Many women experience vaginal problems at some point in their lives. We break down some common complaints and share tips on how to tackle them.
They are uncomfortable, embarrassing and difficult to share with just about anyone. But vaginal problems are actually more common than we think, and should be treated ASAP. Here, we explain the 8 most common issues women face down there.
1. Itchiness and cottage cheese-looking discharge
This is most likely caused by a yeast or fungal infection, commonly known as thrush.
Deal with it… Head to a pharmacy and grab some over-the-counter or pharmacist-dispensed antifungal creams and vaginal pessaries. Taking probiotics can also help. If the infection does not go away even after you’ve taken the above measures, or if you keep getting the infection, pay the doctor a visit.
2. Watery white, grey or yellow discharge with a fishy smell
This is most likely a symptom of bacterial vaginosis (BV), an infection caused by an overgrowth of abnormal bacteria, which can be induced by anything that changes your natural vaginal pH balance, such as douching, sex of antibiotics.
Deal with it… Avoid scented soaps and bubble baths, and make time for a medical consult. While BV can sometimes clear up on its own, it’s best to always see a doctor and get treated with medication (oral or vaginal). This is especially important if you’re pregnant as it can trigger preterm labour, or if you’ve recently undergone gynaecological surgery.
3. Frothy yellow or greenish discharge with a foul smell
This could be indicative of trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a parasite known as trichomonad vaginalis.
Deal with it… Talk to your doctor, who will examine your vaginal discharge for evidence of the parasite and also screen for other STIs. Trichomoniasis is easily cured with antibiotics, which you and your sexual partner will need to take. You will also need to refrain from sex during treatment.
Hormonal changes that occur during childbirth, breastfeeding or menopause can cause this, as can overzealous douching. If you experience vaginal dryness during sex, it’s usually due to inadequate foreplay and/or natural lubrication.
Deal with it… Avoid douching, and use a good lubricant for sex. Consult a doctor if you suspect the dryness may be caused by hormonal changes.
5. Bumps, lumps or blisters in the genital area
These are commonly caused by STIs, although they could also be the result of skin disorders and other infections. The bumps or lumps could be genital warts, an STI caused by certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV). Of course, they could be completely benign: a sign of skin irritation; ingrown hairs caused by shaving or waxing; or sebaceous cysts, which develop when the sebaceous gland – which produces the oil that lubricates the hair and skin – or duct is blocked or damaged. Blisters are usually symptomatic of STIs such as genital herpes and syphilis, caused by the herpes simplex virus and the bacterium Treponema pallidum respectively.
Deal with it… See a doctor as soon as possible; it is vital that you get tested and treated. Meanwhile, keep the genital area clean and dry, if an ingrown hair is the culprit, applying a warm compress should do the trick. If you are sexually active, take precautions so that you don’t pass anything to your partner.
(Also read: 6 Causes of Vaginal Infections)
6. Bleeding or spotting outside of your period
There are many reasons for this, including rough sex; hormonal imbalance; abnormal growths such as fibroids, endometrial polyps and ovarian cysts; ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage; infections of the vagina or cervix; and cancer.
Deal with it… Make a note of when it occurs. Spotting is totally normal if you’re on a low-dose birth control pill, but bleeding after sex could be a symptom of cervical cancer. See a doctor if you notice persistent spotting.
7. Pelvic pain, accompanied by discharge or fever or both
This could indicate pelvic inflammatory disease.
Deal with it… It’s best to see a doctor immediately, especially if the pain is persistent and accompanied by fever. You will most likely need a course of antibiotics. Severe cases may even require surgery to drain the pus inside the pelvis.
(Also read: Why you should do pelvic floor exercises)
8. Having sex is suddenly painful – and you used to enjoy it!
Pain during what’s usually a pleasurable experience could have many causes, including endometriosis, an infection and abnormal growths such as fibroids and ovarian cysts.
Deal with it… If the pain is persistent or there is any bleeding, abstain from sex until you consult a doctor, who can help shed light on the cause. Be as exact as possible in describing your discomfort so the underlying cause can be diagnosed.
A version of this story first appeared in Shape’s November 2018 issue.