Common Gynecologic Problems
Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina. There are many possible causes, and the type of treatment depends on the cause. Normal vaginal discharge can be clear or cloudy and whitish. A healthy vagina keeps a balance of many organisms, such as bacteria and yeast. This balance can be affected by many factors, including antibiotic use, changes in the body’s normal hormone levels due to pregnancy, breast-feeding or menopause, douching, spermicides, sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted disease (STDs)
Treatment may depend on the cause of the vaginitis and it may be with a pill or applying a cream or gel.
Yeast Infection or Candida:
The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are itching and burning of the vagina and vulva. The vulva may be red and swollen and burn with urination. The discharge is usually white, with a cottage cheese appearance and has no odor. You can buy over-the-counter yeast medication, but be sure to see your provider if:
- This is the first time you have had a vaginal infection
- Your symptoms do not go away after treatment
- Your vaginal discharge is yellow or green or has a bad odor
- There is a chance that you have been exposed to an STD
Bacterial vaginosis is due to an overgrowth of several natural vaginal bacteria. The usual symptom is an increased amount of vaginal discharge with a strong fishy odor that is stronger during menstrual period or after intercourse. The discharge is thin and dark or dull gray. Bacterial vaginosis may or may not cause itching depending on the amount of discharge. Bacteria vaginosis is treated with antibiotics that can be taken by mouth or applied to the vagina as a gel. Bacterial vaginosis often recurs. It may require repeated treatment. When bacterial vaginosis is recurrent, it may indicate that an STD is present and further testing should be done.
Risks of contracting vaginitis can be reduced by the following:
- Do not use feminine hygiene sprays or scented, deodorant tampons.
- Do not cover up a bad odor. It could be a sign of infection that should prompt you to see your doctor.
- Do not douche. It is better to let the vagina cleanse itself.
- Thoroughly clean diaphragms, cervical caps, and spermicide applicators after each use.
- Use condoms during sex.
- Check with your doctor about preventing yeast infections if you are prescribed antibiotics for another type of infection.
Trichomonas is a parasite that is spread through sexual contact. Women who have trichomonas vaginitis are at higher risk for infection with other STDs. Symptoms include yellow, gray or green vaginal discharge. The discharge may have a fishy odor. It can cause burning, irritation, redness and swelling of the vulva and vagina.
The treatment is by a single dose of antibiotic by mouth. Both partners should be treated together to prevent re-infection.
Atrophic vaginitis is caused by lack of estrogen hormone, which can occur during breast feeding and after menopause. Vaginal dryness and burning are the symptoms of atrophic vaginitis. The treatment is by estrogen replacement therapy either by pills or a vaginal cream. If a woman cannot use estrogen replacement therapies, a water-based lubricant can be used.
Contact your doctor at the first sign of any abnormal discharge or symptoms of vaginitis. After the cause of vaginitis is discovered, in most instances it can be successfully treated.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases are infections that are spread through sexual contact: vaginal, oral or anal. STDs include chlamydia infection, gonorrhea, genital warts (HPV) herpes, syphilis, trichomoniasis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS.
Most STDs are easily treated if they are caught early. Unfortunately, many people do not seek treatment because they have no symptoms and thus do not even know they have become infected. Other people have symptoms, but do not go to doctor because they are too embarrassed or don’t realize their symptoms are a warning sign of a serious infection. Untreated STDs can lead to severe health problems and may even result in death. Also, when left untreated, they are likely to continue spreading from one person to another.
Laboratory tests can help your doctor detect most STDs, but these infections cannot be diagnosed unless you decide to seek medical help.
Important Facts about STDs
- Your risk of getting an STD begins the first time you have sex.
- Multiple partners will increase your risk of getting an STD.
- In women, STDs can lead to cancer, infertility, long-term pain and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb).
- Men can also suffer long-term problems such as infertility, heart disease and arthritis.
- Mothers can pass STDs on to their babies before, during or after birth.
- Some STDs are incurable and stay with you for life.
- Early diagnosis and treatment can either cure you or help you avoid most of the serious complications.