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MENSTRUATION, INFECTION AND THE PH CONNECTION
Founder of HealthRock, Dr. Machelle Seibel offers advice for women
Changes in vaginal pH as a result of common “pH triggers” make women more susceptible to infections such as bacterial vaginosis (BV). Understanding how the vaginal environment responds to pH fluctuation helps health professionals prevent and treat these conditions.
Some of the most common pH triggers that make the vaginal environment more susceptible to infection include:
|--||Tampons that absorb menstrual fluids for an extended period of time|
|--||Douching without balancing pH afterwards, douching with fragrances, scented soap and hot tubs|
|--||Feminine products that contain deodorants|
|--||Hormone fluctuations such as during menopause or pregnancy|
“Consider the pH balance of a swimming pool,” said Dr. Machelle Seibel, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Massachusetts and Founder of HealthRock. “The right balance must be achieved between chlorine and water in order to keep fungi and other bacteria from growing. The body is an infinitely more complicated system, but the same science applies. Keeping the pH environment of the vagina in balance helps prevent infection.”
pH is a measure of the acidity of the vaginal environment. In healthy women, vaginal pH is typically 3.5 to 4.5. This pH is ideal for beneficial bacteria and creates a hostile environment for pathogenic bacteria that cause odor and infection. A healthy pH both helps beneficial bacteria to thrive and prevents overgrowth of yeast and pathogenic bacteria.
Blood has a pH of 7.4, so during your period your vaginal pH becomes elevated by menstrual fluids. Tampons can contribute to an elevated pH as they retain the fluids that cause pH to increase. The changing pH is part of the reason why many women who suffer from recurrent infections find that their period is often the event that sets them in motion.
“Women shouldn’t avoid using tampons but it is suggested that they use the lowest absorbency possible,” said Dr. Seibel. “It is also important that the tampon is changed every 4 to 8 hours to reduce the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.”
When pH becomes elevated, the vaginal environment shifts in favor of the pathogenic bacteria. This can allow unwanted bacteria to cause odor, irritation and possibly infection. Elevated pH is one of the key factors doctors look for when diagnosing vaginal infections. Maintaining vaginal pH within the healthy range can help reduce risk of infections.
Symptoms of a yeast infection include itching and burning, with an odorless vaginal discharge that is sometimes thick. Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis are often similar, although the discharge produced typically has a fishy odor, especially after sex. Many women mistake BV for yeast infections because they are less familiar with it.
Untreated BV can cause premature birth, and puts women at a significantly higher risk for urinary tract infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and even sexually transmitted diseases. Once contracted, BV must be treated with antibiotics, making prevention more important than ever.
“The connection between pH and infection is clear: Restore pH and stay BV free,” said Dr. Seibel. “Now women can start putting that knowledge to work.”