The vagina is capable of so many things. It helps birth a baby, is integral during sexual intercourse, helps define a woman, and is hormonally controlled and self-regulating.
Unfortunately, she (yes, she) is responsive to so many external and internal influences that it may be hard to determine what needs a doctor’s attention and what is a normal part of the cycling vagina.
1. Vaginal discharge
Discharge is a normal part of being a woman. It increases and becomes stretchier around ovulation, then thins out as woman approaches her period. However, not all discharge is normal. Thick white (like cottage cheese), thin and grayish colored, yellow or green discharge should be immediately evaluated by your health care provider.
2. Vaginal pain
Around ovulation and the menstrual cycle, women may notice increased sensitivity in and around their vaginal area due to the changes in hormones. Women who experience routine pain or burning, or who have pain with sexual intercourse or on insertion of a tampon may need further work up.
3. Vaginal odor
While there is a natural odor to the vagina that can change with hormonal fluctuations, musty or fishy odors can indicate an infection.
4. Vaginal bumps
While the vagina is internal, many report that there are "bumps on my vagina" when something pops up. Routine (but annoying) bumps can include ingrown hairs however herpes, molluscum contagiosum or warts need additional work up and treatment.
5. Vaginal itching
More often than not, the vagina does not routinely itch. Therefore when she becomes itchy, a woman sits up and takes notice because it is annoying and often signals an infection or irritation of some sort.
Keep in mind that several of these symptoms often occur at the same time -- itching, burning and discharge, or discharge and odor, or pain and bumps -- however this is not always the case. Ultimately if you suspect something, see your health care provider and get properly evaluated.
Many sexually transmitted infections or routine infections are treatable with antibiotics such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, syphilis, crabs, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. However human papilloma virus (HPV), herpes, warts, hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV and AIDS, are controllable but permanent.
Please be kind to your vagina.
1. Update to CDC’s Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. Web. 10 June, 2013.
2. The Role of Physical Examination in Diagnosing Common Causes of Vaginitis. Web. 10 June, 2013.
Reviewed June 11, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith