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Glossary ‘A’

Simply click the first letter of the Women’s Health term you wish to find below:

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Women’s Health Terms Beginning with the Letter “A”

Abdominal Hysterectomy

The uterus is removed through the abdomen via a surgical incision.

Achilles tendon rupture

First, there’s a pop or a snap. Then an immediate sharp pain in the back of your ankle and lower leg makes it impossible to walk properly. It almost feels like you’ve been kicked, or even shot.

These are the sensations typical of a rupture of your Achilles tendon. This tendon is a large, strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your lower leg to your heel bone (calcaneus). Your Achilles tendon – also called your heel cord – helps you point your foot downward, rise on your toes and push off your foot as you walk. You rely on it virtually every time you move your foot. If you overstretch your Achilles tendon, it can tear (rupture). A rupture can be partial or complete. Usually the rupture occurs just above your heel bone, but it can happen anywhere along the tendon. Several other problems can affect your Achilles tendon, causing pain or requiring treatment. These include bursitis and tendinitis. Although bursitis and tendinitis often improve with home treatment, a ruptured Achilles tendon usually requires surgical repair.

Acid reflux

You’ve just eaten a big meal and leaned back in your favorite chair. Then it happens. Your chest starts to hurt so much it feels like it’s on fire.

Every day, more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn, which produces a burning sensation behind the breastbone. You may also experience a sour taste and the sensation of food re-entering your mouth (regurgitation). It results from gastroesophageal reflux, a condition in which stomach acid or, occasionally, bile salts back up into your food pipe (esophagus). When there’s also evidence of esophageal irritation or inflammation, you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter blocks most acid from coming up into the esophagus. This circular band of muscle at the lower end of the esophagus doesn’t open except when you swallow. If the sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can back up and cause heartburn. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn with lifestyle modifications, such as improved diet, over-the-counter antacids and weight loss. But if heartburn is severe, these remedies may offer only temporary or partial relief. You may need newer, more potent medications to reduce symptoms.

ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of chronic disorders that begin in childhood and sometimes last into adult life. Problems generally associated with ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. They can affect nearly every aspect of life. Children and adults with ADHD often struggle with low self-esteem, troubled personal relationships and poor performance in school or at work.

The best treatment for ADHD is a matter of debate. Currently, psychostimulant drugs are the most common treatment. But although these drugs can relieve many symptoms, they don’t cure ADHD. Counseling, special accommodations in the classroom, and family and community support are other key parts of treatment.

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is a disorder that results in your body producing insufficient amounts of certain important hormones. This disorder affects your adrenal glands, which are located just above each of your two kidneys. The adrenal glands are part of your endocrine system, and they produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body.

In Addison’s disease, the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol, which is one of the hormones in a group called the glucocorticoids. Sometimes, Addison’s disease also involves insufficient production of aldosterone, one of the hormones called the mineralocorticoids. Addison’s disease can be life-threatening. The disorder, also called adrenal insufficiency or hypocortisolism, can occur at any age, including infancy, and is equally likely among males and females. It’s rare, affecting only about one in 100,000 people. Treatment involves taking hormones to replace the insufficient amount being made by the adrenal glands.

Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP)

A protein produced by a developing fetus that is present in amniotic fluid and, in smaller amounts, in a pregnant woman’s blood. Abnormal levels of AFP found in a blood test between the 15th and 18th weeks of pregnancy can indicate abnormalities in the fetus.

Alopecia

It may have started with a few extra hairs in the sink or in your comb. But now you can’t look in the mirror without seeing more of your uncovered scalp.

Baldness typically refers to excessive hair loss from your scalp and can be the result of heredity, certain medications or an underlying medical condition. Anyone – men, women and children – can experience hair loss. The medical term for hair loss is alopecia. The most common type is pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia). It accounts for about 95 percent of hair loss from the scalp. It’s typically permanent and can be attributed to heredity. Another type of alopecia, alopecia areata, can be temporary. It can involve hair loss on your scalp or your body. Its specific cause is unknown. Some people prefer to let their baldness run its course untreated and unhidden. Others may cover it up with hairstyles, makeup, hats or scarves. You may also choose one of the medications and surgical procedures that are available to treat baldness. Before pursuing any of these treatment options, talk with your doctor about the cause and best possible treatments for your hair loss.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, which is the loss of intellectual and social abilities severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. Dementia occurs in people with Alzheimer’s disease because healthy brain tissue degenerates, causing a steady decline in memory and mental abilities.

About 4.5 million older Americans have Alzheimer’s, a disease that usually develops in people age 65 or older. This number is expected to quadruple by the year 2050 as the population ages.

Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have made progress. Treatments are available that help improve the quality of life for some people with Alzheimer’s. Also, more drugs are being studied, and scientists have discovered several genes associated with Alzheimer’s, which may lead to new treatments to block progression of this complex disease.

In the meantime, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s takes patience and a focus on the things a person can still do and enjoy. Those with Alzheimer’s – as well as those who care for them – need support and affection from friends and family to cope.

Amenorrhea

The absence or cessation of menstrual periods.

Amnesia, dissociatitive

Compelling books, movies and plays often are enjoyable because they allow you to escape from yourself for a short while. As the story draws to a close, you can savor the characters’ experiences while slowly allowing thoughts of your own life to trickle back into consciousness. Getting “lost” in this way is pleasurable and healthy and allows you to return to reality refreshed.

People with dissociative disorders chronically escape their reality in involuntary, unhealthy ways ranging from suppressing memories to assuming alternate identities. These dissociative patterns usually develop as a reaction to trauma and function to keep difficult memories at bay. An estimated 3 percent of U.S. adults are affected.

Treatment may include psychotherapy, hypnosis and medication. Although the course of therapy can be difficult, many people with dissociative disorders are able to learn new ways of coping and lead healthy, productive lives.

Amniocentesis

A prenatal diagnostic procedure in which a small amount of amniotic fluid is withdrawn through a needle inserted through a pregnant woman’s abdominal wall into the uterus, then examined in a laboratory to detect genetic abnormalities in a fetus.

Amniotic fluid

The clear liquid that surrounds and protects the fetus throughout pregnancy.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Common triggers include insect venoms, latex, foods and medications.

Your immune system produces antibodies that defend against foreign substances, including allergens. When antibodies attach to these foreign substances, they may release chemicals that can cause allergic symptoms such as watery eyes and a runny nose. Anaphylaxis occurs when your immune system severely overreacts to an allergen. The flood of chemicals released in your body during anaphylaxis makes your blood pressure drop suddenly, and your bronchial tubes narrow, causing difficulty breathing or even unconsciousness and death. You may have an anaphylactic response within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen such as the venom from a bee sting or an ingested peanut.

Although anaphylaxis is the most dangerous type of allergic reaction, it’s also the least common. Still, hundreds of Americans die of anaphylactic shock each year.

Fortunately, you can be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to an allergy emergency by knowing the signs and symptoms of a severe allergic reaction and by carrying emergency medication with you. It’s also important to do everything you can to prevent exposure to life-threatening allergens.

Anemia, general

If you have anemia, people may say you have tired blood. That’s because anemia – a condition in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues – can make you feel tired.

Many forms of anemia exist, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long-term, and it can range from mild to severe. Anemia is a common blood disorder, affecting an estimated 3.4 million Americans. Women and people with chronic diseases are at increased risk of the condition.

If you suspect you have anemia, see your doctor. Anemia can be a sign of serious illnesses. Treatments for anemia range from taking supplements to undergoing medical procedures. You may be able to prevent some types of anemia by eating a healthy, varied diet.

Anemia, sickle cell

Sickle cell anemia is a lifelong, inherited blood disease. People who have the disease usually receive the diagnosis as infants. The disease causes red blood cells to change from healthy, round red blood cells to sickly and crescent-shaped ones. The disorder causes anemia and pain, among other problems.

Sickle cell anemia is one form of sickle cell disease – a category of blood disorders caused by defective hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a substance in all red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen from your lungs, through your bloodstream, to all parts of your body. Sickle cell anemia affects mainly blacks, though people of South American, Southern European or Middle Eastern descent also are at risk. About one in 500 black newborns, and one out of every 1,000 to 1,400 Hispanic babies are diagnosed with sickle cell anemia each year in the United States. A baby born with sickle cell anemia inherits a gene for the disorder from each parent. Some people inherit only one gene for the disease. This is referred to as having the sickle cell trait. People who have the sickle cell trait don’t develop the disease, but they can pass the gene on to their children. Almost 10 percent of black Americans carry the sickle cell gene.

There’s no cure for sickle cell anemia, although gene therapy may someday provide the answer. However, treatments can relieve your symptoms and prolong your life. With proper treatment, many people with sickle cell anemia lead productive lives and enjoy reasonably good health into their 40s and beyond.

Anemia, vitamin deficieny

Sickle cell anemia is a lifelong, inherited blood disease. People who have the disease usually receive the diagnosis as infants. The disease causes red blood cells to change from healthy, round red blood cells to sickly and crescent-shaped ones. The disorder causes anemia and pain, among other problems.

Sickle cell anemia is one form of sickle cell disease – a category of blood disorders caused by defective hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a substance in all red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen from your lungs, through your bloodstream, to all parts of your body. Sickle cell anemia affects mainly blacks, though people of South American, Southern European or Middle Eastern descent also are at risk. About one in 500 black newborns, and one out of every 1,000 to 1,400 Hispanic babies are diagnosed with sickle cell anemia each year in the United States. A baby born with sickle cell anemia inherits a gene for the disorder from each parent. Some people inherit only one gene for the disease. This is referred to as having the sickle cell trait. People who have the sickle cell trait don’t develop the disease, but they can pass the gene on to their children. Almost 10 percent of black Americans carry the sickle cell gene.

There’s no cure for sickle cell anemia, although gene therapy may someday provide the answer. However, treatments can relieve your symptoms and prolong your life. With proper treatment, many people with sickle cell anemia lead productive lives and enjoy reasonably good health into their 40s and beyond.

Aneurysm, aortic

Your doctor ordered the ultrasound of your abdomen to check for gallstones. But it revealed something unexpected – a bulge in the main artery (the aorta) in your abdomen. An aortic aneurysm. You’ve had no symptoms, nothing to warn you that one of your blood vessels could burst.

An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of a blood vessel. Aneurysms can form in any artery, anywhere in your body, including an artery in your brain. However, most aneurysms occur in the aorta – the body’s largest artery. The aorta, which resembles a garden hose in thickness, runs from your heart down the center of your chest and abdomen, eventually splitting off into two arteries, one that serves each leg.

Aneurysms can develop anywhere along your aorta, but most occur in the section running through your abdomen (abdominal aortic aneurysms). The rest occur in the section that runs through your upper chest (thoracic aortic aneurysms).

An aortic aneurysm is serious because – depending on its size – it may rupture, causing life-threatening internal bleeding. Each year, approximately 15,000 Americans die of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, usually because of rupture. Surgery after rupture isn’t always successful. Surgery before rupture is more effective, when the aortic aneurysm is detected in time.

Angina pectoris

It’s the middle of the night or maybe the beginning of a busy workday when you suddenly feel pain in your chest. You may try to ignore it at first, but the pain has you scared and worried. Could you be having a heart attack? Should you go to the emergency room?

Chest pain is one of the most common reasons people call for emergency medical help. Every year emergency room doctors see nearly four million Americans for this symptom.

Fortunately, chest pain doesn’t always signal a heart attack. Often it’s unrelated to any heart problem. But even if the chest pain you experience has nothing to do with your cardiovascular system, the problem may still be important – and worth the time spent in an emergency room to have it evaluated.

Aortic valve stenosis

Your heart – a muscular pump in your chest – has four valves, which open and close to keep blood flowing in the right direction through your heart. The aortic valve connects the heart’s lower-left chamber (ventricle) to your body’s largest artery (aorta).

Aortic stenosis – or aortic valve stenosis – is a condition in which the aortic valve narrows. It affects about five out of every 10,000 people in the United States. This narrowing prevents the valve from opening fully, which obstructs blood flow from your heart into the aorta and onward to the rest of your body. The condition usually results in an abnormal heart sound (heart murmur) that doctors can hear with a stethoscope.

When the aortic valve is obstructed, your heart needs to work harder to pump blood to your body. Eventually your heart muscle becomes thicker because it has to pump harder due to the obstruction. In addition, your heart can pump only a limited amount of blood – below the normal increase in blood flow you need for activities such as exercise.

Several factors, including aging, can damage the aortic valve and lead to stenosis. Some babies are even born with a defective aortic valve. If your aortic valve becomes severely narrowed, you’ll usually need surgery to replace the valve. Left unchecked, aortic stenosis can lead to serious heart problems.

Appendicitis

Your appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch that projects out from your colon on the lower-right side of your abdomen. The appendix has no known purpose, but that doesn’t mean it can’t cause problems. In fact, around 7 percent to 8 percent of Americans eventually develop appendicitis – a condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed and filled with pus.

The main symptom of appendicitis is pain that typically begins around the navel and then shifts to the lower-right abdomen. The pain usually increases over a period of six to 12 hours, and eventually may become very severe.

Anyone can develop appendicitis, but it most often strikes people between the ages of 10 and 30 and is one of the most common reasons for emergency abdominal surgery in children.

The standard treatment for appendicitis is surgical removal of the appendix. In many cases the surgery is straightforward, and you recover quickly. But if your appendix has ruptured, the surgery may be more complicated and you’ll take longer to heal. A ruptured appendix that’s not promptly treated can lead to serious complications such as infection. In rare instances a ruptured appendix can be fatal.

Arthritis, gouty

You wake up in the middle of the night, and your big toe feels as if it’s on fire. It’s hot, swollen and so tender that the weight of the blanket on it is nearly intolerable.

If so, you might be experiencing an acute attack of gout – or gouty arthritis – a form of arthritis that’s characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, redness and tenderness in joints.

Gout has been recognized for more than 2,000 years, making it one of humankind’s oldest known diseases. In the past, gout was often known as “the disease of kings” because it was associated with wealthy men who overindulged in rich food and drink. Today, it’s known that gout is a complex disorder that can affect anyone. In fact, it’s a painful problem for more than 2 million Americans.

It’s true that men are more likely to get gout than women are, but women become increasingly susceptible to it after menopause. Fortunately, gout is treatable, and there are ways to keep it from recurring.

Arthritis, infectious

Your bones and joints, like nearly every part of your body, can fall prey to infection. Joint infections (septic or infectious arthritis) can damage cartilage and tissue within days. Bone infections, osteomyelitis (os-te-o-mi-uh-LI-tis), may fester for years and become debilitating if untreated.

Bacteria, viruses, fungi and other germs are the culprits in these types of infections. They originate from an infection or injury elsewhere in your body. The germs from those sites are carried to your bones or joints through the bloodstream. Alternatively, the germs may enter a bone or joint directly from trauma or a nearby infection. For glnav, a sinus infection can spread directly into neighboring bones.

Short-lived (acute) infections usually are treated and eliminated. When these infections don’t go away with treatment, they can lead to a long-term (chronic) condition. Treatment can help control chronic infections, but the infections may reoccur or relapse.

Approximately two to five of every 10,000 people experience one of these diseases. They can afflict any bone or joint at any age. In rare circumstances bone and joint infections can be fatal. However, early diagnosis and proper treatment – especially with the use of appropriate antibiotics, which attack bacterial infections – can help control or eliminate the infection.

Arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid

Arthritis is usually associated with adults. But children can be affected by almost all of the types of arthritis that adults can have. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) – a chronic condition causing joint inflammation for at least 6 weeks in a child 16 years of age or younger – is the most common type of arthritis in children. In most cases it’s not a lifelong disorder, and the signs and symptoms fade after several months or years.

Still, JRA can be complicated. The term juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is actually an umbrella term for a group of conditions. The conditions are classified according to the number of joints affected, the signs and symptoms, and the results of blood tests. The main categories of JRA are:

  • Pauciarticular JRA. This affects four or fewer joints – typically larger joints such as the knees. This is the most common form of JRA.
  • Polyarticular JRA. This affects five or more joints – typically small joints, such as those in the hands and feet. Polyarticular JRA often affects the same joint on both sides of a child’s body.
  • Systemic JRA. Also known as Still’s disease, systemic JRA affects many areas of the body, including joints and internal organs. This is the least common form of JRA.

Treatment focuses on ongoing physical activity to maintain full joint movement and strength.

Arthritis, osteoarthritis

Arthritis is one of the most common medical problems and the No. 1 cause of disability in America. The word arthritis is a blend of the Greek words arthron, for joint, and itis, for inflammation. In other words, arthritis literally means “joint inflammation.” Although arthritis is often referred to as one disease, it’s not. Arthritis has more than 100 forms.

Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis affects nearly 21 million people in the United States. It’s characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage and may affect any joint in your body, including those in your fingers, hips, knees, lower back and feet. Initially it may strike only one joint. But if your fingers are affected, multiple hand joints may become arthritic.

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatments today are far ahead of what was available just a few years ago. In addition, how well you live with arthritis often depends on your actions and attitude. If you actively manage your arthritis, you may be able to gain control over your pain.

Arthritis, reactive

Reactive arthritis (ReA) is an inflammatory condition that develops in response to an infection in another part of your body. Coming into contact with bacteria and developing an infection can trigger reactive arthritis.

Though inflammation of your joints (arthritis) is a defining feature of reactive arthritis, this condition can also be associated with inflammation in parts of your body including your eyes, skin and the tube that carries urine away from your bladder (urethra). For most people, signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis come and go, eventually disappearing within 12 months. Treatments involve therapies to manage your symptoms and to eliminate any underlying infection.

Arthritis, rheumatoid

Tens of millions of Americans experience the nagging pains and physical limitations of the more than 100 forms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is among the most debilitating of them all, causing joints to ache and throb and eventually become deformed. Sometimes these symptoms make even the simplest activities – such as opening a jar or taking a walk – difficult to manage.

Unlike osteoarthritis, which results from wear and tear on your joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s believed to be the body’s immune system attacking the synovium – the tissue that lines your joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 2.1 million Americans. It’s two to three times more common in women than in men and generally strikes between the ages of 20 and 50. But rheumatoid arthritis can also affect young children and adults older than age 50.

There’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. But with proper treatment, a strategy for joint protection and changes in lifestyle, you can live a long, productive life with this condition.

Arthritis, septic

Your bones and joints, like nearly every part of your body, can fall prey to infection. Joint infections (septic or infectious arthritis) can damage cartilage and tissue within days. Bone infections, osteomyelitis (os-te-o-mi-uh-LI-tis), may fester for years and become debilitating if untreated.

Bacteria, viruses, fungi and other germs are the culprits in these types of infections. They originate from an infection or injury elsewhere in your body. The germs from those sites are carried to your bones or joints through the bloodstream. Alternatively, the germs may enter a bone or joint directly from trauma or a nearby infection. For glnav, a sinus infection can spread directly into neighboring bones.

Short-lived (acute) infections usually are treated and eliminated. When these infections don’t go away with treatment, they can lead to a long-term (chronic) condition. Treatment can help control chronic infections, but the infections may reoccur or relapse.

Approximately two to five of every 10,000 people experience one of these diseases. They can afflict any bone or joint at any age. In rare circumstances bone and joint infections can be fatal. However, early diagnosis and proper treatment – especially with the use of appropriate antibiotics, which attack bacterial infections – can help control or eliminate the infection.

Asthma

You may not think of asthma as a killer disease. Yet each year, nearly 500,000 Americans with asthma are hospitalized, and more than 4,000 die.

Asthma is a chronic condition that occurs when the main air passages of your lungs, the bronchial tubes, become inflamed. The muscles of the bronchial walls tighten and extra mucus is produced, causing your airways to narrow. This can lead to everything from minor wheezing to severe difficulty in breathing. In some cases, your breathing may be so labored that an asthma attack becomes life-threatening.

But asthma is a treatable condition, and most flare-ups and deaths can be prevented. In recent years, scientists have gained a better understanding of asthma’s cause. New drugs have been developed to replace standard medications. Greater emphasis also is now put on managing your own condition, much as people manage their diabetes with insulin. Together, you and your doctor can work to gain control over your asthma, reduce the risk of severe attacks and help maintain a normal life.

Artherosclerosis

Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body. Healthy arteries are flexible, strong and elastic. Their inside lining is smooth so that blood can flow unrestricted. But, over time, too much pressure in your arteries can make the walls thick and stiff, sometimes restricting blood flow to your organs and tissues. This process is called arteriosclerosis (ahr-teer-e-oh-skluh-RO-sis), or “hardening of the arteries.”

Atherosclerosis (ath-ur-o-skluh-RO-sis) is the most common form of arteriosclerosis. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, atherosclerosis refers to hardening of the arteries caused by accumulation of fatty deposits (plaques) and other substances.

This disease is commonly thought of as affecting the heart, but atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis can affect arteries anywhere in your body. When arteries leading to your limbs are affected, you may develop circulation problems in your arms and legs called peripheral arterial disease. When arteries to your heart are affected, you may have chest pain (angina), a heart attack or coronary artery disease. When arteries in your neck are affected, you could have a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Atherosclerosis can also lead to a bulge in the wall of your artery (aneurysm).

Unfortunately, some people with arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis have no symptoms until one or more arteries are so hardened that they cause a medical emergency. What can you do about this disease? Watch for warning signs, and eliminate risk factors with healthy lifestyle changes

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that affects many people at some time in their lives. The condition easily spreads in public places such as communal showers, locker rooms and fitness centers.

Usually this condition affects the spaces between your toes, but it can spread to your toenails and the soles and sides of your feet. The infection can also involve your palms and fingers. Although it occurs primarily in adults, athlete’s foot can affect children.

Changing socks, keeping your feet dry and alternating shoes can help you prevent athlete’s foot. Often, athlete’s foot responds well to over-the-counter treatments you can apply to your skin. More severe cases may require oral medications.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm problem. More than 2 million Americans have this condition, which can cause palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue and stroke. The condition is increasingly common with advancing age. It affects less than 1 percent of Americans younger than 60, but as many as one in 10 people older than 80.

In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers beat chaotically. And they don’t beat in coordination with the two lower chambers of the heart. The result is an irregular and often rapid heart rate.

Atrial fibrillation is often caused by changes in your heart that occur with age or as a result of heart disease or high blood pressure. Atrial fibrillation may be a sporadic condition, or it may be chronic.

Although atrial fibrillation usually isn’t life-threatening, it can lead to complications. Treatments for atrial fibrillation vary from person to person. But they may include medications and other interventions to try to alter the heart’s electrical system.

Autism

Autism is a complex brain disorder that causes a range of developmental problems, most notably in the ability to communicate and socialize with other people. The first signs of this disorder typically appear by age 3 and continue through life.

Although the exact prevalence of autism isn’t known, it’s estimated that one in 1,000 children has autism, including three to four times as many boys as girls. This figure seems to indicate a steep increase in the number of autism cases in the United States, but the increase may be the result of better diagnosis and changes in diagnostic criteria.

The cause of this disorder isn’t clear, and there’s no cure. But autism is a treatable condition. Children with autism benefit from early individualized, intensive interventions.