Vaginas. All women have them, so why is it such a taboo to talk openly about our health concerns in that area?
Leading intimate health brand Canesten wants to widen the conversation about vaginal concerns.
It aims to banish the shame associated with vaginas and help women everywhere to feel confident about discussing their intimate health conditions.
So, we’ve asked Mirror’s resident doctor, Miriam Stoppard, to give us the down low on our down below.
She reveals what’s on our mind most when it comes to concerns about our vagina and how we can best treat any issues that might occur.
Here are the most common questions women ask:
What is causing my vaginal discharge?
All fertile women have a vaginal discharge. It’s normal. It keeps the vagina clean and moist. In the first half of your menstrual cycle, this discharge is clear, thin and stretchy. After ovulation, it becomes thick, opaque and rubbery.
In pregnancy, it becomes thick and white. The discharge increases with sexual excitement to lubricate the vagina in preparation for sex.
An abnormal vaginal discharge, on the other hand, is different in colour, consistency and smell, and you may have other symptoms, such as soreness and itching.
Any symptoms that accompany such a discharge, such as burning, bleeding or a rash, should be investigated by your GP as soon as possible.
How do I know if I’ve got thrush?
Nearly every woman, at some point, will have a vaginal thrush infection. It’s a common infection caused by a fungus, candida albicans, that usually lives in the digestive tract and is generally kept under control by other bacteria.
If thrush appears in the mouth, it’s known as oral thrush. If you attempt to wipe away the creamy-yellow or white patches in the mouth, sore red patches are left.
It’s all too easy for the fungus to transfer from the anus to the vagina through poor toilet hygiene and during sex. It shows itself as a thick white cottage-cheese-like discharge, itchiness and soreness.
Diabetics, in particular, should be on the lookout, as they’re prone to thrush, as are pregnant women, those who are on the pill and all women just before their period.
You can speak to your pharmacist for a “one-off” treatment or to your doctor for prescription medication.
Why is my vaginal discharge bloodstained?
All women bleed from the vagina during menstruation. Any change in your normal cycle, however, or bleeding between periods should be treated with suspicion. Abnormal bleeding can ALSO occur after sex, AS spotting if you’re on the pill and AS breakthrough bleeding if you’ve had AN IUD fitted. Always see your doctor if you’re concerned about any unusual bleeding.
If you notice any bloody discharge during pregnancy, call your doctor, lie down and wait. The cause will depend on whether you’re in early or late pregnancy.
If you’re post-menopausal, and you know that your periods have definitely stopped, vaginal bleeding is not normal unless you’re taking combined oestrogen-progestogen HRT so see your doctor.
Why is my vagina dry?
In younger women, the vagina is kept lubricated by droplets of fluid that form a slippery coat on its walls. However, falling oestrogen levels at the menopause mean it may not be able to lubricate as efficiently as before. During sex, you may feel aroused, but it may take several minutes for your vagina to catch up.
Dryness makes the vagina vulnerable, as its healthy, protective acidity is compromised, meaning bacteria can grow and cause infection.
Vaginal dryness can lead to uncomfortable sex and, in turn, even less lubrication, but there are products available from your GP that can help.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
This is the commonest cause of vaginal symptoms such as discharge and itchiness. Bacterial Vaginosis is a condition in which the healthy, protective bacteria in the vagina are virtually wiped out.
These bacteria are essential for vaginal health because they manufacture lactic acid, which keeps the vagina acidic and repels infection. When that delicate balance is disturbed, those acid levels may be lowered.
Vaginal deodorants and antibiotics, for example, can cause this to happen.
If you have many sexual contacts, all of them must be informed of the infection, screened and treated if necessary.
To prevent re-infection use barrier contraceptives such as condoms and diaphragms with spermicidal creams.
There’s a one-off treatment for bacterial vaginosis so speak to your pharmacist.
Canesten is the UK’s No.1 intimate health brand. The brand predominantly focuses on female intimate health conditions, such as thrush and BV, providing treatment options and advice on identifying common conditions.