For many of us, vaginal health can be something we tend to ignore. Sometimes, we may not pay any attention to it until we notice something out of the ordinary. Other times, we may not seek medical help for an unusual symptom, hoping that it will just go away or assuming it’s not serious. While some issues may resolve on their own, the symptoms below could indicate a more serious condition. If you notice any of these, be sure to get them checked out by a gynecologist promptly.
Bleeding between periods or after going through menopause could point to a number of health problems. Women who are post-menopausal should not experience vaginal bleeding at any time, and this type of bleeding is often a symptom of uterine or endometrial cancer. For women who are not yet menopausal, bleeding between periods could indicate a hormonal imbalance that is treatable with medication. Women who experience very heavy periods may also wish to see their gynecologist to rule out endometriosis.
While it’s normal to experience some minor itching in this area, intense itching in the vaginal area may be a sign of an infection. Yeast infections, bacteria vaginosis, sexually transmitted infections, and skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and lichen sclerosus can all present with this symptom. Your gynecologist can determine the cause of the itching by doing a physical exam and taking swabs. Medicated creams and oral tablets may help relieve some causes of intense itching, and these can be prescribed by your doctor.
Discharge from the vagina is entirely normal and varies throughout the menstrual cycle. Normal discharge is clear in color. During the menstrual cycle, normal discharge will change in consistency from thin to thick. However, discharge that is yellow could be a sign of gonorrhea. Green discharge often signals a sexually transmitted infection called trichomoniasis, and thick, creamy discharge that looks similar to cottage cheese is usually associated with yeast infections. Discharge that appears brown could actually be blood, and this could indicate bleeding in between periods. In this case, it’s especially important to see a gynecologist right away; these symptoms can sometimes be due to endometrial cancer or irregularities in the menstrual cycle that need investigation.
Everyone’s vagina has a slight odor, and this can vary depending on the type of underwear you wear, your hormone levels, and your physical activity levels. However, one odor that’s not normal is a fishy smell. If you ever notice a fishy smell from this area, it may be a sign of bacterial vaginosis. This condition is an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, and treatment requires oral or topical antibiotics. While bacterial vaginosis is the most common reason for a fishy odor, trichomoniasis and pelvic inflammatory disease can also cause it. Pelvic inflammatory disease may also cause a fever, pain in the pelvis or pain while urinating, and bleeding between periods. Gynecologists can use a combination of physical exams, blood tests, and swabs to determine the cause of a fishy odor.
Pain in the vagina or pelvis can be particularly debilitating and can be caused by a variety of conditions. For example, it’s common to have vaginal pain or burning with yeast infections and sexually transmitted diseases. Endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease frequently cause pain in this area, too. Although less common, some women experience chronic vaginal pain known as vulvodynia. Vulvodynia is diagnosed when vaginal pain is not caused by an infection or another medical condition. Experts believe that nine percent of women will experience this kind of pain at some point during their lives, and it can even be triggered by trying to insert a tampon. Whatever the cause, if you are experiencing vaginal pain, see your gynecologist for evaluation. He or she will take a health history and ask about when the pain started and if anything makes it better or worse. He or she will also perform a pelvic examination and other tests as appropriate. Depending on what is found, you may be prescribed pain medication or offered other treatment.
Keeping Your Vagina Healthy
While there’s a lot that can go wrong with the vagina, there are also things you can do to minimize your risk of problems. If you’re 21 or over and sexually active, see your gynecologist for regular sexual health screenings, pelvic exams, Pap smears, and HPV testing. Always insist on using protection when having sex. In addition, gynecologists recommend wearing cotton underwear so that the vagina can “breathe,” and you may also wish to sleep without underwear to help with this. Taking a phytoestrogen can help many women, particularly those who are going through menopause or perimenopause. Phytoestrogens act as replacements for synthetic estrogen and can help ease the hot flashes and other symptoms that are associated with menopause.
Phytoestrogen can also help maintain the health of your reproductive organs such as your vagina and breasts. You can get high quality phytoestrogen from Vagifirm.com (www.vagifirm.com)