Ladies, we all have one, so why are we too ashamed to speak up when something’s not right down below?
If your knee hurt, you’d see a GP wouldn’t you? The same goes for most of our aches, pains and bodily complaints. But when we’re in discomfort down there, why do we put off seeking help?
It’s time to start talking about our vaginas.
Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, Dr Shazia Malik says: ‘It’s not unusual for women to wait years to ask for professional help but seeking treatment early can mean an early resolution of symptoms, peace of mind and, most importantly, treatment.’
Here are some common symptoms and conditions to watch out for...
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
This affects a third of women and is usually signposted with a fishy discharge.
Dr Malik says: ‘As women approach and pass the menopause, the lower levels of oestrogen can affect vaginal pH and the balance of healthy bacteria — this can predispose you to infections such as BV and thrush, as well as dryness and discomfort during intercourse.’
Everyday causes of BV include washing with perfumed soaps, the coil and hormonal changes from pregnancy. Treatment is antibiotics but it can return so you may need help from your GP to identify the trigger.
This is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the UK and is picked up through unprotected sex.
Most people with this infection won’t realise they have it.
Symptoms can include: pain during urination, unusual discharge, tummy pain and bleeding after sex or between periods.
The treatment is a simple course of antibiotics, but if left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
This is a condition that affects the female upper genital tract, the womb, Fallopian tubes and ovaries. It often doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms but some women experience pain around the pelvis or tummy, discomfort during sex, pain urinating, bleeding between periods and/or after sex, heavy or painful periods, and unusual discharge — especially if it’s yellow or green. Sometimes, it can also lead to fever, vomiting and severe abdominal pain.
Untreated, it can cause long-term complications, including scarring of Fallopian tubes and infertility. Treatment is usually 14 days of antibiotics.
This is an automatic reaction to the fear of penetration, which causes your vaginal muscles to tighten up.
It can be triggered by painful sex, a bad experience, believing sex is shameful or wrong, or painful conditions like thrush.
Treatment usually focuses on your feelings around penetration, so talking therapies can be effective, as well as exercises to gradually get you used to penetration.
Heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
One in five women suffers from heavy periods, but a third have never spoken to a doctor. Changing a tampon or sanitary pad every four hours is considered normal, but if your cycle is impacting your daily life, it’s time for action.
Besides heavy bleeding, symptoms can include blood clots, long periods, fatigue, anaemia, reduced immunity and pain.
Treatment options include medication, removal of the womb lining, and hysterectomy.
Over a million women in the UK suffer with this painful itching disorder that can cause blistering, pain and white patches around the vulva, vagina and back passage.
It’s not contagious and can affect women and children of any age, but is more common in the over 50s.
It can’t be cured but steroid cream usually helps relieve discomfort.
Lichen sclerosus can slightly increase your risk of getting cancer on your vulva so check yourself regularly for lumps or ulcers.
This painful, chronic disease is caused by cells like those found in the lining of the womb — the endometrium — moving elsewhere in the body and causing adhesions (scarring).
More than one in 10 women suffer from it, and symptoms can include pelvic pain and heavy painful periods, pain during or after sex, leg and back pain, infertility, miscarriage and fatigue.
It cannot usually be seen on MRI, X-ray or ultrasound and exploratory keyhole surgery is required for a diagnosis.
Awareness is also low, and patients can be misdiagnosed with IBS or similar conditions. The average diagnosis in the UK takes 7.5 years.
There is no cure, but treatments include hormone therapies, surgery and hysterectomy.
Edited by Punteha van Terheyden