The Female Body
Understanding How The Body Works

Health Topics


Diagram of the female body

Guide To The Female Body

Contents

Brain
Neck Area
Organs In The Chest
Abdominal Region
Reproductive System
Bones And Joints
How Does The Body Change At Puberty?

Statistics: Main Causes Of Death In Women
More diagrams: The Human Body.
Life stage changes: Development Of The Female Body.


Looking At The Female Body

This section illustrates the main organs of the female body.

BRAIN

Diagram of the human brain

 

Things That Can Go Wrong In The Brain

Strokes: Brain attack, blood flow to the brain is restricted.
Mini-Stroke: A 'small' stroke, can indicate something bigger is brewing.
Head And Face Disorders: Headaches, depression and more.
Effects of Depression: How is affects brain chemistry.

The brain is the most important organ of the body. Its main function is to control the other organs and ensure they are working together as a team. It can rapidly send action messages to the body through the central nervous system (causing muscles to react) or via chemicals called hormones which are like little messengers. The left side of the body is controlled by the right side of the brain, and vice versa. This means for example, a stroke which affects the right side of the brain may cause disability in the left side of the face or body. The brain is composed of many different parts, each of which carry out (as far as scientists can tell) a different function. These are the:

Frontal lobe: Controls mood, muscle movement, planning for the future, setting goals and juggling priorities.
Parietal lobe: Processes information about temperature, touch, taste and movement coming from other parts of the body. Maths and reading are also processed here.
Pons: Important center for controlling breathing and cardiovascular function. It also helps to coordinate eye movement and balance.
Occipital lobe: Processes visual information for sight.
Temporal lobe: Processes memory, language and hearing.
Medulla oblongata: Controls critical functions like heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and swallowing.

Women have slighter smaller brains than men (weighing about 100g lighter), but this doesn't mean they are less intelligent. The brain weight is in proportion to body size. However studies show that men and women tend to use their brain cells differently. Women for example develop more cells in their frontal lobe. This area plays a major role in languages, planning future actions and making judgment calls. As a whole, the brain is divided into two main parts called hemispheres. The left hemisphere is used for analytical thinking and the right hemisphere helps us look at situations as a whole and make emotional judgments. The above image shows the left hemisphere of the brain. Men tend to be more left-sided and women tend to more right-sided (see picture). Another part of the brain is called the limbic system - this is a set of brain structures that affect our emotions. Most women have bigger limbic systems than men. It perhaps explains why women are more emotionally sensitive than men, but also why they are more prone to depression. Another interesting point is that women have more white brain matter than men. White matter connects the different parts of the brain which is why women tend to be better multi-taskers. Men on the other hand have more gray matter which allows them to focus and process information more effectively. Despite all these differences men and women still score about the same average on IQ tests. However research shows men score better on visual-spatial tests which means for example they can more easily visualize how a computer is put together. This is perhaps why more men are engineers. On the other hand women score better on language tests and on verbal reasoning. This maybe is why more women work in the communications and marketing industry.

NECK

Location of the thyroid gland


Things That Can Go Wrong In The Neck

Thyroid Cancer: Abnormal cell growth on the thyroid gland.
Goiters: Enlarged swelling of the neck.
Hypothyroidism: Underactive thyroid gland, causes weight gain.
Hyperthyroidism: Overactive thyroid gland, causes weight loss.
Graves Disease: Most common type of hyperthyroidism.
Hashimoto's Disease: Most common type of hypothyroidism.
Thyroid Nodules: Small lumps on the throat which can turn cancerous.

Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is located just below the Adam’s apple. It produces hormones which regulate the rate at which we burn calories (metabolism). If it is underactive (hypothyroidism) our system becomes sluggish and if it is overactive, we can lose weight quickly (hyperthyroidism). The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system, that is, a group of glands throughout the body which produce important hormones to regulate processes in the body. The pituitary gland and hypothalamus (in the head) are other important parts of this system.

CHEST

Heart

female heart diagram

 

Things That Can Go Wrong In The Heart

Heart Disease: Conditions which affects the heart's function.
Coronary Heart Disease: Disease of the heart's arteries.
Heart Attack: Blood to the heart is suddenly blocked.
Irregular Heartbeat: Heart arrhythmia and palpitations.
Congestive Heart Failure: When the heart gradually fails.
High Blood Pressure: One of the main causes of heart problems.
Chest Pain: There are numerous causes of chest pain.
Angina Attacks: Strangling pain in the chest.
Chest Problems: Symptom checker:breasts, lungs and chest pain.

The heart is located slightly to the left side of your chest. It is a powerful organ made of cardiac muscle. Unlike other muscle in the body, it never tires. Its function is to pump blood around the body, and to do this is contracts and relaxes about 70 times a minute. Blood is a liquid that carries oxygen and food supplies to the cells of the body and takes waste and carbon dioxide away. It also distributes hormones and chemicals. Blood is transported around the body by a network of 100,000 km's of veins and smaller veins called capillaries. Yet it only takes less than 90 seconds for blood to circulate through this entire system. The system itself is called the cardiovascular or circulatory system. The heart is supplied with blood by the coronary arteries. If they become clogged with fat overtime blood flow will be restricted and a heart attack can occur (how a heart attack happens). Alternatively the heart can develop a mechanical fault which gradually weakens its pumping ability; this is known as congestive heart failure.
Related Questions
What is blood?

Lungs

diagram of lungs

 

Things That Can Go Wrong In The Lungs

Cancer: Read about causes and cancer prevention.

The lungs are a pair of spongy organs located inside the chest. They are the main part of our respiratory system. Their function is to deliver oxygen into the blood and to remove carbon dioxide from it. When we breathe in, air rushes through our nose or mouth, down the windpipe (trachea) and into the lungs. Once in the lungs the air eventually passes into tiny bubbles called alveoli. The alveoli are covered with equally tiny blood vessels one cell thick. Oxygen seeps from the alveoli into these vessels and the blood supply, and carbon dioxide waste seeps back from the blood for removal when we breathe out.
Breasts

diagram of breasts

 

Things That Can Go Wrong With The Breasts

Breast Cancer: Malignant tumors that start in the breasts.
Nipple Discharge: When the signs are worrying.
Breast Lump: Could it be cancer?

Useful
Latest Health Statistics: How long are you likely to live?

Our breasts play a fundamental part in marking us out as women. The primary function of the breasts is to supply milk to feed our offspring. The breasts are made up of lobules (mammary glands) that produce milk, and small ducts that carry the milk to the nipple. The nipple is surrounded by a darker patch of skin called the areola which secretes a lubricant to help with breastfeeding. Of course breasts also have a secondary function which is sexual attraction. As part of the evolution theory it is thought that having fully formed breasts on the front of the body encouraged men and women to have sex face to face (missionary position). All other male primates enter the female from behind. Frontal entry is thought to have helped humans to bond and evolve psychology.

ABDOMEN

Digestive System

digestive system diagram

 

 

Abdominal Problems

Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Constipation
Diarrhea
Abdominal Pains

Related Conditions

Diabetes
Back and Neck Pains

The digestive system is a name given to a group of organs that work together to break down the food we eat, so that it can be absorbed by the body. It also includes organs involved in the elimination of waste products. Food in ingested through the mouth, it travels down the esophagus to the stomach. It spends about 5 hours being softened in the stomach before being squirted into the small intestines. The small intestines are a 20 foot long coil of muscular tube where most of the digestion occurs. Food progresses from here into the large intestines where nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream. The remaining waste product compacts into feces and is expelled through the anus. Women with diabetes, low blood pressure, thyroid disorders, sickle cell anemia, clogged arteries, heart failure and a history of stroke are more prone to digestion problems. Also, studies show that female hormones seem to affect the digestive system more than male hormones, which may be why twice as many women suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Liver

The liver is a vital organ, not only for its role in the digestive system, but for the work is does throughout the body. It is located on the right side of the tummy, just below the diaphragm. Its role is to regulate, convert, store and process countless substances that we eat, breathe in and absorb through the skin. At any one time the liver is filtering and correcting 13 percent of the body's entire blood supply. It takes out poisonous substances like alcohol, toxins, bacteria and air pollution. Any waste products are either then sent to the intestines for removal as feces or to the liver for further filtering and removing through urine. It also stores excess vitamins and produces about 80 percent of our natural supply of cholesterol. If the liver fails, we die (unless a liver transplant is viable). Even liver dialysis can only be used short term.

Kidneys

diagram of female kidneys

 

Urinary Tract Issues

Urinary Tract Infections: Infection of the bladder.
Interstitial Cystitis: Painful inflammation of bladder wall.

Urinary System: How It Works

 

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located in the small of the back. Their role is to clean the blood and keep the level of water in the body under control. They draw water and other substances from the blood and dispel any waste products through urine. Urine runs from each kidney down a tube called a ureter and into the bladder. When the bladder is full you will feel the urge to urinate. All blood in the body flows through the kidneys every 10 minutes, so your blood is filtered 150 times a day.

Reproductive System

female reproductive system

Pregnancy
Pregnancy: Read about symptoms and prenatal care.
Childbirth: Stages of Labor and preparation.
Genetics: Screenings and tests.
Birth Defects: Down Syndrome & Cystic Fibrosis.
Infertility: Fertility issues and testing.
IVF: High tech treatment for infertility.

 

Gynecological Issues

Menstruation: All issues to do with periods.
Uterine Fibroids: Benign cysts that grow on the womb.
Endometriosis: Painful tissue implants that grow on the womb.
Ovarian Cysts: Benign tumors on the ovaries.
Yeast Infections: Overgrowth of yeast in the vagina (thrush).
Vaginitis: Vaginal infection with strong smelling discharge.
Hysterectomy: Surgical removal of the womb.
Endometrial Cancer: Uterus cancer that causes heavy periods.
Cervical Cancer: Cervix cancer that causes spotting.
Fallopian Tube Cancer: Rare condition that causes bleeding and tummy pain.
Vulva Cancer: Extremely rare, cancer that starts in the vulva.
Ovarian Cancer: Causes frequent urination, bloating and pelvic pain.

Female Reproductive Disorders: Overview of symptoms.

Excluding the breasts, the entire female reproductive system is housed in the pelvic region. The role of the reproductive system is to produce a baby. The ovaries release a mature egg once a month (the ovaries usually alternate, one month one ovary releases an egg, the following month the other one does). The egg then travels down one of the fallopian tubes where it is met by sperm and fertilized. The fertilized egg continues traveling to the womb (uterus) where it imbeds and develops into a baby.

Ovaries

The ovaries have 2 roles. The first is to store the woman's eggs. We are born with all the eggs we will ever have, a baby girl typically is born with 60,000 eggs in her ovaries. Over her lifetime, on average only about 500 will mature and be released (typically one egg a month during her menstrual cycle). As she ages, particularly by the time she reaches her early 30s, the quality of the remaining eggs start to decline (they age too) - which is why pregnancy after 35 can be more difficult or why birth defects are more common. The second role of the ovaries is to produce sex hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone. Read about the effects of estrogen on the body.

Uterus

The role of the uterus (womb) is to house and protect a growing fetus until childbirth. During pregnancy the uterus wall expands to accommodate the growing baby. It becomes thicker so that it can contract during labor to force the baby out. The lining of the uterus is influenced by the hormones produced in the ovaries. If a fertilized egg does not implant (or the egg has not been fertilized), the lining breaks down at the end of the month and is shed as a menstrual bleed. See pregnancy pictures.

Vagina

The vagina extends from the vulva to the neck of the cervix. Its role is to act as a point of entry for a penis during sex, and to act as an exit-channel for a baby during childbirth.

Vulva

The vulva is the external fleshy tissue that protects the entrance to the vagina. It contains the clitoris, a small organ that becomes swollen during sexual intercourse.

Times Of Life

Menarche: A girl's first menstrual bleed.
Menopause: When periods stop completely for 12 consecutive months.

Bones, Muscles And Joints


 

Things That Can Go Wrong

Osteoporosis: Brittle bones and fractures.
Fibromyalgia: Widespread muscle pain and fatigue.
Arthritis: Inflammation of the joints.
Bone and Joint Pain: Guide to conditions


Bones

The human body is made up of 206 bones which are connected by ligaments, tendons and muscles. Bone is a living tissue which is constantly being renewed. There are few differences between male and female bones, except that men's bones tend to be larger and heavier. All bones have a hard solid exterior but are spongy on the inside. This spongy material contains bone marrow which is where red and white blood cells for the blood are manufactured. As we age, bones can become brittle which means they fracture more easily. This is caused by a condition called osteoporosis, which typically affects about 40 percent of women later in life.

Joints

A joint is where 2 bones meet. Some joints allow little or no movement, like those in the skull for example. Whereas other joints, in the arms or legs, knees or hips allow a wide range of movement. The vast majority of joints in the body are called synovial joints because they contain synovial fluid contained within a capsule surrounding a joint. This allows bones to slide over each other, reducing wear and tear. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common conditions that affect the joints.

Muscles

The muscles are special fibers which contract and relax to move the body. Some muscles are voluntary and can be controlled by thought, such as those in your arms or legs. Most voluntary muscles cover the skeleton and can be three layers deep. The biggest muscle is called the gluteus maximus (your bottom!). Others are involuntary, such as those that cause food to be pushed through the intestines. The heart muscle is unique as it works in a similar way to nerve cells - wave signals pass through it, telling it when to contract and relax.

How Does The Body Change At Puberty?

Until puberty the physical differences between boys and girls (apart from the obvious!) is less visible. It is only really after puberty that the different sexes start to develop their distinctive characteristics. At a basic level, a woman's body is designed for having babies and a man's is designed for fathering them. When puberty starts, both genders undergo complex physical and emotional changes as their body prepares for procreation. The following table highlights the different changes that take place:

Table: Changing Body Of Puberty

Body Part Girls Boys
Skeletal Frame The hips and pelvis widen to prepare for childbirth. Shoulders widen until they are wider than the hips.
Face Jaw and facial features develop, but they remain finer than a mans. Bones and muscle in the face change resulting in a more prominent jaw.
Body Hair Develops pubic hair and hair under the arms. Develops pubic hair and hair under the arms. Depending on genetics, hair also grows on the face, chest and back.
Skin and Sweat Glands Skin becomes oilier and acne may occur. Starts to produce sweat and body odor. Skin becomes oilier. Acne may occur. Starts to produce sweat and body odor.
Body Fat Fat appears on the hips, bottom, thighs and breasts. Most women have more body fat than men. Fat is more evenly distributed throughout the body.
Breasts As soon as pubic hair starts to develop the breasts start to get bigger. The nipples become darker and more prominent in preparation for breastfeeding. Some breast tissue develops, but it disappears again by the age of 20 unless he is overweight.
Reproductive Organs The womb and ovaries develop and menstruation typically starts by the age of 12 and a half. See, when do periods start? Penis grows, the testes drop and he is able to ejaculate.
Voice A girl's voice does not 'break' in the same way, although it gradually becomes deeper. The voice box (larynx) 'breaks' and the voice becomes deeper.
Muscles Muscle tone starts to appear. Muscles become heavier and larger than girls, typically more so in the upper body.

Back To Homepage: Womens Health Advice

Other Useful Guides

Recommended Health Screenings For Women: List of tests recommended for all age groups, including Pap smear and mammograms.
Lymphatic System: Fluid drainage, if it's not working efficiently can lead to edema (swelling).
Skin Care Questions: Skin problems, best treatments, discover your skin type and more.
Hospital Departments Explained: How to find your way around hospitals.


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WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT THE FEMALE BODY
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