Health years 18 to 39

Between the ages of 18 and 39 women will have already gone through significant changes to their bodies but it's during this period that you're more likely to be making decisions about your health and healthcare directly for yourself.

There are a number of common conditions which can affect women at this point in their lives to varying degrees, and it pays to be aware of any symptoms and when to seek medical advice.

Periods

There are a variety of ways your periods can have a negative impact on your life, whether they are particularly heavy, painful, irregular or non-existent. If you are concerned about your periods, there are a number of tests which can be carried out to see if there is any medical reason for your symptoms. Tests may include blood tests and an ultrasound scan.

Contraception

Whether you use the pill, IUCD, tubal ligation (sterilisation) or another form of contraception, there can be side effects and it’s important to be aware of what they are and how to spot them. It may be that you need to try a few different forms of contraception before you find the right one for you, so don't simply put up with any discomfort.

Pregnancy

Many women are trying to conceive between the ages of 18 and 39 and have no problems. However, there are a number of conditions which can either prevent you from getting pregnant or end a pregnancy early. Conditions such as endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome can affect your chances of getting pregnant, but there are a number of treatments available. It's important to be aware of any unusual symptoms such as irregular or non-existent periods, pelvic pain and sudden weight gain, and seek medical advice.

Smear abnormalities

Women between the ages of 25 and 49 are invited for cervical screening every three years to help detect any pre-cancerous cells in the cervix, as part of the NHS’s Cervical Screening Programme. Women under the age of 25 are not routinely invited for screening as cancer is rare in this age group. For around one in 20 women the test will show some abnormal changes in their cells, with around a fifth of those with mild abnormalities requiring treatment. Anyone showing more significant cell changes will normally be referred for a colposcopy.

Cervical cancer

If cancerous cells are found following a colposcopy, further tests such as ultrasound scans and MRI scan will help see how far the cancer has spread and what stage it is at. Cervical cancer is most common in under-35s and around 2,800 women in the UK are diagnosed each year, according to NHS statistics. While regular screening can help identify any issues early, you should seek medical advice between smears if you suffer from vaginal bleeding between periods, unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge or pelvic pain.

Pelvic pain

Pelvic pain is a common complaint and can be an indication of a number of conditions, including endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids or various infections. It’s important that you seek medical advice if you experience any pelvic pain, and a straightforward test such as swab, ultrasound, blood test or CT scan should be able to identify the cause.

Genital infections

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There are a wide range of genital infections which can affect women throughout their lives, caused by many different factors. If you experience symptoms such as vaginal discharge, vulval itching or pelvic pain, it’s worth seeking medical advice. The cause of the infection could be sexually transmitted or a hormonal or chemical change and most can be treated by a course of antibiotics or anti-fungal medication.