This is what your vulva says about your health and hygiene

vaginal health

White, green, or smelly discharge, swollen labia, itching, pain while urinating, or loss of blood outside your menstrual period; your body has various ways of telling you if something is wrong in or around your vagina. Because we understand that you don’t want to go see your GP for every little thing, or maybe you just find it very uncomfortable, we will explore the topic of vaginal health a bit more in this article.

Going to the doctor

Many women don’t want to go to the doctor if they have vaginal issues. We are ashamed of that itchy feeling or smelly vaginal discharge. Keep in mind that your doctor is a trained professional. They won’t judge you or make you feel ashamed. So don’t ignore your issues, but contact your GP. If you want to find out if your particular problem is serious or not, you can use the information below.

A healthy vulva: white discharge

A healthy vulva is different for every woman. Almost every woman has somewhat thick, white discharge. As you get further along in your cycle, the amount of discharge can increase. This is because of the increasing levels of oestrogen in your body. “If you notice a change in your discharge, it’s a good idea to contact your GP,” says gynaecologist Narenda Pisal. “Many common benign conditions, such as a cervical polyp or ectropion, cause excessive discharge.”

My discharge is watery

“Watery discharge is a common occurrence,” says gynaecologist Claire Bailey. “If your discharge is watery and clear, that’s a good sign. It keeps the vulva clean and washes away dead cells and bad bacteria that can cause infections. Your discharge is also a natural lubricant during sex. If you’re going through menopause, your discharge can get watery too. This is because the oestrogen level in your body decreases, which can lead to vaginal atrophy (thinning of the skin of the vulva) and in turn causes watery discharge.”

Green discharge: what does it mean?

If your vaginal discharge is green, then we recommend contacting your GP. “Green discharge can be a sign that you have an infection like chlamydia or gonorrhoea,” says Bailey.” These infections can be cured with antibiotics.”

My discharge smells

Vaginal discharge usually has a certain smell. If you notice that your discharge suddenly smells different or smells bad, then it’s possible that you have bacterial vaginosis. This means that the natural balance of the bacteria in your vulva is disrupted. There are several possible causes for this, like vaginal douching, wearing panty liners, and having sex. If you have bacterial vaginosis, your discharge can have a grey/white colour and it often has a strong, unpleasant smell. The good news is that your vagina is able to solve the problem itself in time, but you can also go see your doctor for antibiotics if it takes too long or if it causes too much discomfort.

Also read: Bacterial vaginose: what is it and what can you do about it?

My labia are swollen

Although no vulva is the same, you will notice if your labia are swollen. “It’s never actually just the labia that are swollen,” says gynaecologist Bailey. “Usually that person also experience discomforts like redness, itching, wounds, or pain. The cause can can be an inflammation or an infection. Try to decrease the inflammation or infection yourself first, for example by not wearing panty liners, or using soap or vaginal douches. Tight clothing like pantyhoses, leggings, and jeans are a no-go as well. “You can try to treat the infection with regular pharmacy products. But it that doesn’t work, contact your GP.”

Vaginal yeast infection

Vaginal thrush or a vaginal yeast infection (candida) is very common and is fortunately harmless. It can be very uncomfortable however, because it often causes itching and pain in and around the vulva. Sometimes you also experience pain or a tingling sensation while peeing. A vaginal yeast infection can be a recurring issue. It’s not an STI, but it can be caused by sex. That’s why it’s important that both partners are treated for yeast infection. There are capsules available, but there are also creams that you can apply to the vagina and penis.

I bleed after sex

It’s not uncommon for women to bleed after sex or between periods. Dr. Christine Ekechi says: “It can indicate changes in the cervix. This type of bleeding usually passes on its own. In very rare cases, it can indicate cervical cancer. Your doctor can rule this out with a smear test. This is a vaginal examination.”

Also read: What is midcycle bleeding and how long does it last?

Cystitis: a burning sensation while peeing

If urinating is painful or causes a burning sensation, it’s possible that you have cystitis. Other symptoms of cystitis are only being able to release small amounts of pee at a time, cloudy and smelly urine, and generally not feeling well. Cystitis is caused by colon bacteria ending up in your bladder. This can happen if you insert a tampon or a diaphragm, have sex, or when you wipe back to front instead of front to back. Women are more susceptible to cystitis than men because their urethra is shorter and is much closer to the anus. During menopause and pregnancy, women are even more susceptible to cystitis.

”Women are more susceptible to cystitis than men because their urethra is shorter and is much closer to the anus.”

You can try to cure mild cystitis by drinking plenty of water and making sure you completely empty your bladder when you’re on the toilet. If your cystitis is more persistant and drinking water doesn’t work, you should contact your GP. They can give you antibiotics. Even then, make sure that you still drink plenty of water.

Also read: Can you still have sex when you have cystitis?

Stomach cramps or lower back pain outside your menstruation

“If you are experiencing stomach cramps, lower back pain and/or pain during sex, as well as a noticeable change in your discharge, you may have an infection of the Fallopian tube,” says Dr. Ekechi. “The symptoms can vary: discomfort or pain while peeing or during sex are common symptoms for example. It’s important to treat infections of the Fallopian tubes as soon as possible, as complications can increase the risk of blocked or damaged Fallopian tubes. And this increases the chance of an ectopic pregnancy. So contact your GP immediately if you recognise any of the symptoms.”

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