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What Every Woman Should Know About Vaginal Health and How to Recognize The Most Common Vaginal Problems

Female doctor talking with patient

For women, a vaginal problem can have a significant impact on life, affecting everything from fertility to sexual desire to the ability to reach an orgasm. Left unchecked, these problems can lead to stress, lowered self-confidence, and relationship issues.

This is why it’s so important to learn how to recognize a vaginal problem and seek help at the very first signs. Fast and effective treatment can go a long way toward helping you feel good both physically and emotionally.

What You Should Know About Vaginal Health

The vagina includes the area of a woman’s body extending from the outer genital area, called the vulva, up to the neck of the uterus. Factors affecting this area include pregnancy and childbirth, hormone levels, unprotected or forceful sex, birth control, feminine products, psychological issues, and certain health conditions and/or treatments.

Common Vaginal Problems

While there are many different problems affecting vaginal health, the three most common are yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV), and trichomoniasis. Here’s how to spot them:

Yeast Infections – Caused by a fungus, this is the most common vaginal problem. Under normal circumstances, having small amounts of candida in the vagina is perfectly normal. But given the right conditions—such as pregnancy, antibiotics use, a weakened immune system, or diabetes—candida can multiply, causing an infection in the vagina and surrounding area.

Three out of four women will experience a yeast infection at some point in their lives. Nearly half will experience two or more. Typical treatments include over-the-counter anti-fungal creams, suppositories, or vaginal tablets taken for one to seven days. Eating live culture yogurts can also help prevent and/or treat a yeast infection. In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a single dose, oral prescription of fluconazole (Diflucan®).

Yeast infection symptoms include:

  • A thick, white discharge, similar to cottage cheese
  • Vaginal pain during sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal itching/burning
  • Soreness
  • Swelling
  • Irritation

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)- BV is a common cause of discharge among women during the reproductive years. It develops when the balance of Lactobacillus bacteria in the vagina is impacted by an overgrowth of other bacteria. Although there is no definitive cause, certain factors raise the risk level for BV. These include:

  • Unprotected intercourse
  • New or multiple sex partners
  • Pregnancy
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Vaginal douches

Symptoms may include:

  • A gray or white vaginal discharge
  • A distinctive, fish-like vaginal odor
  • A burning sensation while urinating
  • Vaginal itching or irritation.

To treat bacterial vaginosis, your provider may prescribe an antibiotic to get rid of the infection. Make sure you finish taking your medicine or using the cream or gel for as long as your provider prescribes it, even if your symptoms disappear. Stopping treatment early may increase the risk of recurrence.

Trichomoniasis- One of the most curable, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), trichomoniasis, is caused by a parasite that spreads through unprotected sex. Trichomoniasis affects both women and men, although it’s most common in women.

Because trichomoniasis has an incubation period of up to 28 days, and may exhibit no symptoms, it’s easily spread. When noticeable symptoms are present, they may include:

  • A yellowish-green vaginal discharge
  • An unpleasant vaginal odor
  • Pain while urinating
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vaginal itching
  • Vaginal irritation

If either you or a sexual partner suspects trichomoniasis, you should both refrain from sex and see a healthcare provider immediately. Do not resume sex until you have been treated and declared free of symptoms. Additionally, since there are other causes of vaginal discharge, a provider may need to perform tests to differentiate the exact cause in order to determine the appropriate treatment.

Leaving trichomoniasis untreated puts you at a higher risk for contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Given the lack of symptoms for trichomoniasis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual testing for those who are HIV positive.

Preventive Measures for Optimal Vaginal Health

The simplest way to prevent common vaginal problems is to encourage a healthy vagina. The goal is to maintain the ideal balance of bacteria and yeast. Anything that throws this balance off can make you more susceptible.

The following steps help ensure a healthy vagina:

  1. Choose underwear with a cotton crotch
  2. Avoid scented feminine products and toilet tissue
  3. Avoid tight pantyhose, leggings, and jeans
  4. Eliminate vaginal douches
  5. Frequently change tampons, panty liners, and sanitary pads
  6. Remove wet clothing as soon as possible
  7. Always wipe from front to back

Other Ways to Ensure a Healthy Vagina

In addition to following the above tips, make sure your discuss any vaginal concerns with your healthcare provider during regular check-ups. Don’t let embarrassment keep you from speaking up. Even something that seems minor could signify a potential problem. Vaginal pain, dryness, and related symptoms need to be addressed.

If you’d rather not wait for an appointment with your primary care provider FastMed can help. Our neighborhood clinics offer confidential testing, diagnosis, and treatment of vaginal concerns in addition to a full range of women’s health services including STD testing. No appointment is necessary. Simply walk-in at your convenience, or check-in and register online first to save time.

About FastMed

FastMed Urgent Care owns and operates more than 100 locations across Arizona, North Carolina and Texas, providing a broad range of acute/episodic and preventive healthcare services 365 days per year. FastMed also provides workers’ compensation services at all of its clinics, and family and sports medicine services at select locations. FastMed has successfully treated more than 5.8 million patients since the opening of its first clinic in 2005, and is the largest urgent care operator to be awarded the Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval® for accreditation in healthcare quality and safety in ambulatory healthcare. For more information about locations, services, hours of operation, insurance and prices, visit www.FastMed.com.

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