Glossary

We are on a mission to make scientific discovery more inclusive. With the language in this glossary we hope to share information that can be used by anybody to advocate for their own health.

A

Adenomyosis
Adenomyosis is a condition in which the endometrial tissue of the uterus grows into the uterine muscular wall. Although mislocated, the endometrial tissue continues to follow the normal menstrual cycle pattern of thickening and growth then breaking down and bleeding. This can result in an enlarged uterus and painful, heavy periods.

Adverse Drug Reaction
A harmful or unpleasant reaction related to the use of a medicinal product. Also called "adverse effects", adverse drug reactions usually lead to stopping or altering the use of the drug product.

Allele
An allele refers to one of two or more versions of a gene with a particular DNA sequence at a specific location. We typically inherit two alleles for each location in the genome, one from each parent. When a gene has different DNA sequences at a particular location, it is said to have "variants". For example, if a given gene variant is typically either an C or a G DNA base, then its alleles are C and G.

Ally
In the context of social justice, it is a person who supports disenfranchised and underrepresented groups of people within our own country, such as minorities and those in the LBGTQ+ community.

Androgen
Androgens are a class of hormones that play a role in reproductive development characteristics. For example, those characteristics may include a deep voice, heavier bone structure, and growth of body and facial hair. The most famous example of an androgen is testosterone. Though traditionally known as “male” hormones, most people can and do produce some level of androgens, though people born with a uterus typically produce lower levels.

Anti-Müllerian Hormone
Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is a hormone that plays a role in regulating reproductive organ development beginning in utero. It is also used as a marker for PCOS, ovarian reserve and the nearness of menopause onset. AMH supports the development of the ovarian follicles and regulating egg production during the menstrual cycle.

B

Birth Control
Birth control is any method, behavior, practice, or device used to prevent pregnancy. It is also known as contraception or family planning. Birth control can also be used for purposes beyond pregnancy prevention. Some birth control methods are used to prevent STIs, and some people use birth control as medicine for health conditions.

Birth Control Odyssey
The journey that someone in need of birth control embarks on to identify a specific birth control which meets their primary health goals while not causing adverse effects. It can often be a long and painful journey but is worth the effort for the ultimate freedom it provides.

Breakthrough Bleeding
Spotting at a time when you’re not expecting your period. It is typically a small amount, although some women have heavier bleeding.

C

Combined Oral Contraceptive
An orally taken birth control pill that contains both an estrogen and a progestin.

Contraception
Methods or techniques intentionally used to prevent pregnancy resulting from sexual intercourse. Major forms of contraception are barrier methods; the contraceptive pill, which contains synthetic reproductive hormones; intrauterine devices, such as the coil; and male or female sterilization.

D

DNA
DNA (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) is the substance that carries the genetic instructions in humans. DNA is structured in a double helix. You can imagine this as a ladder. The "rails" of the ladder are two parallel strands (also called "backbones") made of alternating sugar and phosphate groups. These "rails" are connected by "rungs", with each "rung" consisting of one nucleotide base (one of adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), or thymine (T)). The sequence of the bases along the backbones serves as the genetic instructions.

Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) is an androgen hormone produced largely by the adrenal glands. This hormone contributes to both testosterone and estrogen production. Issues with the adrenal glands can lead to altered levels of DHEA-S in the body.

E

E2
E2 is an estrogen hormone (you might also know it by its full scientific name, 17 -estradiol) and is the primary estrogen made by the ovaries. E2 plays many roles in reproduction. It is a key hormone for regulation of the menstrual cycle, including ovulation, as well as preparation of the lining of the uterus for pregnancy. We will note here that E2 is a different estrogen from ethinyl estradiol, a synthetic estrogen commonly found in hormonal birth controls that contain an estrogen.

Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a chronic condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (“the endometrium”), is found outside the uterus.

Endometrium
The mucus membrane that lines the uterus.

Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a disorder in which abnormal activity in the central nervous system causes seizures, unusual behavior or sensations and occasionally loss of awareness.

Estrogen
Estrogens are a type of hormone that plays a role in reproductive development. That includes the regulation of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and lactation. Estrogen in birth control is primarily present to help regulate bleeding, though it also prevents ovulation.

Ethinyl Estradiol
A synthetic estrogen commonly found in hormonal birth controls that contain an estrogen.

F

Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths that develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus and can vary greatly in terms of size, number, shape, location and rate of growth.

Follicle-stimulating Hormone
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that plays a role in reproductive health and development. An imbalance of FSH can lead to issues with fertility and menstruation.

G

Gender Gap
The Gender Gap refers to the inequity between men and women with regards to social, political, cultural, economic, intellectual or health achievements and perspectives.

Gene
A gene is the basic unit of cellular inheritance that is encoded in DNA. Genes contain the information to specify genetically encoded traits and are passed from parent to offspring. Humans have about 20,000 genes in our DNA.

Genome
The genome is the entirety of the instructions encoded in one's DNA.

Genotype
When used as a noun, a genotype is the collection of genes that any individual has. It can also refer to the specific combination of alleles present at a particular genetic location. When used as a verb, to genotype something is to determine the specific sequence of DNA at a certain location in the genome-- ranging from the whole genome down to a single base pair.

H

HIPAA
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that created policies and standards to prevent a patient's health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

Health Equity
Health equity describes a situation in which no person is disadvantaged from achieving their full health potential. A full health potential includes statistics such as length and quality of life; rates of disease, disability or death; and access to treatment.

Highly Effective Contraception
A highly effective method of birth control is defined as one which results in a low failure rate (i.e., less than 1% per year) when used consistently with perfect use. This includes implants, injectables, combined oral contraceptives, IUDs, sexual abstinence, or sterilization.

Hirsutism
A condition in people born with ovaries where there is excessive hair growth in unexpected areas such as the face, chest or back.

Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control methods comprise the majority of birth control methods, including the implant, shot, hormonal IUD, combination pill, minipill, patch, and ring.

Hormone
A hormone is a chemical that your body uses as a messenger to coordinate biological processes across your body. For example, you’ve probably heard of progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone that plays a variety of roles in the menstrual cycle and in reproduction, including coordinating the preparation of the uterus for pregnancy.

Hypertension
Blood pressure that is higher than normal. Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries.

Hysterectomy
A hysterectomy is a surgery to remove your uterus. It is a major operation that’s usually only performed as a last resort to treat a few different kinds of gynecological issues. After a hysterectomy, you cannot get pregnant and your menstrual periods will stop. Hysterectomies are sometimes recommended to treat cancers of the reproductive system, fibroids, endometriosis, severe bleeding, and more. There are other options, like endometrial ablations, for treating many of these conditions; therefore a hysterectomy isn’t always necessary. A hysterectomy can be either total, involving the full removal of your uterus and cervix, or partial, leaving your cervix in place.

I

Incidence
In epidemiology, incidence is the estimated number of new cases of a specific disease, condition, or health-related event over a certain period of time.

Infertility
Infertility is a reproductive system disease defined by the inability to get pregnant after at least 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse.

Insulin
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates glucose usage and storage. In people with diabetes, insulin is no longer properly produced or metabolized by the body.

Intrauterine Device
An Intrauterine device (IUD) is a small T-shaped contraceptive device that is placed inside, and remains inside, of the uterus to stop pregnancies. There are two types of IUDs: hormonal and non-hormonal. The only non-hormonal IUD is called Paragard and it works because of the copper that is in it. Hormonal IUDs work because they contain the hormone progesterone. In general, IUDs are reversible, long-term and one of the most effective types of birth controls available.

J

Junk DNA
A term used to describe stretches of the human genome DNA sequence for which there is no known function. The majority of the human genome consists of junk DNA. While the term "junk" would imply that these stretches of DNA sequence are unimportant, scientists are continuously discovering new regions of function or importance within the stretches of junk DNA.

K

Karyotype
When used as a noun, a karyotype is all of someone's chromosomes. When used as a verb, to karyotype is to carry out a specific laboratory technique that visualizes all of the chromosomes in a cell.

L

LGBTQIA2S
LGBTQIA2S is an abbreviation for describing a number of different sexual orientations and gender identities. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit.

Leiomyomas
Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths that develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus and can vary greatly in terms of size, number, shape, location and rate of growth.

Libido
One's sexual drive or desire for sexual activity.

Luteinizing Hormone
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is secreted by the pituitary gland and works with the follicle- stimulating hormone (FSH) to regulate ovarian function and the menstrual cycle. It stimulates hormone production in the ovary, and the LH surge in the middle of the menstrual cycle triggers ovulation (release of an egg).

M

Medical Gaslighting
Medical gaslighting happens when a healthcare professional downplays or dismisses patient symptoms as unserious or imagined.

Menopause
Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a person's menstrual cycles. It is diagnosed after someone has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Menopause typically happens in your 40s or 50s.

Minipill
The minipill (also known as norethindrone or the progestin-only pill) is an oral contraceptive pill that only contains one hormone, progestin. The progestin dose in the minipill is lower than the progestin dose in a combination birth control pill. In order for the minipill to work the best it can, you need to take it at exactly the same time everyday.

Misinformation
Misinformation is any incorrect or wrong information that is spread, often through (social) media sources, regardless of the intent of whether to mislead or not.

Monophasic Birth Control
A type of combined oral contraceptive pill in which the dosages of estrogen and progestin stay the same over all days of the month. This is in contrast to multiphasic birth control, in which the amounts of hormones vary throughout the month.

Multiphasic Birth Control
A type of combined oral contraceptive pill in which the dosages of estrogen and progestin vary over the days of the month. This is in contrast to monophasic birth control, in which the amounts of hormones stay the same throughout the month.

Myomectomy
A surgical procedure to remove only uterine fibroids or leiomyomas from a uterus. After a successful myomectomy, the uterus will still be intact.

N

Non-Hormonal Birth Control
A birth control device that does not use any hormones. Non-hormonal birth control options include barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms, or the copper intrauterine device (IUD).

O

Oophorectomy
A surgery to remove one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) of your ovaries. Doctors might recommend an oophorectomy to treat conditions such as endometriosis, cancer or a twisted ovary. Removing both ovaries will cause the onset of menopause — no matter what age you are — and permanent infertility.

Ovarian Reserve
Ovarian reserve refers to the store of eggs a person has that have the potential to maintain a menstrual cycle through ovulation and/or lead to a pregnancy. There is no way to specifically measure ovarian reserve, but an idea of ovarian reserve can be determined by measuring levels of the hormone AMH. Ovarian reserve is one of many components of fertility, so attempting to assess ovarian reserve may have little informational value unless you are having trouble getting pregnant.

Ovaries
A pair of female reproductive glands in which eggs form and the hormones estrogen and progesterone are made. These hormones play an important role in certain traits (such as breast development, body shape, and body hair) and regulate the menstrual cycle, fertility, and pregnancy. There is one ovary on each side of the uterus, at the other end of the fallopian tubes.

P

Perimenopause
Perimenopause is also called "the menopausal transition". Perimenopause refers to when the body moves from the reproductive years to menopause.

Personalized Medicine
Personalized medicine is the practice of using information about a patient's genes to inform, select, design or modify medical care. Personalized medicine can assist in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases.

Phenotype
A phenotype is an individual's observable characteristics. A person's genotype and their environment can contribute to a phenotype, depending on the trait.

Placebo
A pill containing no active ingredients. In the case of hormonal birth control, many pills come with a 1-week supply of placebo pills that contain no hormones.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a health issue resulting from imbalanced reproductive hormones. This imbalance affects the ability of the ovaries to work properly. Patients experiencing PCOS can have problems with regularity of menstrual cycles, ovulation, ovarian cysts or infertility.

Polymorphism
A polymorphism is when more than one sequence is present at a certain DNA sequence. Frequently, polymorphisms refer to variation at a single base pair, which is also called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), pronounced "snip". They can also refer to variation over a large stretch of DNA.

Population
In genetics, a population is defined as a group of organisms who, throughout their history, tended to be located in the same geographic area and therefore were capable of interbreeding.

Population Genomics
Population genomics is the practice of applying genomic technologies to better understand populations.

Prevalence
In epidemiology, prevalence is the proportion of people who have (or had) a particular disease, condition, or health-related event at a certain time or time period.

Progesterone
Progesterone is a hormone that functions in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. It is produced by a temporary gland known as the corpus luteum, which forms during each menstrual cycle after ovulation. Artificial progesterones, called progestins, are used in hormonal birth control, which can stop ovulation, among other changes that help to trick your body into thinking it’s pregnant.

Progestin
Progestin is a synthetic (i.e. scientist-made) version of a progestogen. Progestin is present in every type of hormonal birth control. The primary contraceptive effects of progestin are prevention of ovulation (release of an egg from the ovaries) and thickening of the cervical mucus to prevent egg fertilization.

Q

Queer
An umbrella term that can be used to describe any non-heterosexual or non-cisgender identity. Historically, it was used as a slur, but more recently many in the LGBTQ+ community have embraced its use.

Questioning
A term used by some people to describe their process of exploring or expanding their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

R

Reference Range
As a medical term, reference range refers to the numerical set of values that a doctor uses to evaluate a patient's test results. It is often based on what range of values are seen in 95% of the healthy population. Therefore, the reference range may be different for different populations (such as men vs. women). Depending on the condition and test result, a patient with a test result value outside of the reference range may be perfectly healthy and a patient with a value inside the reference range may have a health problem.

Reproductive Autonomy
Reproductive autonomy is the concept that a person has the ability to control their reproductiveness. This includes having the power to decide which kind and when to use or not use contraception and when to become or stay pregnant.

Reproductive Justice
The right to maintain personal autonomy over your body and the choices you make for your reproductive health.

S

SNP
SNP (pronounced "snip") is an acronym for Single Nucleotide Polymorphism. A SNP is a single base pair location in the genome for which there are two or more possible alleles.

Sensitivity
In statistics, sensitivity is a measure used to assess how well a test is working. It is equal to the proportion of how many subjects should have returned a positive result on the test and how many actually returned a positive result on the test.

Sex Hormone-binding Globulin
SHBG comes from the liver, and it’s an important companion to sex hormones. SHBG binds to hormones like testosterone and estrogen and regulates how much of them make it into the body’s tissues.

Specificity
In statistics, specificity is a measure used to assess how well a test is working. It is equal to the proportion of how many subjects should have returned a negative result on the test and how many actually did return a negative result on the test.

Spotting
Light bleeding or brown discharge between periods.

T

Testosterone
Testosterone is typically described as a male reproductive hormone, although everybody produces some amount of the hormone. Testosterone plays an important role during puberty and in sexual function, and typically declines later in life. Low levels of testosterone can cause issues including a low libido, depression, and osteoporosis.‍

U

Uterine Fibroids
Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths that develop from the muscle tissue of the uterus and can vary greatly in terms of size, number, shape, location and rate of growth.

Uterus
The uterus is a hollow muscular organ found in the female pelvis that functions mostly to nourish a growing fetus.

V

Vagina
The vagina is a muscular tube-like organ found in the female body. Since it connects the uterus (and cervix) to the outside of the body, it allows for sexual intercouse, menstrual blood flow out of the body and provides a passageway for a baby to be born.

Variant
A variant is a location in the genome (DNA) that differs across individuals. Since many people's DNA is extremely similar in sequence, a variant is often used to describe an alteration from the most common DNA nucleotide sequence at a particular location. The term variant is increasingly being used instead of the term mutation.

Vulva
The vulva is a female organ that includes all of the genitals that are outside of the body: the labia, the clitoris, the vaginal opening and the urethral opening.

W

Withdrawal Method
The withdrawal method refers to the contraceptive strategy of removing the penis from the vagina prior to ejaculation.

X

X Chromosome
The X chromosome is often referred to as "the female sex chromosome" and is one of two possible sex chromosomes in humans. Females typically have two X chromosomes in their cells. Egg cells typically contain a X chromosome.

X-linked Trait
An X-linked trait is a trait determined by a gene located on the X chromosome. X-linked traits often affect males because males typically have only one copy of the X chromosome. Therefore, their only copy of the gene carries the causative variant. In females, the effect of the variant may be masked by the second copy of the X chromosome.

Y

Y Chromosome
The Y chromosome is often referred to as "the male sex chromosome" and is one of two possible sex chromosomes in humans. Males typically have one X and one Y chromosome in their cells. Sperm cells can contain an X or a Y chromosome.

Z

Zygote
The cell that is created when an egg is fertilized by a sperm.