Our vagina is a delicate area – but you already know that. Which is why, you shouldn’t brush off any signs of discomfort because they could point to a serious health problem. If you’re experiencing recurrent itch at your vajayjay, you might have one of these health problems.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
This condition refers to an imbalance of bacteria – lactobacilli – that is normally present in the vagina. The lactobacilli are replaced by an overgrowth of other bacteria, like gardnerella vaginalis, mycoplasma and ureaplasma.
Prof Chen says that BV is the most common vaginal infection, occurring in about 30 per cent of women. It is also the most typical cause of vaginal discharge in women aged 15 to 44. Symptoms of BV include abnormal vaginal discharge, a fishy odour, itching and a burning sensation in the genital area, painful urination, and white or grey vaginal discharge.
What causes BV is unclear, but having multiple sex partners and vaginal douching may promote the condition, says Prof Chen. And you cannot get the infection from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools.
Left untreated, BV can lead to miscarriages and premature births or low birth-weight babies. It can also result in pelvic inflammatory disease with an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) such as chlamydia. It is not an STD, but treating it can reduce your risk of such diseases.
How to stop recurrent bacterial vaginosis
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, like metronidazole and clindamycin, to treat the infection, says Prof Chen. Taking probiotics can also help by counteracting the effects of the harmful bacteria.
There are also few ways you can reduce your risk of BV, like being in a monogamous relationship and using condoms when having sex, as well as avoiding vaginal douching so as to maintain the balance of bacteria in your vagina. Also keep your genital area clean and wear loose-fitting cotton undies to promote airflow and prevent dampness, which encourages bacteria to thrive.
Prof Chen adds that if you are in good health, and your natural immunity improves, the infection can clear up on its own.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
You’re not alone. One in two Singaporean women will experience at least one episode in her lifetime, according to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).
The urinary tract comprises the kidneys, ureters (tubes joining the kidneys to the bladder), bladder, and urethra, which drains the bladder of urine. An infection at any of these sites is diagnosed as a urinary tract infection (UTI).
According to Prof Chen, UTI is caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. It can occur as a result of friction during sex, poor hygiene of the genital area, or diabetes.
So how do you know if you have UTI? Symptoms include a burning sensation when peeing, feeling the need to urinate every couple of minutes, urine that is blood-tinged, cloudy and/or strong-smelling, pain in the lower abdomen or the loin, and fever.
Left untreated, the infection can produce serious damage to various parts of the urinary system, Prof Chen warns. A UTI during pregnancy can result in high blood pressure and premature labour.
How to stop recurrent urinary tract infection
See the doctor instead of waiting it out. Like cough and cold infections, UTI can recur even after a course of antibiotics, says Prof Chen. According to KKH, recurrent UTI is defined as having the infection three times or more within a year. This can be due to the same species or different bacteria. Infection is diagnosed by testing the urine for bacteria, and also by microscopic examination of the urine for the presence of pus cells. Antibiotics targeting the bacteria are typically used to treat UTI.
You can prevent it by practising good daily hygiene. As the source of the UTI-causing germs typically comes from one’s own bowel, it is important to wipe your genital area from front to back to prevent transfer of faecal bacteria, say experts from KKH. This is especially crucial if you are having diarrhoea.
Drink six to eight glasses of water a day to help flush out your kidneys throughout the day, and, to avoid bacteria from multiplying in your urinary system, don’t hold your urine in for too long. Emptying the bladder right before and after sex helps prevent bacteria from moving into your urethra. Prof Chen adds that some natural remedies, such as drinking cranberry juice, can also help prevent UTI.
Yeast Infection or Thrush
This vaginal infection is due to the fungal yeast, candida. Women who have it may complain about a thick, white, odourless discharge as well as itching, redness and even pain in the affected area, says Prof Christopher Chen, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital Singapore. Thrush can cause painful sex and urination. These symptoms can be transient or persistent, but they are not harmful to a pregnancy.
The cause of vaginal thrush is unknown. It may be the result of antibiotic treatment, or some other infection that may have led to the destruction of friendly bacteria in the vagina.
Pregnancy, oral contraceptives and diabetes can also promote the disease. Thrush is considered recurrent if it occurs more than four times a year, and there is five per cent recurrent rate after the first attack, says Prof Chen.
How to stop recurrent yeast infection
If you have thrush, you may first want to rule out diabetes. See a doctor to be sure. “You have to undergo treatment for thrush if you want to eradicate it,” adds Prof Chen. The doctor may prescribe oral medication like fluconazole or introconazole, and topical medication like clotrimazole, econazole or micronazole creams.
Text: Sasha Gonzales / Shape Singapore / January 2018
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For more stories on vaginal health, read What The Smell Of Your Vagina Really Tells You and 10 Tips on How to Care for Your Vagina — From a Doctor.