Women's Health - Definitions - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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Women's Health Rehabilitation Glossary


Coccydynia—Pain in the tailbone.

Diastasis rectus abdominus—Pregnancy-related condition in which the rectus abdominus muscle of the abdomen splits or separates. It can cause abdominal pain and can contribute to pelvic joint pain in pregnancy and post-partum.

Dysmenorrhea—A menstrual condition characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramps and pain associated with menstruation. Primary dysmenorrhea is usually lifelong; it is characterized by severe and frequent menstrual cramping caused by severe and abnormal uterine contractions. Secondary dysmenorrhea is due to some physical cause and usually of later onset; painful menstrual periods caused by another medical condition present in the body (i.e., pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis) or associated with a musculoskeletal condition.

Dyspareunia—Painful intercourse experienced by a female.

Endometriosis—The name comes from the word "endometrium," which is the tissue that lines the uterus. During a woman's regular menstrual cycle, this tissue builds up and is shed if she does not become pregnant. Women with endometriosis develop tissue that looks and acts like endometrial tissue outside the uterus, usually on other reproductive organs inside the pelvis or in the abdominal cavity. Each month, this misplaced tissue responds to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle by building up and breaking down just as the endometrium does, resulting in internal bleeding. Endometriosis can cause pelvic pain.

Fecal incontinence (FI)—The loss of bowel control.

Gynecological Anatomy

  • Endometrium—The lining of the uterus.
  • Uterus—Also called the womb, the uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman's lower abdomen, between the bladder and the rectum.
  • Ovaries—Two female reproductive organs located in the pelvis.
  • Cervix—The lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) located between the bladder and the rectum. It forms a canal that opens into the vagina, which leads to the outside of the body.
  • Vagina—The passageway through which fluid passes out of the body during menstrual periods. It is also called the "birth canal." The vagina connects the cervix (the opening of the womb, or uterus) and the vulva (the external genitalia).
  • Vulva—The external portion of the female genital organs.
  • Urethra—Tube from the bladder to outside of the body, through which urine passes.

Hormone replacement therapy—Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is the use of estrogen to supplement a production deficit of estrogen by the body, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), is when estrogen and progestin (a synthetic progesterone) are used in combination.

HysterectomyThe surgical removal of the uterus.

InfertilityInfertility is a disease of the reproductive system that impairs the body's ability to perform the basic function of reproduction.

Interstitial cystitis (IC)A complex, chronic disorder characterized by an inflamed or irritated bladder wall. It can lead to scarring and stiffening of the bladder, decreased bladder capacity and glomerulations (pinpoint bleeding). IC may also be known as painful bladder syndrome or frequency-urgency-dysuria syndrome. These conditions may respond to physical rehabilitation treatment.

LymphedemaSwelling in the arm(s) or leg(s) caused by malfunction of the lymphatic system. Women who have undergone treatment involving the lymph nodes for breast cancer are at risk for developing lymphedema.

MenopauseWhen a woman permanently stops having menstrual periods, she has reached the stage of life called menopause. Menopause is said to be complete when menstrual periods have ceased for one continuous year. The transition phase before menopause is referred to as perimenopause. During this transition time before menopause, the supply of mature eggs in a woman's ovaries diminishes and ovulation becomes irregular. At the same time, the production of estrogen and progesterone decreases. It is the enormous drop in estrogen levels that causes most of the symptoms commonly associated with menopause.

NocturiaWaking up more than once a night to urinate.

OsteoporosisAlso known as "porous bone," this is a disease in which there is a loss of bone mass and destruction of bone tissue. This process causes weakening of the bones and makes them more likely to break. The bones most often affected are the hips, spine and wrists. For more please visit our Arthritis Information Center.  

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)Caused by a type of bacteria, often the same type that is responsible for several sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. In some cases, PID develops from bacteria that has traveled through the vagina and the cervix by way of an intrauterine device (IUD).

Pelvic painPain in the lower abdomen, groin, vagina or rectal area. It is a common complaint among women, although men can also experience pelvic pain. Its nature and intensity may fluctuate, and its cause is often obscure. In some cases, no disease is evident. Pelvic pain can be categorized as either acute, meaning the pain is sudden and severe, or chronic, lasting over a period of months or longer. Pelvic pain can be caused or made worse by musculoskeletal conditions such as pelvic joint dysfunction or muscle spasms.

Pelvic joint painPain, usually sharp in nature, in the front or the back of the pelvis.

Pubic symphysisJoint in the front of the pelvis.

Pelvic floor musclesMuscles of the pelvis that connect from the pubic bones in the front to the sides and the back of the pelvis and tailbone. Pelvic floor muscles surround the urethra, vagina and rectum and support the bladder and  uterus.

Sacroiliac jointTwo joints in the posterior pelvis that connect the lower back and sacrum to the ilium bones of the pelvis.

Sexual dysfunctionLack of sexual desire, inability to achieve orgasm or difficulty participating in sex activities not attributable to illness or disease.

Urinary incontinence (UI)Urinary incontinence (UI) is the loss of urine control. More than 20 million people in the United States experience incontinence - male and female (women over age 50 are the most likely to develop UI). However, women of all ages can experience UI. Urinary incontinence may be a temporary condition, resulting from an underlying medical condition. It can range from the discomfort of slight losses of urine to severe, frequent wetting. UI can often be successfully treated with physical therapy.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)Urinary tract infections are a serious but common health problem that affects millions of people each year. With the reason remaining unclear, women are especially prone to urinary tract infections.

Urinary urgency and frequencyA strong and abnormal urge to urinate, resulting in frequent urination.

Vulvar painSometimes called "vulvodynia," pain in the female vulva, the area around the vagina.