Like the well-being of any other organ of the body, vaginal health is crucial to a woman’s overall well-being.
A healthy vagina dispenses a healthy amount of discharge that sloughs off dead cells and unwanted bacteria, keeping the vagina safe and infection-free. It also lubricates the vagina and prevents dryness.
An unhealthy vagina can affect your fertility and libido. Long-term vaginal distress can affect your relationship with your partner, lower your self-confidence and induce stress.
An unhealthy vagina is more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections like genital and vulvovaginal candidiasis). Approximately 75 percent of all women are likely to contract a vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Any minor infections, if not treated timely, present the threat of exacerbating into complex health issues. Therefore, consulting your gynecologist at the first sign of a vaginal malfunction is crucial.
Here are 10 warning signs that indicate your vagina is unhealthy.
1. Itching & Burning
A constant itching and burning sensation indicates the onset of a number of vaginal infections. When the harmful bacteria outnumber the good bacteria in the vagina, the imbalance manifests itself through the physical symptom of itching and burning.
A certain amount of yeast is essential to ward off harmful bacteria in the vaginal area. However, an overproduction of yeast can result in a yeast infection, causing symptoms that include itching and burning.
An inflammatory sensation and itching without any foul odor emanating from the vagina are signs of a yeast infection, according to a 2004 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Itching can also be a reaction to chemicals or ingredients in soaps, creams, contraceptive foams and prepackaged douching mixtures. These mixtures can alter the bacterial balance and acidity of the vagina that protect it against infections.
2. Smelly Discharge
It’s unlikely for your vagina to smell like a bed of roses, but if you notice a recurrent strong odor, one that even transfers to your undergarments, it might be a sign of an infection.
An excess of harmful bacteria causes bacterial vaginosis. A foul-smelling vaginal discharge is often the first and most common symptom of this infection.
A “fishy odor” is one of the major symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, according to a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Women’s Health.
This discharge may especially occur after intercourse.
Pregnant women who contract bacterial vaginosis run a risk of delivering their baby prematurely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It also increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV, and may sometimes lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.
Therefore, seek medical attention right away if you notice a vaginal odor.
3. Discoloration & Excessive Discharge
Vaginal discharge is the body’s natural mechanism to keep the vagina lubricated and flush out harmful bacteria. Normal vaginal discharge – clear or white and does not give off a bad odor.
A brown or red discharge that occurs right after a menstrual cycle is usually not a matter of concern. However, if you experience brown or red discharge on normal days between periods, seek medical attention as it could be indicative of cervical cancer. If it occurs during early pregnancy, it could signify a miscarriage.
A green or yellow, smelly and froth-like discharge is not normal and may be a sign of trichomoniasis, an STD.
A watery white, gray or yellow discharge might be a symptom of bacterial vaginosis. While the amount of discharge differs from woman to woman, recurrent and excessive discharge may also indicate bacterial vaginosis.
Seek medical attention right away if you notice a discoloration in your vaginal discharge.
4. Abnormal Bleeding
If you experience bleeding between periods, it is a cause for alarm. A menstrual cycle that lasts abnormally long may also be a sign that there’s a problem.
If you have reached menopause (absence of menstruation for 12 months) but are still experiencing bleeding and spotting, consult your gynecologist immediately.
Post-menopausal bleeding is a crucial symptom and must be immediately diagnosed to prevent its transformation into a malignant disease, according to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Reproduction, Contraception, Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Some women may also notice the passage of blood clots through the vagina post-menopause – another warning sign of an unhealthy vagina and related diseases, such as endometrial polyps (growths in the inner lining of the uterus) or endometrial or cervical cancer.
5. Bleeding During or After Intercourse
While it is common for women who are new to sexual intercourse to experience bleeding, medical attention must be sought if it is a recurring issue in young women.
Bleeding during or after intercourse in a woman of any age could indicate a vaginal infection, a vaginal tear (induced by childbirth), STDs like chlamydia or vaginal dryness. The friction produced during intercourse can irritate dry skin and cause spotting.
If you have gone through menopause and experience bleeding during or after intercourse, it is a great cause for worry as it could indicate cervical cancer.
Therefore, any abnormal bleeding during or after intercourse needs medical attention as it could have long-lasting and grave consequences.