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Women's Health

Your (Very Personal) Health at 20, 30, 40, 50

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Bacterial Vaginosis

The most common vaginal condition in women of childbearing age, bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when there's an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria found normally in the vagina. Symptoms are similar to those of a yeast infection, though typically milder. While researchers aren't sure what causes the bacterial imbalance that leads to BV, they do know it tends to happen to women in their 20s and 30s who are very sexually active or who have a new sexual partner or multiple partners. Douching can also disrupt bacterial balance, so don't do it, says Thacker. If you suspect you have BV, see your doctor for antibiotics. Left untreated, the bacteria can increase your susceptibility to STDs or UTIs, or cause complications if you're pregnant.

Menstrual Irregularities

Infrequent periods or irregular bleeding may signal polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition linked with high levels of androgens (hormones) that affects one in 10 women in their reproductive years and is usually diagnosed in women in their 20s and 30s. Other signs include ovarian cysts, obesity, and facial-hair growth, and it's the most common cause of female infertility.

While PCOS can't be cured, it can be treated, so see your doctor, who will run a series of tests (a physical exam, blood tests, and an ultrasound) to confirm the diagnosis. She may prescribe the Pill to help regulate your cycle and androgen levels. Maintaining a healthy weight is also key, since fat tissue elevates hormone levels. If you are trying to conceive, fertility drugs can help normalize ovulation.

For women age 40 or older, irregular or heavy bleeding may signal a polyp, a usually benign uterine growth that commonly occurs in women in their 40s and 50s (experts don't know why). If symptoms are disrupting your life, polyps can be surgically removed. Another source of period upset for the 40s set: thyroid problems. The thyroid gland powers brain regions that help regulate the ovaries. Once you hit 40, get a thyroid test every five years, since thyroid function naturally decreases with age, says Goist. Meds are available to treat an underactive or overactive thyroid.

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