NICHD Research on Women's Health

NICHD Activities and Collaborations Broaden the Scope of Women's Health Research

Women's Health

During their lifetimes, many women will face a wide array of health issues. Some will seek treatment for gynecological conditions, such as endometriosis and uterine cancer. Others will experience conditions that affect both males and females, but that follow a different course in women, such as heart disease. Women's health is also affected by factors like socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity, sometimes in ways that they cannot control directly.

National Women's Health Week, which was observed last week from May 13 to 19, is a week-long celebration of the many facets of women's health. This yearly event is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH). The event brings together communities, businesses, government agencies, health organizations, and other groups nationwide to support and promote women's health and healthy activities. During the event, many communities provide free screenings and health fairs, give out educational materials, and conduct outreach activities to promote women's health and wellness.

To reinforce this year's theme—It's Your Time—the OWH offered and supported numerous activities to help women take charge of their health and reduce their risk of illness. National Women's Health Week messages included getting regular checkups and screenings, staying active, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, and avoiding unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking.

Women's health research is a central part of the NICHD's research mission and portfolio. In addition to research efforts on pregnancy and childbirth, the Institute also studies: gynecological diseases and other diseases that only or primarily affect women; conditions that affect women differently; and the environmental, behavioral, and social factors that might influence women's health. In collaboration with other NIH Institutes and Centers and with other agencies and organizations, the NICHD also encourages women to pursue biomedical careers and to help get health messages into their communities. The links below provide a sampling of some of the Institute's activities within the realm of women's health:

Gynecological and Reproductive Health Research
Maternal Health Research
Other Women's Health Research
Encouraging Women's Health Research
More Information


Gynecological and Reproductive Health Research

The NICHD pursues a range of research on gynecological and reproductive health diseases, including infertility and sexually transmitted diseases. For example:

NICHD-supported researchers are also studying stress urinary incontinence (SUI), a relatively common condition in which urine leaks when a woman coughs, sneezes, laughs, or exercises. In a study conducted through the NICHD-supported Pelvic Floor Disorders Network, researchers compared the effectiveness of a continence pessary to evidence-based behavioral therapy for SUI, both alone and in combination. A pessary is a device worn in the vagina that supports the walls of the vagina, lifting the bladder and nearby urethra, to help reduce stress leakage.

Three months after treatment, more women in the behavioral therapy group had no bothersome SUI symptoms and more were satisfied with treatment outcomes compared to women in the pessary group. The differences in satisfaction, however, did not persist 12 months after treatment. Combination therapy was better than using the pessary alone, but not better than behavioral therapy alone. Patient satisfaction remained above 50% for all treatment groups. The findings suggest that a pessary is a reasonable alternative for women who are not interested in adhering to behavioral therapy as an initial approach to non-surgical treatment for SUI. The study authors recommended that individualized treatment should continue to be the main approach for treating patients.

For details on this finding, visit PubMed ID: 20177294.


Maternal Health Research

The NICHD supports research on maternal health to understand pregnancy, conditions that affect women during pregnancy, and diseases that require treatment during pregnancy. For example:


Other Women's Health Research

The NICHD supports research on disorders, conditions, and diseases that affect only women or that affect women differently.

For example, the NICHD Division of Intramural Research, Program on Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics, conducts research on Turner syndrome, a disorder caused by a partially or completely missing X chromosome. Turner syndrome affects only females and occurs in approximately 1 out of every 2,500 female live births worldwide. It includes a broad spectrum of features, from major heart defects to minor body structure issues. Almost all females with Turner syndrome have very short in stature and most experience loss of ovarian function.

The following findings are among the recent studies of Turner syndrome conducted by NICHD researchers:

For more information on current NICHD research on Turner syndrome, visit

Rett syndrome, usually caused by mutations in the MECP2 gene, occurs in approximately 1 out of every 10,000 girls born and rarely occurs in boys. In a recent study partially funded by the NICHD, researchers investigated the natural history of Rett syndrome to shed light on the full clinical spectrum of this disease. For details on this finding, read the NICHD news release: NIH Researchers Find That Rett Syndrome Gene is Full of Surprises.

The NICHD portfolio also includes research to understand factors that affect women's health, including the personal/dietary, environmental, behavioral, and social influences on women's health. Recent NICHD-supported research on some of these factors is described in more detail below.


Encouraging Women's Health Research

Through professional training and education programs, as well as career development activities, the NICHD aims to build up the cadre of health care providers, researchers, and others who study women's health and its various aspects.

Some of these activities include the following:

  • The NICHD supports Specialized Cooperative Centers Program in Reproduction and Infertility Research (SCCPIR), a national network of research-based centers that promotes multidisciplinary interactions between scientists. Participating scientists conduct basic and clinical research and are interested in establishing high-quality, translational research programs in the reproductive sciences. The centers also serve as national resources for the training and career development of young scientists electing to pursue careers conducting research in high priority areas of reproduction and infertility.
  • The Women's Reproductive Health Research (WRHR) Career Development Program is a training opportunity for obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) interested in pursuing women's health research. The program provides OB/GYNs who recently completed their postgraduate clinical training with additional education and experience in basic, translational, and clinical research.
  • The Institute participates in the Building Interdisciplinary Research in Women's Health (BIRCWH) program, which supports physician-scientists as they move between completion of clinical or postdoctoral training and an independent research career. BIRCWH research projects span the spectrum of women's health topics, and the program is open to all types of clinicians and non-clinicians.


More Information

The NICHD supports a wide range of research and activities related to women's health. Research areas supported by the NICHD on women's health include gynecological and maternal health research, conditions and aspects of conditions that are unique to women, and other factors that affect women's health. In addition, the NICHD supports training and career development for medical professionals and researchers investigating women's health issues. The research and activities discussed above are just a few examples of the range of women's health topics that NICHD supports.

For more information on women's health research at the NICHD, select one of the following links:

Originally Posted: May 22, 2012


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