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Women's Health

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Vaginal Problems That Affect Your Sex Life

Vaginal disorders ranging from chronic infections to vaginitis, fibroids, and stress incontinence can damage your sexual health and general well-being.

Vaginitis continued...

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is “the most common vaginal infection in women of reproductive age,” according to the National Institutes of Health. Women with BV may have a copious, thin grayish-white discharge -- or they may be symptom-free.

Some studies suggest that untreated BV can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility, so it’s important to seek treatment from a health care provider, says Susan Kellogg, CRNP, PhD, director of Vulvar Pain and Sexual Medicine at the Pelvic & Sexual Health Institute in Philadelphia. Fortunately, BV is easily treated with oral or vaginal antibiotics.

Yeast infections caused by the overgrowth of one of several strains of Candida, a fungus that lives normally in the vagina, are also common; three in four women will have at least one at some point in their life. Women may notice a thick white discharge with a slight odor. However, many women complain of genital itching, soreness, or irritation.

Treatment is painless and easy; most women simply insert at bedtime a prescribed cream or an ovule (a soft suppository) -- generally soothing but messy -- or they can take a prescription oral antifungal such as Diflucan. You’ll avoid the mess, but relief might take a few days longer.

Atrophic vaginitis can develop if you’re breastfeeding or taking progestin-only birth control pills; both may cause a dip in estrogen levels. This condition feels like an infection with burning, itching, and pain, but there’s no active infection. Treatments such as estrogen creams or a vaginal estrogen ring (inserted by your doctor) can help.

Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection, can cause a greenish-yellow frothy discharge, with some itching and burning. Women might notice irritation with intercourse. Like BV, “trich” is easily treated with oral or vaginal antibiotics.

If you think you have any of these, see your doctor. Loading up on over-the-counter creams will only make the problem worse if you have a different type of infection. And whatever you do, don’t douche. “When a woman douches, she rinses out the bacteria in question but also [healthy] bacteria that are responsible for normal secretions,” says Kellogg.

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