Obstetrics & Gynecology (OB-GYN)
Women's Health Resources
Mayo Clinic Health System is committed to providing up-to-date, clinically proven information on women's health. Choose a topic below, or read our Women's Health blog.
To perform a breast self-exam for breast awareness, use a methodical approach that ensures you cover your entire breast. For instance, imagine that your breasts are divided into equal wedges, like pieces of a pie, and sweep your fingers along each piece in toward your nipple.
Kegel ExercisesKegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. You can do Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle training, just about anytime.
Start by understanding what Kegel exercises can do for you — then follow step-by-step instructions for contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.
Why Kegel exercises matter
Many factors can weaken your pelvic floor muscles, including pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, aging, excessive straining from constipation or chronic coughing, and being overweight.
You might benefit from doing Kegel exercises if you:
- Leak a few drops of urine while sneezing, laughing or coughing (stress incontinence)
- Have a strong, sudden urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine (urinary incontinence)
- Leak stool (fecal incontinence)
Kegel exercises can be done during pregnancy or after childbirth to try to prevent urinary incontinence.
Keep in mind that Kegel exercises are less helpful for women who have severe urine leakage when they sneeze, cough or laugh. Also, Kegel exercises aren't helpful for women who unexpectedly leak small amounts of urine due to a full bladder (overflow incontinence).
How to do Kegel exercises
To get started:
- Find the right muscles. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. If you succeed, you've got the right muscles. Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles you can do the exercises in any position, although you might find it easiest to do them lying down at first.
- Perfect your technique. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
- Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
- Repeat three times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day.
Don't make a habit of using Kegel exercises to start and stop your urine stream. Doing Kegel exercises while emptying your bladder can actually lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder — which increases the risk of a urinary tract infection. Read more.
A woman's pelvic floor muscles work like a hammock to support the pelvic organs, including the uterus, bladder and rectum. Kegel exercises can help strengthen these muscles.
MenopauseMenopause is defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period and marks the end of menstrual cycles. Menopause can happen in your 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the United States.
Menopause is a natural biological process. Although it also ends fertility, you can stay healthy, vital and sexual. Some women feel relieved because they no longer need to worry about pregnancy.
Even so, the physical symptoms, such as hot flashes, and emotional symptoms of menopause may disrupt your sleep, lower your energy or — for some women — trigger anxiety or feelings of sadness and loss.
Don't hesitate to seek treatment for symptoms that bother you. Many effective treatments are available, from lifestyle adjustments to hormone therapy.
In the months or years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), you might experience these signs and symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
It's possible, but very unusual, to menstruate every month right up to your last period. More likely, you'll experience some irregularity in your periods.
Skipping periods during perimenopause is common and expected. Often, menstrual periods will occur every two to four months during perimenopause, especially one to two years before menopause. Despite irregular periods, pregnancy is possible. If you've skipped a period but aren't sure you've started the menopausal transition, you may want to determine whether you're pregnant.
When to see a doctor
Starting at perimenopause, schedule regular visits with your doctor for preventive health care and any medical concerns. Continue getting these appointments during and after menopause.
Preventive health care can include recommended screenings at menopause, such as a colonoscopy, mammography, lipid screening, thyroid testing if suggested by your history, and breast and pelvic exams.
Always seek medical advice if you have bleeding from your vagina after menopause.
Menstrual CycleDo you know when your last menstrual period began or how long it lasted? If not, it might be time to start paying attention.
Tracking your menstrual cycles can help you understand what's normal for you, time ovulation and identify important changes — such as a missed period or unpredictable menstrual bleeding. While menstrual cycle irregularities usually aren't serious, sometimes they can signal health problems.
What's the menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle is the monthly series of changes a woman's body goes through in preparation for the possibility of pregnancy. Each month, one of the ovaries releases an egg — a process called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn't fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina. This is a menstrual period.
The menstrual cycle, which is counted from the first day of one period to the first day of the next, isn't the same for every woman. Menstrual flow might occur every 21 to 35 days and last two to seven days. For the first few years after menstruation begins, long cycles are common. However, menstrual cycles tend to shorten and become more regular as you age.
Your menstrual cycle might be regular — about the same length every month — or somewhat irregular, and your period might be light or heavy, painful or pain-free, long or short, and still be considered normal. Within a broad range, "normal" is what's normal for you.
Keep in mind that use of certain types of contraception, such as extended-cycle birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs), will alter your menstrual cycle. Talk to your health care provider about what to expect.
When you get close to menopause, your cycle might become irregular again. However, because the risk of uterine cancer increases as you age, discuss any irregular bleeding around menopause with your health care provider.
How can I track my menstrual cycle?
To find out what's normal for you, start keeping a record of your menstrual cycle on a calendar. Begin by tracking your start date every month for several months in a row to identify the regularity of your periods.
If you're concerned about your periods, then also make note of the following every month:
- End date. How long does your period typically last? Is it longer or shorter than usual?
- Flow. Record the heaviness of your flow. Does it seem lighter or heavier than usual? How often do you need to change your sanitary protection? Have you passed any blood clots?
- Abnormal bleeding. Are you bleeding in between periods?
- Pain. Describe any pain associated with your period. Does the pain feel worse than usual?
- Other changes. Have you experienced any changes in mood or behavior? Did anything new happen around the time of change in your periods?
What causes menstrual cycle irregularities?
Menstrual cycle irregularities can have many different causes, including:
- Pregnancy or breast-feeding. A missed period can be an early sign of pregnancy. Breast-feeding typically delays the return of menstruation after pregnancy.
- Eating disorders, extreme weight loss or excessive exercising. Eating disorders — such as anorexia nervosa — extreme weight loss and increased physical activity can disrupt menstruation.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with this common endocrine system disorder may have irregular periods as well as enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid — called follicles — located in each ovary as seen during an ultrasound exam.
- Premature ovarian failure. Premature ovarian failure refers to the loss of normal ovarian function before age 40. Women who have premature ovarian failure — also known as primary ovarian insufficiency — might have irregular or occasional periods for years.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This infection of the reproductive organs can cause irregular menstrual bleeding.
- Uterine fibroids. Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterus. They can cause heavy menstrual periods and prolonged menstrual periods.
What can I do to prevent menstrual irregularities?
For some women, use of birth control pills can help regulate menstrual cycles. Treatment for any underlying problems, such as an eating disorder, also might help. However, some menstrual irregularities can't be prevented.
In addition, consult your health care provider if:
- Your periods suddenly stop for more than 90 days — and you're not pregnant
- Your periods become erratic after having been regular
- You bleed for more than seven days
- You bleed more heavily than usual or soak through more than one pad or tampon every hour or two
- Your periods are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
- You bleed between periods
- You develop severe pain during your period
- You suddenly get a fever and feel sick after using tampons
Remember, tracking your menstrual cycle can help you find out what's normal for you and what isn't. If you have questions or concerns about your menstrual cycle, talk to your health care provider.