Are things feeling “not right” down there? Whether it’s an odour, discharge or just a weird feeling, your vaginal symptoms should never be ignored!
So first of all, let’s talk about what’s normal and what’s NOT. Everyday normal discharge is secreted by the vagina as the body’s way of maintaining a healthy environment. This discharge changes throughout the month, but should not have any severe odor or very chunky consistency. Being aware of your monthly changes in discharge can help you to better identify when there may be a problem!
Some warning signs can be: a change in the amount of discharge, colour or smell, along with irritation, itching or burning.
A healthy vaginal flora is maintained by the balance of specific microorganisms, and can be influenced by a number of factors. Normal vaginal pH varies from 3.8-4.2, at which range the proper microorganism balance is maintained. Outside of this pH range, the vaginal microflora can be disrupted with the overgrowth of pathogens. The vaginal pH may be disrupted as a result of: feminine hygiene products, contraceptives, vaginal medications, antibiotics, stress, sexual intercourse or sexually transmitted diseases.
This pH disruption can give “bad bacteria” or yeast a chance to flourish where they normally would not!
Here’s what could be going on and what you should do about it!
The THREE Most common causes of vaginal discomfort (vaginitis) are: Bacterial vaginosis, Yeast infections (vulvovaginal candidiasis) and trichomonas vaginalis (sexually transmitted infection).
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
This is the most common cause of vaginitis as a result of an overgrowth of “bad bacteria”. The main symptom of BV is a fishy vaginal odor with a an increase in vaginal discharge (mild-moderate), and can also present with irritation, which is less common.
Yeast Infection (Vulvovaginal Candidiasis)
Some symptoms that can indicate a yeast infection is present can include: itchiness and burning, redness of the skin surrounding the vaginal opening and a thick white cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge. You may also experience pain or discomfort during sex.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Many sexually transmitted infections can present with no symptoms at all, so it is important to be properly examined if you have had unprotected sex (even if your partner presents with no symptoms). Some symptoms which may indicate a sexually transmitted infection may be present include: pain with sex, pain with urination, and spotting between periods.
So What Should you do?
- Ensure you are properly diagnosed
- Many of these conditions can mimic each other, so it is very important to have a proper pelvic exam with all of the required swabs!
- Having your medical or naturopathic doctor perform a pelvic examination can also give them a lot of information with being able to visualize the area and make sure there are no other signs or symptoms of concern.
- Ensure you are properly treated
- If you assume every sign or symptom is a yeast infection, more serious signs and symptoms can be easily ignored.
- Treat the cause !
- Recurrent bacterial vaginosis and yeast can result in numerous antibiotic & antifungal prescriptions which can permanently disrupt the vaginal flora resulting in an increased susceptibility to their recurrence.
Where does Naturopathic Medicine come in?
Naturopathic medicine can help to treat the root cause of disrupted vaginal flora & prevent future recurrences. Diet & lifestyle changes along with specific supplements can be very effective in eradicating both bacterial vaginosis and vulvovaginal candidiasis.
If a sexually transmitted infection is present, it is important to see your medical doctor to receive proper treatment & discuss future prevention strategies.
Dr. Laura, ND