Problems down under will send any woman’s alarm bells ringing. Almost all women suffer from bacterial or yeast infections at some point or the other in their lives. For a healthy life, women must be aware of infections and diseases that occur in the female reproductive system and be able to identify different conditions of the vagina. If ignored or left untreated, it may result in complications and even affect childbirth.
Common Vaginal Conditions
Although cleanliness and healthy practices can help avoid many vaginal conditions, there are slim chances that you may get infected. Being aware of the common vaginal conditions can help keep them away.
1. Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs due to the imbalance of bacteria in the vagina and differs from other infections as it’s not caused by a foreign body. It’s an increase and change in the composition of the bacteria that are normally present in your vagina. The disease is associated with the decrease in the lactobacilli count in the vagina.
Although the exact cause of the imbalance is unknown, douching or having a new sexual partner or multiple partners may play a role. Symptoms of BV include white or gray discharge, odor, and itching. Sometimes, unpleasant symptoms like a gray, fishy-smelling discharge may be noticed. BV is a common condition and even sexually inactive women can develop it.1
2. Yeast Infections
Yeast infections, also known as vaginal candidiasis, are a common female condition that occurs due to the overgrowth of yeast cells in the vagina. A healthy vagina has bacteria and some yeast cells. But an imbalance of bacteria and yeast causes the yeast cells to multiply, resulting in intense itching, swelling, and irritation.
Treating a vaginal yeast infection can relieve symptoms within a few days. In more severe cases, it may take up to two weeks. Vaginal yeast infections are not considered as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Though sexual contact can spread the infection, even women who are not sexually active can get them. The infection causes itching, a thick white clumpy discharge, and pain during urination or sex that can be easily treated with anti-fungal medication.
Cervicitis is the inflammation of the cervix (the lower end of the uterus that opens into the vagina) that usually occurs due to non-infectious causes like chemical or physical irritations, or allergies, or even due to STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia.2 Symptoms include bleeding, brown, green, yellow or pus-like discharge and pain during urination and sex.
Though this condition is usually treated with antibiotics, severe cervicitis is treated by removing the abnormal cells. Finding the cause of cervicitis is crucial. If an infection is the cause, it can spread beyond the cervix to the uterus, then to the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic and abdominal cavity, resulting in life-threatening infections.
This may cause problems with fertility and may even affect the ability to become pregnant. It may also cause problems with your unborn baby if you are already pregnant.3
Vaginismus is a condition that relates to pain during sex and is the contraction of muscles in the vagina. Vaginismus is defined as recurrent or persistent involuntary spasm of the musculature of the outer third of the vagina. This condition is specific to pain during penetration while engaging in sexual intercourse.
Women who suffer from this condition experience involuntary tightness of the vagina during intercourse, which leads to discomfort, burning, pain, and sometimes the inability to experience penetration period. Symptoms also include difficulties when inserting tampons. Dilators and kegel exercises are common treatment methods employed to relieve this condition.4
Chronic, long-lasting pain in the area surrounding the vagina (vulva) that is not caused by an infection or other medical condition is called vulvodynia. Researchers and health care providers are not sure about what causes it, but it could be related to hormones, inflammation, or nerve problems, such as an injury or an increase in the density of nerves in the vulva.
You may experience a sharp intermittent pain, or you could have burning, itching, or general discomfort. Vulvodynia pain might occur randomly, but exercising, having sex, or wearing tight-fitting underwear or clothing could also trigger it.
Some women suffer from generalized vulvodynia (GV), which is pain that occurs almost anywhere in the vulvar area. In some cases, women may have vulvar vestibulitis syndrome (VVS), where the pain is limited to the area around the entrance to your vagina.5
6. Vulvovaginal Atrophy
Vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is a common condition associated with decreased estrogenization (hypoestrogenism) of the vaginal tissue. VVA can occur at any time in a woman’s life cycle, although it is more common in the postmenopausal phase. This condition occurs when the tissues in the vagina don’t function as they normally should and is caused by menopause or increased estrogen levels.
Common symptoms include vaginal dryness, burning, itchiness, pain during sex, discharge, spotting or bleeding. Dilators, which widen the vagina, lubricants and hormonal therapy can all solve this condition.6
7. Vulvar Varicosity
Vulvar varicosity is a relatively common venous disorder in women with varicose veins of the pelvis and lower extremities and in pregnant women. During the postpartum period, perineal veins may persist and enlarge with time in some women.
You might feel pressure or fullness and discomfort or notice bluish, veiny bulges. Vulvar varicosities most often occur in pregnancy when the weight of the uterus, plus increased blood volume, can make blood pool in veins. Standing for a long time aggravates the problem.
Vulvar varicosities often remain undiagnosed due to the localization of the varicose veins, women’s reluctance to consult, and sometimes due to the absence of any discomfort.7
|↑1||Kumar, Nikhil, Beauty Behera, Sai S. Sagiri, Kunal Pal, Sirsendu S. Ray, and Saroj Roy. “Bacterial vaginosis: Etiology and modalities of treatment—A brief note.” Journal of pharmacy & bioallied sciences 3, no. 4 (2011): 496.|
|↑2||Taylor, Stephanie N. “Cervicitis of unknown etiology.” Current infectious disease reports 16, no. 7 (2014): 409.|
|↑3||Taylor, Stephanie N., Shelly Lensing, Jane Schwebke, Rebecca Lillis, Leandro A. Mena, Anita L. Nelson, Anne Rinaldi, Lisa Saylor, Linda McNeil, and Jeannette Y. Lee. “Prevalence and treatment outcome of cervicitis of unknown etiology.” Sexually transmitted diseases 40, no. 5 (2013).|
|↑4||Harish, Thippeswamy, KrishnaPrasad Muliyala, and Pratima Murthy. “Successful management of vaginismus: An eclectic approach.” Indian journal of psychiatry 53, no. 2 (2011): 154.|
|↑5||Vulvodynia. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.|
|↑6||Mac Bride, Maire B., Deborah J. Rhodes, and Lynne T. Shuster. “Vulvovaginal atrophy.” In Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol. 85, no. 1, pp. 87-94. Elsevier, 2010.|
|↑7||Gavrilov, Sergey G. “Vulvar varicosities: diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.” International Journal of Women’s Health 9 (2017): 463.|