NEW HAVEN, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Most women will encounter some form of irritation affecting the vulva and vagina at least once in their lives, which is why it’s critical that women are equipped with the knowledge to understand and identify symptoms of various vaginal health issues. In light of National Women’s Health Week, Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., OB-GYN, Clinical Professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, is shedding light on common gynecological issues all women should know about, including how to decipher between normal and abnormal changes to the vagina, as well as advice for maintaining overall vaginal health.
“Understanding and prioritizing vaginal health is essential for every woman's overall well-being, as ongoing vaginal health issues can negatively impact other aspects of our physical and mental health, including fertility, libido and self-confidence,” says Dr. Minkin. “By actively seeking information and expanding our knowledge of prevalent vaginal health concerns, we gain the ability to take charge of our bodies, and make proactive care a priority.”
Below, Dr. Minkin encourages women to keep vaginal health top-of-mind by sharing five common gynecological issues that women experience.
- Abnormal Discharge: It's normal for the vagina to produce a clear or whitish discharge that varies in consistency throughout the menstrual cycle. However, if there is a noticeable change in color, consistency, or odor of the discharge, it may be a sign of a vaginal health issue. For example, while thick, white discharge is common before and after menstruation, any discharge accompanied by itching, burning, and irritation indicates a possible imbalance in vaginal flora.
- Irregular Menstruation: As many as 25% of women experience irregular menstrual cycles during their lifetime. While it typically lasts around 28 days, the menstrual cycle can range from 21 to 35 days. Menstrual cycles can also vary in flow, but it’s important to note that if you are experiencing heavy bleeding, irregular periods, or painful periods this may be a sign of a menstrual disorder.
- Vaginal dryness: Vaginal dryness is a common condition for many women. While it can occur at any age, vaginal dryness is more common during menopause when the levels of estrogen in the body decrease, and during breastfeeding when estrogen levels are also low. Other factors that can contribute to vaginal dryness include medications such as antihistamines, certain antidepressants, and chemotherapy drugs, as well as certain health conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and hormonal imbalances. To alleviate discomfort associated with dryness, I recommend using a vaginal moisturizer, such as Replens Long-Lasting Vaginal Moisturizer, which replenishes the cells of the vaginal walls, leaving the vagina hydrated.
- Unbalanced pH: Vaginal pH refers to the level of acidity or alkalinity in the vagina. The optimal pH range for the vagina is slightly acidic, between 3.8 and 4.5, which helps to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria. Signs that may indicate an imbalance in vaginal pH include unusual discharge, a change in odor, itching and burning in or around the vaginal area, and pain or discomfort during sex. To help balance pH and eliminate unusual odor, I recommend using RepHresh Vaginal Gel. It's important to note that some changes in vaginal pH may be normal and not a cause for concern. For example, changes in vaginal pH typically occur during menstruation or pregnancy.
- Unusual odor: Vaginal odor is a normal part of a healthy vagina, but a strong or foul odor from the vagina that is noticeably different from its normal scent may be a sign of an imbalance or other issue. A fishy or unpleasant odor, particularly if accompanied by discharge or itching, may indicate a bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), while a yeasty or bread-like odor, if accompanied by itching or burning, may indicate a yeast infection.
“It's important for women to have regular gynecological check-ups and to monitor their vaginal health to detect any potential issues as early as possible,” says Dr. Minkin. “And as always, be sure to practice safe sex, maintain good hygiene, and seek medical attention if you experience any unusual symptoms.”