Women's Health

Vaginal Health

Why is vulvar and vaginal health important?

Maintaining a healthy vulva and vagina will help prevent discomfort and potential infections. The vagina cleanses itself by producing normal discharge and keeping acidic pH levels, which makes it difficult for infectious organisms to thrive. However, most women will experience vaginal discomfort and infections (vaginitis) at some point in their lives. If you notice unusual vaginal discharge, it could be a sign of an infection. Treatment for the infection will vary depending on what is causing it. Some of the most common vaginitis are caused by fungal organisms (Yeast Infection) or bacterial organisms (Bacterial Vaginosis).

How do vaginal infections occur?

Vaginal infections can often occur when fungal or bacteria organisms grow unopposed, uncontrolled and when there is a pH imbalance. Some of these organisms already coexist in the vagina but are kept in balance resulting in normal, healthy levels of these organisms.  Another way for vaginal infections to occur is when infectious organisms are introduced during unprotected sex.

How to prevent vaginal infections?

  • Use only water to cleanse the vulva and vaginal area.
  • Avoid using vaginal douching, scented pads/tampons, soap, bubble baths, feminine hygiene sprays, talc powder, etc.
  • Wear cotton underwear, which is a “breathable” fabric.
  • Avoid acetate, nylon pantyhose or leggings as they trap and keep excessive heat and moisture.
  • Remove wet bathing suits/gym clothes promptly.
  • Rinse underwear carefully:  avoid too much laundry detergent or fabric softeners/dryer sheets.
  • Do not leave a tampon in for a long period of time to avoid the risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome.
  • Consume plain yogurt, which is rich in probiotics. If you are lactose intolerant, you may want to use probiotics capsules instead.

When to schedule an appointment with a Health Care Provider?

  • If you notice an unusual change in your vaginal discharge (increased amount, different color, smell and/or if the discharge causes vulvar/vaginal burning, irritation, swelling, itching or pain).
  • If you have pelvic pain and/or fever (F=100.4 or higher)
  • If you think you could have been exposed to a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).

 

Bladder Health 

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is either an infection of the lower urinary system involving the bladder and the urethra (cystitis) or has advanced from the bladder and urethra to the kidneys (pyelonephritis). Women are usually at greater risk of developing a UTI than men due to their anatomy: women have shorter urethras compared to men. If the infection is limited to the bladder, it causes discomfort and pain. If the infection spreads to the kidneys (pyelonephritis) it could cause more serious problems.

What are common symptoms of a UTI?

  • Frequent urination (urinary frequency).
  • Strong urge to urinate (urinary urgency).
  • Painful, burning sensation with urination (dysuria).
  • Only small amounts of urine produced (incomplete voiding).
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria).
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Flank pain (with pyelonephritis).
  • Fever (with pyelonephritis).

What to do to prevent a UTI?

  • Keep yourself hydrated, drink plenty of water (8 glasses/day).
  • Empty your bladder promptly after sexual intercourse. Always use condoms.
  • After using the restroom, use white, unscented toilet paper and wipe from front to back.
  • Avoid thong underwear.
  • If you have history of recurrent UTIs, cranberry pills may be used to aid in prevention.

When to schedule an appointment with a Health Care Provider?

  • If you have frequent, painful urination.
  • If you have urinary urgency and incomplete voiding.
  • If you notice pelvic pain.
  • If you notice flank pain (lower back pain towards the sides) blood in the urine or fever (F=100.4 or higher) as these could be signs of a kidney infection.
  • If you think you could have been exposed to a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).

 

 

References:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Vulvovaginal Health: FAQ 190, November 2015.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Women’s Health. Vaginal Yeast Infections.