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The vagina is like a self-cleaning oven. Just like any other natural body orifice (for instance, mouth, ears, or nose), the vagina is colonized with billions of microorganisms.
The main microorganism is Lactobacillus, which produces lactic acid, maintaining the acidic vaginal environment (pH ~ 3.5-4.5). (1)
This acidic environment, in turn, maintains the normal vaginal flora and prevents the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.
However, sometimes, when this balance is disturbed, or a pathogenic microorganism is introduced into this environment, problems may occur.
What causes vaginal infections?
Vaginal infections are most often caused by an overgrowth of normally present microorganisms.
These microorganisms include anaerobic bacteria, namely, Gardnerella vaginalis, which causes bacterial vaginosis, and Candida albicans, which causes yeast infections.
These three conditions account for over 90% of all vaginal infections.
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What are the symptoms of vaginal infections?
The most common symptoms of vaginal infections include abnormal vaginal discharge (in terms of volume, odor, or color), vaginal or vulvar itching, irritation, burning with urination, pain with sexual intercourse, and vaginal spotting. (2)
Your vaginal health should be checked from time to time, and if any issue persists, consult your doctor.
What are the ways to prevent vaginal infections?
One situation that can lead to an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina and a yeast infection is the antibiotic treatment for a different infection (for instance, sinusitis).
Taking probiotics or even prophylactically taking antifungal medication can prevent the occurrence of a yeast infection, especially if it is known that the patient is prone to it.
Trichomonas is a sexually transmitted infection and, as such, can be prevented by using condoms.
What are the risk factors involved with vaginal infections?
Vaginal infections, specifically caused by anaerobic bacteria, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), can increase the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. (3)
Studies have also found recurrent BV to be associated with an increased risk of preterm labor, (4) ascending infection and chronic endometritis (the infection of the uterine lining), (5) and cervical precancerous lesions. (6)
How can you stay fresh down there all day?
The absence of vaginal infection means a healthy vagina. Timely cleaning of the vaginal area is what is very much required and should be done daily.
Also, good cotton panties can help absorb the moisture and make you feel fresh.
If you experience symptoms of a vaginal infection, see your gynecologist, and be treated for it immediately.
What are the easy ways to maintain vaginal hygiene?
It does not require anything special. Washing the external part of the female genitalia (vulva) with soap and water should do it.
The vagina is like a self-cleaning oven, and as long as there is no pathologic infection or imbalance in the normal colonizing vaginal flora, the vagina is healthy and happy.
To prevent infection, cleaning is the key. Also, make sure to be extra protective in summers as sweating needs frequent cleaning and maintaining vaginal hygiene.
What types of food help maintain vaginal health?
No data suggest that any specific diet would help maintain healthy vaginal flora.
Can vaginal infections cause cervical cancer?
Some studies have shown that chronic or recurrent bacterial vaginosis might be associated with the development of precancerous cervical dysplasia, which later on can lead to cervical cancer. (6)
Moreover, bacterial vaginosis makes you increasingly susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV).
An overpopulation of HPV in the vaginal area can induce certain cellular changes in the cervix, which increases the risk of cervical cancer. In fact, this high-risk virus is recognized as one of the main culprits behind cervical cancer, as it is found in almost all cases.
Bacterial vaginosis is perhaps the most prevalent form of vaginal imbalance that affects women during the childbearing years, which can pave the way for other, more serious problems such as cervical cancer.
So even though BV is extremely common, it should not be taken lightly. Instead, you must attend to every vaginal problem with the necessary care and seek medical help if needed.
Vaginal health is often neglected, which should not be the case. It is very important to keep your vagina in the best of health and hygiene.