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6 Serious Sexual Health Symptoms for Women

What's normal and what may need a doctor's attention.

3. Abnormal Vaginal Discharge

With vaginal discharge, “abnormal is what the woman decides is abnormal,” Puritz says. “Women know their bodies pretty well.”

Abnormal symptoms include a strong odor; an unusually large amount of discharge; accompanying itching, burning, or irritation; unusual color; or blood in the discharge.

Most causes of abnormal discharge are minor, Puritz says. “Any sort of infection can cause a discharge.” Common ones include yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomonas, she says. “They’re all easily treated.”

Because sexually transmitted diseases can also cause abnormal discharge, check in with your doctor to rule out the possibility.

Also be sure to tell your doctor about any persistent, watery discharge, a classic symptom of fallopian tube cancer, which is rare.

4. Itching

Women may have itching without discharge, a problem that Puritz sees frequently when patients use perfumed soaps or personal care products -- especially perfumed lubricant jellies. “All perfume lotions and potions wreak havoc,” she says. “Especially if you have sensitive skin, that can cause a lot of itching and irritation.”

Although genital itching isn’t likely to be serious, it’s still a good idea to tell your doctor if it’s bothersome. The fix might be simple.  

However, “if it’s itching and there are skin changes, that would be a worrisome sign,” Puritz says.

For example, a skin condition called lichen sclerosus can cause itching and small, white spots on the vulva. The spots grow into bigger patches that turn thin and crinkled. Lichen sclerosus is an uncommon problem that tends to affect older women, Puritz says.

“It’s something that needs to be medically treated,” she says. Left untreated, the patches can scar and create problems with urination or sex. There’s also a tiny chance that skin cancer may develop in the patches.

Aside from lichen sclerosus, any itchy lesion on the vulva or vagina may need to be biopsied to rule out cancer.

5. Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness in nursing mothers or postmenopausal women can cause spotting after intercourse. Once nursing moms start ovulating again, dryness will ease.

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