‘The health and condition of our vaginas has a big impact on the way we feel about ourselves, our comfort and of course our sex lives.’ Tania Adib
The vagina is quite something. This muscular and elastic tube measures around 12 centimetres and doubles as both the organ of sexual intercourse and the birth canal.
A simple, yet perfect feat of Mother Nature’s engineering
Despite this, women rarely feel completely comfortable discussing their vagina and genital area. When something goes wrong, they may even be too embarrassed to ask for help.
Here are some of the issues which may affect the vagina and the surrounding area:
- Thrush: also known as candida albicans – this is an imbalance of yeast can cause a thick, curd like discharge and itchy symptoms and requires treatment. It can also trigger bouts of cystitis, so seeking appropriate help and treatment is vital. Around 75% of women will experience at least one bout of thrush in their lifetimes.
- Bacterial Vaginosis (BV): a common condition which can occur in women of all ages and is caused by an imbalance in acidity levels of the vagina – which should be slightly acidic as opposed to alkaline. This balance can be upset by a variety of factors, including sexual intercourse, periods and use of the contraceptive coil. BV causes an unpleasant fishy odour.
- Vulvodynia: This chronic condition gives women the sensation of burning, stinging and stabbing and affects one in ten women. We can’t say for sure what triggers it, but nerve damage or a genetic susceptibility may be to blame. It can cause issues with sex and putting tampons in.
- Lichen sclerosus: A skin condition which causes itchy white patches on the genitals or other parts of the body and generally affects women over 50. There is no cure at present, but the latest laser treatments have been shown to effective in managing symptoms.
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): also known as STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) or venereal diseases (VD), these are infections acquired through sexual contact which can cause discomfort in the vagina and surrounding areas. It is vital that of you suspect you have acquired an STI that a doctor examines you. The most common STI is the bacterial infection chlamydia. Once diagnosed, it is easily treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, when it is left untreated, it can lead to long-term health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and even infertility.
- Pelvic floor weakness: Characterised by having ‘accidents’ when laughing, coughing or sneezing or jumping, or passing wind from the vagina or the anus. This is very common after childbirth, particularly, although not exclusively when women have given birth vaginally as opposed to a caesarean section.
- Vaginal Atrophy/ Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM): Around the time of the menopause, women’s genitals change as part of the natural ageing process which cause some unpleasant symptoms such as dryness, burning and irritation, discomfort during sex and urinary tract problems.
Women may even be unsure of how to refer to their genitals. Partly that’s because it’s become commonplace to use the word vagina as a catch-all word, to refer to the outer part of the female genital area where public hair grows – what is, in fact, the vulva. The inner part of the vulva contains the labia, clitoris and the openings to the vagina and urethra, which are internal organs. The inner area of the vulva and opening to the vagina should look pink and well-lubricated, although over the years it may become lighter or darker. Childbirth and the ageing process may also make the vaginal opening more visible.
It is vital that women get changes or discomfort in any part of their vulva and vagina checked out. Being too embarrassed to ask a doctor to check symptoms may even leave women vulnerable to cancers being undiagnosed.
Thankfully, for most women, cancer will not be the problem. There are, of course, plenty of other conditions which affect the vulval area and the vagina, which cause women a great deal of discomfort and distress. The good news is, they can be easily treated once they have been diagnosed.
Do remember, treatment for conditions affecting the vulval area and the vagina are usually easily treated. In addition to the usual care, our practice also offers the latest, innovative treatments for Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM) and vaginal atrophy.
No woman should suffer in silence when there is help out there.