Vaginal Health: Why It’s Time to Pay Attention to Yours

Forget about a new year, about a new you; Let’s aim for a smarter, not harder, approach to well-being. Below you’ll find the basics of a vaginal health check, including signs that everything is running smoothly…and signs that your vaginal environment has been altered. Plus: Tips from an OB-GYN to promote vaginal health and sexual well-being and how often you should really visit your doctor.

As we approach 2024, you’re probably thinking about ways to improve your health, happiness, and well-being. With that in mind, might we suggest that you lean into some routine household tasks to have your bases covered before moving on to higher goals and resolutions? For example, if you’ve been nervous about addressing some signs of vaginal imbalance or missed some routine gynecologist appointments, consider this your cue to get on top of things, immediately.

Read on to discover the ins and outs of vaginal health—what’s normal and what might be cause for concern—as guided by Cynthia Abraham, MD, FACOGa board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

What does a healthy vaginal environment look like?

Before we delve into the key indicators that suggest your vaginal health could improve, let’s first look at how to tell if your vagina is healthy and balanced. “Pink, lubricated vaginal tissue and the absence of abnormal vaginal discharge are key signs of a healthy vaginal environment,” says Dr. Abraham.

As a reminder, vaginal discharge is totally normal and expected. According to him UK National Health Service (NHS), vaginal fluid keeps this sexual organ clean and moist while protecting against infections. It also helps balance the vaginal microbiome. That said, the color, consistency, and smell of vaginal discharge must meet certain standards for it to be healthy and okay:

  • Color: light or milky white
  • Consistency: thin and slippery to thick
  • Odor: weak (neither unpleasant nor fishy)

The markers above will vary from woman to woman, and will also be based on personal factors such as age, menstruation status and cycle timing, and overall hormonal health.

Signs Your Vaginal Health Might Be Bad

It’s pretty easy to spot signs of an unhealthy vaginal environment. doctor abraham appointment The following are the key symptoms of vaginal imbalances:

  • Recurrent infections, including candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis.
  • Abnormal discharge (that is, if it has a bad odor and/or is not clear or white)
  • Itching

“Cases where symptoms do not improve after over-the-counter antifungals and steroids,” he continues, will require medical attention. “It is important to consult a gynecologist if symptoms do not disappear within 72 hours after starting over-the-counter treatment.” In some cases, ongoing symptoms may indicate the presence of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or another underlying health condition.

The absence of vaginal moisture can also indicate that your vaginal environment is not in optimal condition and/or that you are dealing with hormonal imbalances. Vaginal dryness can be associated with important life stages and events (perhaps most famously menopause) due to drops in estrogen. “Estrogen is a hormone released by the ovaries that helps maintain lubrication, elasticity, and thickness of the vagina,” Dr. Abraham previously told HUM. “Low estrogen levels can also occur after childbirth and during breastfeeding.”

Additionally, vaginal dryness, thinning, and inflammation may also reflect imbalances in the vaginal microbiome. For example, a 2014 study In the diary Menopause showed that a low abundance of certain lactobacillus The bacteria strains were associated with vulvovaginal atrophy (a common condition in which the vaginal lining becomes dry and thin, causing pain and discomfort).

Some other signs and events may also tell you that it is time to see your gynecologist, such as:

  • The presence of bumps, sores, discoloration, and similar abnormalities.
  • Major changes in your menstrual cycle and/or irregular bleeding
  • Pain during sexual activity.

It’s very common for women to avoid simply talking about vaginal health, as well as researching things on their own, especially if a problem (and the resulting embarrassment or fear) arises. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone and you do not need to engage in negative self-talk or fall into a shame spiral. After all, neither will help you regain your vaginal health (not to mention her mental health).

As with any health issue, it is essential to be proactive and take the necessary precautions as soon as possible. Here are 8 of Dr. Abraham’s top suggestions for routinely supporting vaginal and sexual health:

  1. Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear for breathability and comfort.
  2. Use soap and water when bathing and never apply soap inside your vagina.
  3. Avoid douching, which can wreak havoc on your vaginal microbiome and is even associated with a increased risk of adverse gynecological health outcomes
  4. Take probiotics (like HUM’s Private Party) to support healthy bacterial balance and improve immune defenses
  5. Practice safe sex, that is, using condoms to prevent new organisms from entering your vagina.
  6. Urine after having sex.
  7. Clean sex toys well after each use.
  8. Consult your gynecologist as necessary. and routinely

On this last point, Dr. Abraham reminds us that we have to go beyond making a gynecological appointment only when something seems wrong down there. “It is very important for patients to visit the gynecologist annually,” he shares. “However, it is not necessary to have a Pap test annually. In the absence of abnormal cells and high-risk HPV, the interval can be extended to every 3 to 5 years.” He adds that PAPs can be stopped when you turn 65, as long as you have had normal PAPs for the past 10 years and no history of severe cervical dysplasia in the past 25 years.

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