, or off-white vaginal discharge is also perfectly normal.

Some females may have brown, red, or black vaginal discharge at the end of their menstrual periods if their vaginal discharge still contains blood from the uterus.

Natural hormonal changes during ovulation can cause an increase in vaginal discharge, which should return to normal after ovulation.

When to see a doctor

It is not always necessary to see a doctor about excessive vaginal discharge. However, a female may want to consider seeing their doctor if their vaginal discharge has an abnormal appearance.

Yellow, green, gray, or foul-smelling vaginal discharge could indicate an infection. Other reasons to see a doctor include:

  • itching or burning near the genitals
  • discomfort or pain when urinating
  • discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse

Possible treatment options

Treating excess vaginal discharge depends on the underlying cause.

People can reduce symptoms of vaginitis by avoiding the source of irritation. Doctors can treat bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections using antibiotics or antifungals.

Doctors can also treat trichomoniasis using antibiotics. The CDC recommend that females wait 7–10 days after receiving treatment before having sex.

Treatment for PCOS varies depending on the individual. A doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes and medications to help people manage their symptoms and regulate their hormone levels.

Maintaining a healthy body weight and eating a varied diet low in added sugars may also help improve some symptoms of PCOS. Birth control pills that contain estrogen or progestin can help balance out excess levels of androgens.

Tips for managing heavy vaginal discharge

Even healthy vaginal discharge can cause discomfort at times. Here are some tips for managing heavy vaginal discharge:

  • Wear panty liners. However, be sure not to let them become too moist, as this can increase the risk of urinary tract infections and vaginitis.
  • Choose breathable underwear made from natural fibers such as cotton.
  • Avoid wearing tight pants.
  • Avoid using hygiene products that contain added fragrances, coloring agents, or other harsh chemicals.
  • Keep the genital area clean and dry.
  • Wipe from the front to the back when using the bathroom.

Outlook

Excess vaginal discharge can occur as a result of arousal, ovulation, or infections. Normal vaginal discharge ranges in color from clear or milky to white.

The consistency of vaginal discharge also varies from thin and watery to thick and sticky. Generally, healthy vaginal discharge should be relatively odorless.

A female can speak with a healthcare professional if they notice any symptoms of an infection. Some symptoms to look out for include:

  • yellow, green, or gray vaginal discharge
  • foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • discharge that looks similar to cottage cheese
  • itching or burning in or near the genitals

Doctors can easily treat most vaginal infections using antimicrobial medications. Depending on the severity of the infection, people may see their symptoms improving within a few days to weeks.

People may have heard that peeing after sex is beneficial, especially for women. This is because peeing flushes bacteria out of the body, which may help prevent a urinary tract from developing.

Here, we look at how peeing after sex may help to prevent urinary tract infections. We also discuss whether there are any other benefits to peeing after sex.

Benefits of peeing after sex

Sexual intercourse is a risk factor for urinary tract infections (UTIs).

During sex, bacteria can pass from the genitals to the urethra.

The urethra is the tube that connects the bladder to the urethral opening where urine comes out. Bacteria can then make its way from the urethra to the bladder, resulting in a UTI.

Peeing after sex helps to flush bacteria out of the urethra, helping to prevent UTIs.

How can it help prevent UTIs?

Females are up to 30 times more likely to get a UTI than males. This is due to two reasons: Firstly, the female urethra is close to the vagina and anus. This means that bacteria can easily spread from these areas to the urethra. Secondly, the urethra is shorter in females than it is in males. This means that bacteria that enter the urethra can reach the bladder more easily.

In women, peeing after sex can help to flush any bacteria away from the urethra.

For males, peeing after sex is less important. This is because males have a longer urethra. As a result, bacteria from the genital area is less likely to reach the bladder.

Although there is no solid evidence to confirm that peeing after sex can prevent UTIs, there is no harm in following this practice. It may help to reduce the risk of UTIs, especially in women and people who are more prone to UTIs.

Does it prevent pregnancy?

Peeing after sex will not prevent pregnancy. The urethra and vagina are separate parts of the female anatomy. As a result, peeing will not affect any sperm that enter the vagina. Using some form of birth control is the only way to prevent pregnancy during sex.

Does it prevent STIs?

Peeing after sex does not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). People contract STIs by absorbing bacteria through the mucous membranes inside their bodies during sexual intercourse. Peeing after sex will not prevent these bacteria from entering the body.

Using a condom or other form of barrier contraceptives during sex can help to reduce the risk of STIs.

How soon after sex should you pee?

There is no recommended time to pee after having sex, although some anecdotal sources suggest peeing within 30 minutes after sex. In general, the sooner people pee after sex, the sooner they can flush out bacteria before it travels up the urethra.

If people are struggling to pee after sex, drinking a glass or two of water may help. A larger amount of urine will also be more effective in flushing out bacteria.

Other ways to prevent UTIs

The following tips may also help to reduce a person’s risk of getting a UTI:

  • drinking 8-10 glasses of water each day to ensure regular flushing of bacteria out of the urethra
  • peeing whenever the urge arises, rather than holding in urine
  • avoiding going more than 3 or 4 hours without urinating
  • always wiping from front to back after going to the toilet
  • cleaning the genitals with warm water each day
  • avoiding using scented female hygiene products
  • avoiding douching
  • avoiding using spermicides if prone to UTIs
  • wearing loose cotton underwear
  • avoiding tight clothing
  • avoiding staying in wet bathing or workout clothes that can trap moisture and harbor bacteria around the genitals
  • limiting baths to 30 minutes or less, or taking showers
  • drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry extracts

When to see a doctor

People should see a doctor if they experience the following symptoms of a UTI:

  • painful or burning sensation when urinating
  • feeling the need to urinate often, despite passing only a small amount of urine each time
  • cloudy urine
  • foul-smelling urine
  • blood in the urine
  • pressure or pain in the lower abdomen
  • feeling tired, weak, or shaky
  • confusion

If people have a UTI, a doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. People will usually start feeling better within a few days.

In some cases, a UTI can make its way up to the kidneys. A kidney infection can be severe and requires immediate medical treatment. Symptoms of a kidney infection include:

  • a fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pain in the lower back

People should also see their doctor if they notice any unusual or painful symptoms during or after sex. These could be symptoms of an STI.

Summary

Peeing after sex may help to flush bacteria out of the urethra, thereby helping to prevent a urinary tract infection (UTI). It may be especially helpful for women, or people who are prone to UTIs.

However, peeing after sex will not prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

People should see a doctor if they experience symptoms of a UTI or STI. Some people may require treatment with antibiotics.

Over the years, many scientists have set out to answer the same question: Does the month or season of your birth influence mortality risk? A recent study takes a deeper look at this query.

Scientists from the United States, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Lithuania, Japan, and elsewhere, have investigated this topic.

Some of these earlier studies concluded that, in the northern hemisphere, people born in November have the lowest risk of overall mortality and heart disease-related mortality.

Conversely, those born in the spring or summer have the highest risk; this increase peaks in May. In the southern hemisphere, these general patterns shift by 6 months.

Although scientists have spent a great deal of time and effort investigating this relationship, exactly how your month of birth might influence your future health is still unclear.

Some scientists believe that the birth-month mortality effect may have its roots in socioeconomic factors. However, to date, few studies on this topic have been able to control their analysis for socioeconomic factors.

Recently, scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, MA, looked into this question once more. They published their findings in the BMJ.

Access to detailed data

To investigate, the researchers took data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which began in the 1970s; it involved 121,700 registered U.S. female nurses who were 30–55 years of age at enrollment. The dataset includes information about each participant, including medical history, weight, height, smoking status, demographics, and lifestyle factors.

The Nurses’ Health Study provides impressively granular detail; for instance, it contains information about the education level of the participants’ husbands, and whether the participant’s parents owned their home at the time they were born.

In all, 116,911 participants were eligible for the current study; the authors collated information about the causes of any deaths. Over 38 years of follow-up, there were 43,248 deaths.

Was there an effect?

Once the scientists had adjusted their analysis for a range of variables, they found no significant association between overall mortality and either the month or season of their birth. However, they did identify an effect on cardiovascular mortality risk. The authors write:

“[C]ompared with women born in November, those born from March to July had a higher mortality for cardiovascular disease […] while women born in December […] had the lowest cardiovascular disease-related mortality.”

When they looked at cardiovascular disease and the seasons, they identified a small but statistically significant relationship. They measured an increase in the risk of death from heart disease for those born in spring and summer when compared with those born in fall.

After controlling for a number of factors, including familial and socioeconomic variables, the relationship remained significant.

These results are in line with other large scale studies. For instance, the authors discuss two Swedishstudies, both of which involved millions of participants and 20 years of follow-up. As with the current research, they measured the lowest cardiovascular mortality rate in those born in November.

“Previous epidemiological studies have relatively consistently described individuals born in November to have the lowest risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality,” explain the authors, “and those born in the spring or summer to have the highest mortality risk.”

Does vitamin D play a role?

The findings from the most recent investigation suggest that socioeconomic factors may not be the primary reason for varying cardiovascular mortality rates with the season of birth. Scientists still do not know why this pattern emerges, but there are some theories.

Some experts suspect that vitamin D might play a part. They argue that if a pregnant woman experiences less sunlight during pregnancy — in the winter months, for instance — she may be deficient in vitamin D.

This deficiency, perhaps, could increase the future cardiac risk of the unborn child. At this stage, however, there is no evidence to back up this theory.

In their paper, the authors also wonder whether this small but significant seasonal trend will stand the test of time. As people live for longer, as food is now readily available all year round, and as the climate changes, perhaps this effect will dwindle, or maybe it will gradually shift. Whatever the answer, only time will tell.

It is worth noting that there are certain limitations to the latest study. For instance, the research only included females and, although the team controlled for a range of variables, there is always the possibility that a variable the scientists did not measure was driving the relationship.

With that said, the large dataset, detailed analysis, and agreement with other large studies make the latest findings compelling.

An HCG pregnancy test checks human chorionic gonadotropin levels in the blood or urine. This measurement means that an HCG test can test whether a woman is pregnant, as well as whether their body is producing the right level of pregnancy hormones.

Typically, HCG levels increase steadily during the first trimester, peak, then decline as the pregnancy progresses in the second and third trimesters.

Doctors may order several HCG blood tests over a number of days in order to monitor how the HCG levels change. This HCG trend can help doctors determine how a pregnancy is developing.

In this article, we take a look at human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) levels and how they relate to pregnancy. We also examine the potential results and accuracy of an HCG pregnancy test.

What is HCG?

Cells that become the placenta produce the hormone HCG. The HCG levels in the body quickly rise during the first few weeks of pregnancy.

HCG levels not only signal pregnancy but are also a way to measure whether a pregnancy is developing correctly.

Very low HCG levels may point to a problem with the pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy, or warn that a miscarriage could happen. Rapidly rising HCG levels can signal a molar pregnancy when a uterine tumor grows.

Doctors require multiple HCG measurements in order to track the development of a pregnancy.

HCG levels stop rising late in the first trimester. This leveling out may be why many women experience relief from pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea and fatigue, around this time.

How HCG works as a pregnancy test

Many women have very low levels of HCG in their blood and urine when they are not pregnant. HCG tests detect elevated levels.

Tests may not detect pregnancy until HCG has risen to a certain level. This requirement means tests that detect lower levels of HCG may diagnose pregnancy earlier.

Blood tests are typically more sensitive than urine tests. However, many home urine tests are highly sensitive. A 2014 analysisTrusted Source found that four types of home pregnancy tests were able to detect HCG levels up to 4 days before the expected period, or about 10 days after ovulation for many women.

How to read the results

People must read the urine test instructions and follow them carefully. Most tests use lines to show when a test is positive. The test line does not have to be as dark as the control line to be positive. Any line at all indicates the test is positive.

Test strips can change color as they dry. Some people notice an evaporation line after several minutes. This is a very faint line that may look like a shadow.

An individual must check the test within the time frame the instructions indicate, usually 3 minutes. Tests read after 10 minutes may be inaccurate or show evaporation lines.

Accuracy

HCG tests are more likely to produce false negatives than false positives. The longer after implantation a person waits to do the test, the more accurate it will be. HCG levels begin rising when an embryo implants in the uterus.

Implantation usually happens a week or so after ovulation. It can take several days for HCG levels to rise high enough for a test to detect the hormone.

Due to how long it takes for HCG levels to rise, it is possible for a woman to be pregnant and still get a negative test. A positive result usually appears after retesting a few days later.

False-positive results are rareTrusted Source. However, because home pregnancy tests are increasingly sensitive, some can detect very early pregnancies with low HCG levels.

This sensitivity means it is possible to have a positive test that a very early miscarriage then follows. A woman who delayed testing or who used a less sensitive test might not have known about the miscarriage.

In rare cases, a woman can have abnormally high levels of HCG even though they are not pregnant. The most common reasons for this include:

  • a recent miscarriage
  • using certain fertility drugs
  • molar pregnancy, which is a pregnancy that implants but fails to grow, and which instead becomes a mass inside the uterus

Less common causes include:

  • cancer, including tumors that secrete HCG
  • endocrine disorders, especially pituitary gland issues
  • unusual antibodies in the blood

Factors that could affect results

In addition to testing too early, the following factors can cause a false negative with a urine HCG test:

  • drinking lots of water so that the urine is very diluted
  • getting too much or too little urine on the test strip
  • testing with urine late in the day when it may be weaker

Tests that have passed their expiry date may produce false positives or negatives. Reused tests are not accurate.

Risks

HCG tests are very safe. The urine test is risk-free. The blood test can cause brief pain and occasional bruising at the puncture site.

Urine HCG tests often return false-negative results, particularly very early in pregnancy. This can be stressful and demoralizing to people struggling to become pregnant. Blood tests are typically more accurate, though even these may fail to pick up low levels of HCG in early pregnancy.

It is also possible to get an early positive result. Some women get positive tests very early in pregnancy and then have a miscarriage a few days later.

If they had not had an early HCG test, they might not have known they were pregnant. This can be a stressful and alarming experience, with some people experiencing intense grief over the lost pregnancy.

Summary

Most people first learn about a pregnancy through a home HCG pregnancy test, and many confirm that the pregnancy is healthy with blood HCG testing. Though imperfect, the test is typically reliable, particularly as a pregnancy progresses.

The information that a single HCG test provides cannot differentiate between ectopic pregnancies, molar pregnancies, or other pregnancy complications. Doctors will need further information to identify these pregnancy issues and may request further blood HCG tests to observe a person’s HCG trend.

Although abnormally high or low HCG levels can indicate a problem with the pregnancy, this is not always the case.

People who have concerns about the development of the embryo or the pregnancy should ask a healthcare provider about additional testing options.

Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are common, and women can often experience them during pregnancy. Left untreated, a UTI can pose a serious health risk to a pregnant woman and a developing fetus.

This article outlines the possible causes of a UTI in pregnancy, as well as the potential risks. We also provide information on how to prevent and treat UTIs.

Is it common?

A UTI is an infection in any part of the urinary system, including the bladder and kidneys. Research suggests it is commonTrusted Source for pregnant women to get UTIs.

According to one study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 8%Trusted Source of pregnant women experience a UTI.

Causes

During pregnancy, the uterus expands for the growing fetus. This expansion puts pressure on the bladder and the ureters. The ureters are the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

The urine is also less acidic and contains more proteins, sugars, and hormones during pregnancy. This combination of factors increases the risk of a UTI occurring.

Women are also susceptible to UTIs during and after giving birth. During labor, there is an increased risk of bacteria entering the urinary tract. After giving birth, a woman may experience bladder sensitivity and swelling, which can make a UTI more likelyTrusted Source.

Symptoms

A person who has a UTI may experience the following symptoms:

  • urgent or frequent need to urinate
  • burning sensation when urinating
  • cloudy or strong smelling urine
  • blood in the urine
  • pain in the lower back, abdomen, and sides

People should tell their doctor straight away if they have blood in their urine, as this can be a sign of another condition.

In some cases, the bacterial infection causing a UTI can spread to the kidneys. A person who has a kidney infection may experience the following symptoms:

  • back pain
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea and vomiting

If people have these symptoms, they should see their doctor immediately. Kidney infections can be serious and require immediate medical treatment.

Treatments

Pregnant women should see their doctor if they have any symptoms of a UTI. Without treatment, a UTI can cause serious complications.

3-dayTrusted Source course of antibiotics may be necessary to treat a UTI during pregnancy. A doctor may prescribe one of the followingTrusted Source antibiotics:

  • amoxicillin
  • ampicillin
  • cephalosporins
  • nitrofurantoin
  • trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advise that pregnant women avoid nitrofurantoin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazoleTrusted Source during the first trimester. These antibiotics can cause birth abnormalities if a person takes them at this stage of their pregnancy.

According to a 2015 reviewTrusted Source, studies show that both nitrofurantoin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole are generally safe during the second and third trimesters. However, taking either antibiotic in the final weekTrusted Source before delivery may increase the risk of jaundice in newborns.

If pregnant women develop a kidney infection during pregnancy, they will need treatment in the hospital. This treatment will involve antibiotics and intravenous fluids.

A short course of antibiotics is unlikelyTrusted Source to cause any harm to a developing fetus. Research suggests that the benefits of taking antibiotics to treat a UTI far outweighTrusted Source the risks of leaving a UTI without treatment.

Home remedies

Women who are pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI should see a doctor. As well as medical treatment, they may also wish to try the following at home to help speed up recovery:

  • Drinking plenty of water: Water dilutes urine and helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.
  • Drinking cranberry juice: According to a 2012 reviewTrusted Source, cranberries contain compounds that may help to stop bacteria from attaching to the lining of the urinary tract. This action helps to prevent and eliminate infection.
  • Urinating when the urge arises: This helps bacteria pass out of the urinary tract more quickly.
  • Taking certain supplements: A 2016 studyTrusted Source found that a combination of vitamin C, cranberries, and probiotics may help to treat recurrent UTIs in women.

Some women may choose the above treatments as an alternative to antibiotics. However, they should always consult their doctor before doing so. A doctor will monitor a pregnancy regularly to check the effectiveness of natural treatments and ensure a UTI does not worsen.

Complications

Without treatment, UTIs can cause serious complications during pregnancy. Complications may include:

  • kidney infection
  • premature birth
  • sepsis

A baby born to a woman with an untreated UTI may also have a low birth weight at delivery.

If a UTI spreads to the kidneys, this can cause further complications, such as:

  • anaemia
  • high blood pressure, or hypertension
  • preeclampsia
  • breakdown of red blood cells, or hemolysis
  • low blood platelet count, or thrombocytopenia
  • bacteria in the bloodstream, or bacteremia
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome

In some cases, an infection may pass on to the newborn baby, causing a rare but severe complication. Attending screenings for UTIs during pregnancy and getting prompt treatment when one occurs can help prevent these complications.

Prevention

The following tips may help to reduce a person’s likelihood of getting a UTI:

  • drink plenty of water
  • drink unsweetened cranberry juice or take cranberry pills
  • wash carefully around the genitals and anus
  • pass urine whenever the urge arises, and at least every 2–3 hours
  • urinate before and after having sex

Pregnant women will usually attend a screening to check for UTIs in their early pregnancy. These checks are an important step in helping to prevent UTI infections or detecting them early.

Summary

UTIs are common, and some women may experience them during pregnancy.

Women who have symptoms of a UTI during pregnancy should see their doctor immediately. Without treatment, UTIs can cause serious complications for a pregnant woman and the developing fetus. Prompt intervention can help to prevent these complications.

Routine pregnancy checks help detect the early signs of a UTI.