6 Serious Sexual Health Symptoms for Women
What's normal and what may need a doctor's attention.
For most women, a couple of irregular menstrual cycles or an occasional yeast infection are just a part of life -- nothing that time or simple treatment won’t cure.
But some gynecological symptoms are mystifying, such as vaginal bleeding that always follows sex or unusual bumps or sores.
When should you call your doctor?
Much of the time, pelvic pain, spotting, itching, and other symptoms don’t turn out to be serious, according to Holly Puritz, MD, FACOG, an obstetrician and gynecologist at The Group for Women in Norfolk, Va.
Even a normal process, such as ovulation, can cause pain. “There’s something you can have mid-cycle, which is called ‘mittelschmerz.’ It’s German for ‘mid-cycle pain,’ ” Puritz says. When ovulation occurs, some women feel a sharp or cramping pain on one side of the lower abdomen. The pain may switch sides from month to month.
“Pelvic pain, if you can pinpoint the timing of it, can actually reassure you,” Puritz says. “If it always happens mid-cycle, lasts two to three days, and goes away, it’s generally not anything abnormal.”
Likewise, abnormal vaginal discharge may signal a sexually transmitted disease, but often, it stems from infections that are easily treated.
Nevertheless, some symptoms can point to serious medical problems. No need to panic, but it’s smart to know when to get help.
1. Pelvic Pain
Mittelschmerz goes away after ovulation, but if you have pelvic pain that persists or doesn’t ease with simple home treatment, call your doctor, Puritz says.
When a woman has chronic pelvic pain, doctors will check for benign uterine fibroids and endometriosis. They will also look for pelvic inflammatory disease, which usually appears as a triad of pelvic pain, vaginal discharge, and fever, Puritz says.
In some cases, strong pelvic or abdominal pain comes on quickly -- a sign to call your doctor. A ruptured or bleeding ovarian cyst can trigger this type of pain.
“Usually, we’ll treat those patients with some type of analgesic or pain medication and usually, it subsides on its own,” says gynecologist Jessica Shepherd, MD, of the University of Louisville’s department of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health.
If a more severe attack of pelvic pain starts suddenly, the ovary may have twisted, cutting off its blood supply. Some women also feel nauseated or vomit.
In addition, abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding may signal an ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus.
In either situation, get to an emergency room if you can’t reach your doctor.
Fortunately, most pelvic discomfort isn’t related to ovarian cancer, but women should know the disease’s unremitting “constellation of symptoms,” Puritz says. “If you have two weeks of bloating, pelvic pressure, and urinary frequency -- and every day, you have it -- that’s a potential sign that you should be checked for possible symptoms of ovarian cancer.”