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Human Reproductive System......

Human Reproductive System


An Overview of The Human Reproductive System

The Female System

What are the organs involved in the female reproductive system?

What is Menstruation?

How does menstruation occur?

Menstruation Related Problems

The Male System

What are the organs involved in the male reproductive system?

What Are Reproductive Hazards?

What are the Reproductive Hazards in Females?

Chemical and physical agents that are reproductive hazards for women in the workplace

What Reproductive Hazards Might Be Caused by Workplace Exposures in Females?

How Do Reproductive Hazards Affect the Male Reproductive System?

How Can Workers Be Protected From Reproductive Hazards?



An Overview of The Reproductive System

The reproduction system uses the process of producing a new generation to continue the existence of the species by the fusion of two cells from different individuals; this is achieved in humans by the fusion of one sperm and one ovum (egg). This fusion is called "fertilization" and is achieved by sexual intercourse between a male and female or by artificial insemination. The male body is designed to allow the manufacture, storage and transfer of male sex cells (or sperm). The female body is designed to manufacture, store and release eggs (ova). The creation of human life is a miracle to behold as two tiny cells - the sperm and the ovum - fuse to form a new cell which, after fertilization, resides in the female womb. Nine months later, a fully- formed, breathing, living human being in tiny replica is born.


The Female System

The female reproductive system consists of those organs which enable a woman to produce eggs (ova), to have sexual intercourse, to nourish and house the fertilized ovum until it is fully developed, and to give birth. Unlike the male, the female sexual organs are almost entirely hidden. The female organs are made up of the vulva, the vagina, the uterus (or womb), the fallopian tubes, and the ovaries. The breasts are also included in the reproductive system of the female because they develop to become the feeding station of the new-born baby, besides contributing to the enjoyment of sexual intercourse. The biological symbol for the female comes from the representation of the hand mirror of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility.




What are the organs involved in the female reproductive system?

Ovaries:These are two almond shaped organs, situated in the pelvic region, one on either side of the uterus and below the fallopian tube. The ovary contains immature ova (eggs) that are about 2 - 4,00,000 in number. During a woman's lifetime some develop to form mature ova, while the others degenerate. One Ovum matures every month from any one of the ovaries. The ovum is released from the ovary. This is called ovulation. The sexual maturation of girls between 10-15 years is marked by Menstruation - i.e. Passage of blood from the uterus through the vagina for 2-5 days every month

Fallopian Tubes: These are funnel shaped tubes lying close to the ovaries and open on each side into the upper end of the uterus. When Ovulation occurs, the outer end of the fallopian tube picks up the ovum and draws it into the tube. The ovum passes down the tube. At this stage if a sperm unites with the ovum, fertilisation takes place and pregnancy occurs. The fertilised ovum attaches itself to the uterus and begins to grow into a baby.

Uterus: It is a hollow muscular, pear shaped pouch located in the pelvic cavity. During the pregnancy the uterus enlarges to accommodate the foetus (baby).

Vagina: This is a channel extending from the cervix to the external genital structures known as vulva. It is the canal through which the baby passes during childbirth and a passage for menstrual flow.

Vulva: The external parts of reproductive system are called the vulva. Vaginal Opening- located between the urethral opening and the anus. It is the outlet for the menstrual flow.

Hymen- it is a thin fold of membrane partially covering the opening of the vagina.

Labia Majora and Labia Minora- Two pairs of lip-like structures on either side of the vaginal opening and provide protection to clitoris, urethral and vaginal opening.

Clitoris- A small triangular and fleshy structure located above the urethral opening at the point where the labia meet. It is the focal point of sexual stimulation for females.


What is Menstruation?

Menstruation is the approximately monthly shedding of the uterine lining; the blood and tissues leave the body through the vagina. Menstruation is a normal, natural process that occurs in all healthy adult women who haven't reached menopause. Girls can begin to menstruate at any time between eight and eighteen; women might reach menopause anywhere between forty and sixty. Some women have their period every eighteen days, some every thirty-six; some women bleed for two or three days, some for seven or eight; all these and everything in between are normal.

To an adolescent girl, menarche (onset of menstruation) is more than just a physiological process. It is a symbol of sexual maturity i.e. becoming a woman. Though menarche means that the adolescent girl has developed the biological capacity to give birth to a baby, but it does not indicate that she has the emotional or mental maturity required to be a responsible mother.

How does menstruation occur?

In the early phase of the cycle, a hormone (FSH) is released. It acts on the ovaries. The female eggs are formed in the two ovaries. But under the effect of this hormone, only one follicle matures and also releases estradiol (another hormone) and this acts on the uterus. This leads to the growth of the uterine lining known as endometrium. In the meantime the mature follicle ruptures, and releases the ovum (egg). After its release, if it does not get fertilised it is shed away along with the uterine lining. It is this lining which flows out along with menstrual blood.


You should not harbour any negative feeling toward menstruation. You need not be ashamed or embarrassed. You must not perceive it as dirty, unclean or impure. Though some religions like Hinduism associates menstrual periods with a ritual impurity, you must remember that this is a notion of ritual/religious impurity. It is not scientific. Menstruation is not a curse upon women or a punishment by the gods. It is a completely natural process. It is nature's way of preparing you for motherhood.

The average duration of the menstrual cycle is 28 days (range 21-44 days). But during first two years after menarche, an interval of more than 50 days between two periods is considered normal. The normal duration of menstrual periods is 4-7 days. If the flow is for more than seven days, you can suspect some abnormality.

You may face a few discomforts during menstruation. The usual discomforts are:

  1. Weakness and exhausted feeling
  2. Pain in lower abdomen
  3. Back pain
  4. Headache
  5. Tenderness of breasts
  6. Itching in private parts

Weakness and feeling of exhaustion, tiredness and headache may occur due to lack of proper nutrition. Since you are growing, you need extra nutrition, especially iron, to make up the loss of blood during menstruation. Lack of iron may lead to anaemia. Itching may be due to lack of cleanliness. Daily bath and clean genitals should be ensured. If the pain or weakness or itching is unbearable consult a paramedic or a doctor.

Menstruation Related Problems

1. Primary Amenorrhoea-Absence of menstruation:

Fails to begin by age 16 in presence of well-developed secondary sexual characters.

Absence of menarche for more than 4 years after the the breast development

2.Premenstrual Syndrome/ Tension

A few days before menstruation, you could feel any of the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Gastro intestinal tract upset- constipation, colon spasm
  • Feeling of fullness in breasts, abdomen, face and feet
  • Demonstrable water retention and weight gain of 1-1.5 to 5 kg
  • Breasts may become hard, lumpy, and tender

These symptoms resolve rapidly with the onset of menstruation. They are caused due to excessive enzymes produced in the body.

3. Dysmenorrhoea (Painful menstruation)

It can be of three types:

Congestive: You could have premenstrual pain in back/lower abdomen for 3-5days. It is usually relieved by menstrual flow. Pain is usually felt in left side of abdomen. Constipation may also occur. For the management of this problem it is important that you take appropriate diet; avoid excess carbohydrates and strong purgatives. Do moderate exercise.

Spasmodic: Pain on the first day of periods for around 12 hours, severe, intermittent, and spasmodic. This may even lead to fainting spell or collapse. This kind of pain starts 2-3 years after menarche (associated with ovulation). For the treatment of spasmodic pain you have to see a doctor.

Membranous: This is a rare disorder. There is some blockage in the flow of menstruation. Should be referred to a doctor.

4. Menorrhagia

Excessive menstrual discharge, unaltered menstrual cycle

5. Oligomenorrhoea

Menstrual intervals of greater than 45 days if persists 2 years after menarche should be evaluated. Menstrual cycles of less than 21 days imply anovulatory cycles.

You should not harbour any negative feeling toward menstruation. You need not be ashamed or embarrassed. You must not perceive it as dirty, unclean or impure. Though some religions like Hinduism associates menstrual periods with a ritual impurity, you must remember that this is a notion of ritual/religious impurity. It is not scientific. Menstruation is not a curse upon women or a punishment by the gods. It is a completely natural process. It is nature's way of preparing you for motherhood.

You may experience some discomfort and/or pain during your periods. The discomfort or pain would be less if you remember that:

  • Menstrual hygiene and cleanliness is a must.
  • It is a part of life. Continue to lead your normal life during periods.
  • There are no scientific reasons for you to avoid any kinds of food

During periods, you may get severe cramps in the abdomen. These may last for a few hours or a couple of days. Some of you may also suffer backache, pain in the limbs, headache, tenderness in the breast or pimples on the face. These are quite normal and you need not get upset or worried. For discomfort, you could take a mild pain killer. If you have acute pain or painful menses, you must consult a doctor. Remember, genital hygiene is especially important during menstruation.

Every human being is unique. There are differences in the structure and development too. Variation may be there in size of breasts and menstrual cycle etc. One should not be worry about these variations.

 The Male System

The male reproductive system enables a man to have sexual intercourse and to fertilize ova (eggs) with sperm (male sex cells). Sperm, along with male sex hormones, are produced in the "testes," a pair of oval-shaped glands, which are suspended in a pouch called the scrotum. The sexual organs of the male are partly visible and partly hidden within the body. The visible parts are the penis and the scrotum. Inside the body are the prostate gland and tubes, which link the system together. The male organs produce and transfer sperm to the female for fertilization. The biological symbol for the male comes from a symbol of the shield and spear of Mars, the Roman god of war and aggression.

What are the organs involved in the male reproductive system?

This system comprises of following organs:

Penis: Is composed of sponge like tissue that fills up with blood when the male is excited, to cause erection. A fold of skin- foreskin (prepuce) covers the glands. Since there are secretions of glands in this area, it should always be kept clean.

Scrotum: The testes are located in a loose bag of skin called the scrotum, which hangs outside the trunk of the body between the thighs.

The Testes: These are two oval shaped organs, which produce SPERMS and male sex hormones. The man's testes continue to produce sperms until the end of his life.

Epididymis: These are two tubes each found at the upper end of the testes. A small quantity of sperms is stored in them.

Vas Deferens: The sperm tube is about 45cm long. From the scrotum, it enters the abdomen and then the ejaculatory duct in the penis. Most of the sperms produced are stored here.

Seminal Vesicles: These are two glands whose tubes join the vas deferens one on each side. During ejaculation, they add fluid secretions that provide nutrition for sperms.

The Ejaculatory Duct: The vas deferens along with the tube from the seminal vesicles forms the ejaculatory duct. It is a short straight tube that passes into the prostrate gland to open into the urethra.

Every human being is different; so there are differences in the structure and development too. Variation may be there in size of penis and semen discharge etc. One should not be worried unnecessary due to these.


What Are Reproductive Hazards?

Substances that affect the ability to have healthy children are called reproductive hazards.

Radiation, many chemicals, drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, and heat are examples of reproductive hazards. Radiation, some chemicals, certain drugs (legal and illegal), cigarettes, some viruses, and alcohol are examples of reproductive hazards.


What are the Reproductive Hazards in Females?

The harmful effects of a few agents found in the workplace have been known for many years. For example, more than 100 years ago, lead was discovered to cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infertility in female pottery workers. Rubella (German measles) was recognized as a major cause of birth defects in the 1940s. However, the causes of most reproductive health problems are still not known. Many of these problems-infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight-are fairly common occurrences and affect working and nonworking women.

A reproductive hazard could cause one or more health effects, depending on when the woman is exposed. For example, exposure to harmful substances during the first 3 months of pregnancy might cause a birth defect or a miscarriage. During the last 6 months of pregnancy, exposure to reproductive hazards could slow the growth of the fetus, affect the development of its brain, or cause premature labor. Reproductive hazards may not affect every worker or every pregnancy.

Chemical and physical agents that are reproductive hazards for women in the workplace


Observed effects

Potentially exposed workers

Cancer treatment drugs (e.g., methotrexate)

Infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, low birth weight

Health care workers, pharmacists

Certain ethylene glycol ethers such as
2-ethoxyethanol (2EE) and
2-methoxyethanol (2ME)


Electronic and semiconductor workers

Carbon disulfide (CS2)

Menstrual cycle changes

Viscose rayon workers


Infertility, miscarriage, low birth weight,

Battery makers,
solderers, welders, radiator repairers, bridge repainters,
firing range workers, home remodelers

Ionizing radiation (e.g., X-rays and gamma rays)

Infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, low birth weight, developmental disorders, childhood cancers

Health care workers, dental personnel, atomic workers

Strenuous physical
labor  (e.g., prolonged standing,  heavy lifting)

Miscarriage late in pregnancy, premature delivery

Many types of workers


What Reproductive Hazards Might Be Caused by Workplace Exposures?
Only a few substances (some viruses, chemicals, and drugs) are known to cause reproductive health problems. Scientists are just beginning to discover how workplace exposures might cause reproductive problems. The following problems may be caused by workplace exposures:

  • Menstrual cycle effects
  • Infertility and sub fertility
  • Miscarriage and stillbirths
  • Birth defects
  • Low birth weight and premature birth
  • Developmental disorders
  • Childhood cancer

Each problem is discussed in more detail in the following sections.

Menstrual Cycle Effects

High levels of physical or emotional stress or exposure to chemicals such as carbon disulfide may disrupt the balance between the brain, pituitary, and ovaries. This disruption can result in an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, and lead to changes in menstrual cycle length and regularity and ovulation. Because these sex hormones have effects throughout a woman's body, severe or long-lasting hormone imbalances may affect a woman's overall health.

 Infertility and Sub fertility

About 10% to 15% of all couples are unable to conceive a child after 1 year of trying to become pregnant. Many factors can affect fertility, and these factors can affect one or both partners. Damage to the woman's eggs or the man's sperm, or a change in the hormones needed to regulate the normal menstrual cycle are just a few things that can cause problems with fertility.

Miscarriage and Stillbirths

About 1 in every 6 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage-the unplanned termination of a pregnancy. Miscarriages can occur very early in pregnancy, even before the woman knows she is pregnant. Miscarriages and stillbirths occur for many reasons, such as the following:

  • The egg or sperm may be damaged so that the egg cannot be fertilized or cannot survive after fertilization.
  • A problem may exist in the hormone system needed to maintain the pregnancy.
  • The fetus may not have developed normally.
  • Physical problems may exist with the uterus or cervix.

What causes most of these problems is still unknown.

Birth Defects

A birth defect is a physical abnormality present at birth, though it may not be detected until later. About 2% to 3% of babies are born with a major birth defect. In most cases, the cause of the birth defect is unknown. The first 3 months of the pregnancy is a very sensitive time of development because the internal organs and limbs are formed during this period. Many women are not aware that they are pregnant during much of this critical period.

Low Birth Weight and Premature Birth

About 7% of babies born in the United States are born underweight or prematurely. Poor maternal nutrition, smoking, and alcohol use during pregnancy are believed to be responsible for most of these cases. Although better medical care has helped many under- weight or premature babies to develop and grow normally, they are more likely than other babies to become ill or even die during their first year of life.

Developmental Disorders

Sometimes the brain of the fetus does not develop normally, which leads to developmental delays or learning disabilities later in life. About 10% of children in the United States have some form of developmental disability. Such problems are often not noticeable at birth. They can be difficult to measure, may be temporary or permanent, and range from mild to severe. Developmental problems may appear as hyperactivity, short attention span, reduced learning ability, or (in severe cases) mental retardation.

Childhood Cancer

Ionising radiation has caused cancer in some children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy. The current practice of minimizing the use of X-rays on pregnant women, the use of newer equipment that reduces the risk of exposure, and the use of protective shields have all helped to decrease the likelihood of harmful radiation exposure to fetuses.


How Do Reproductive Hazards Affect the Male Reproductive System?

Number of Sperm
Some reproductive hazards can stop or slow the actual production of sperm. This means that there will be fewer sperm present to fertilize an egg; if no sperm are produced, the man is sterile. If the hazard prevents sperm from being made, sterility is permanent.


Reproductive hazards may cause the shape of sperm cells to be different. These sperm often have trouble swimming or lack the ability to fertilize the egg.


Hazardous chemicals may collect in the epididymis, seminal vesicles, or prostate. These chemicals may kill the sperm, change the way in which they swim, or attach to the sperm and be carried to the egg or the unborn child.


Changes in amounts of hormones can affect sexual performance. Some chemicals, like alcohol, may also affect the ability to achieve erections, whereas others may affect the sex drive. Several drugs (both legal and illegal) have effects on sexual performance, but little is known about the effects of workplace hazards.



Reproductive hazards can affect the chromosomes found in sperm. The sperm and egg each contribute 23 chromosomes at fertilization. The DNA stored in these chromosomes determines what we will look like and how our bodies will function. Radiation or chemicals may cause changes or breaks in the DNA. If the sperm's DNA is damaged, it may not be able to fertilize an egg; or if it does fertilize an egg, it may affect the development of the fetus. Some cancer treatment drugs are known to cause such damage. However, little is known about the effects of workplace hazards on sperm chromosomes.



If a damaged sperm does fertilize an egg, the egg might not develop properly, causing a miscarriage or a possible health problem in the baby. If a reproductive hazard is carried in the semen, the fetus might be exposed within the uterus, possibly leading to problems with the pregnancy or with the health of the baby after it is born.


How Can Workers Be Protected From Reproductive Hazards?

Employers have a responsibility to protect their workers. However, because so little is known about reproductive hazards, workers should also take the following steps to ensure their own safety:

  • Store chemicals in sealed containers when they are not in use.
  • Wash hands before eating, drinking, or smoking.
  • Avoid skin contact with chemicals.
  • Become familiar with the potential reproductive hazards used in your workplace.

         Participate in all safety and health education, training, and monitoring programs offered by your employer.

         Learn about proper work practices, engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (i.e., gloves, respirators, and personal protective clothing) that can be used to reduce exposures to hazardous substances.

         Follow the safety and health work practices and procedures implemented by your employer to prevent exposures to reproductive hazards in the workplace.


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