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Just like any other natural body orifice, 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.
Causes of 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 microorganisms account for over 90% of all vaginal infections.
Symptoms of Vaginal Infections
The most common symptoms of vaginal infections include:
Your vaginal health should be checked from time to time, and if any issue persists, consult your doctor.
How to Maintain Vaginal Hygiene
Maintaining vaginal hygiene does not require anything special. 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. Timely cleaning of the vaginal area is what is very much required and should be done daily. Washing the external part of the female genitalia (vulva) with soap and water should do it.
Also, good cotton panties can help absorb the moisture and make you feel fresh. Make sure to be extra protective in the summer as sweating needs frequent cleaning.
ALSO READ: How to Maintain Vaginal Health and Hygiene
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.
Risk Factors for 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, human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis (3)
- Preterm labor (4)
- Ascending infection and chronic endometritis (the infection of the uterine lining) (5)
- Precancerous cervical dysplasia, which later on can lead to cervical cancer (6)
Moreover, the risk of cervical cancer also increases with HPV in the vaginal area as it induces certain cellular changes in the cervix. 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 bacterial vaginosis 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.
A healthy vagina is characterized by a proper natural pH and a balanced microflora. Any imbalance in the bacterial population in the vagina can lead to infections.
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. This can be achieved with a simple cleaning of the external genitalia with soap and water.