If left untreated, they may affect the reproductive health
Vaginal infections are very common among women causing many negative consequences if neglected and left untreated; in some cases, they can affect the woman’s reproductive health in the long term.
There are many different causes including bacterial infections, sexual diseases, skin diseases, weak immune system, lack of hygiene and poor feminine hygiene, or certain hormonal changes affecting the body due to certain diseases or taking birth control pills.
Some infections are due to the urethra being near the vaginal opening, which allows the bacteria and fungi in the urine to enter the vagina and urinary tract.
In this context, it should be noted that vaginal discharge is normal and useful for the reproductive system as it works to clean the genital area, but once the woman notices any change in those secretions in terms of color, smell or quantity, it means an infection has developed. Hence, doctors distinguish between normal and abnormal secretions.
Normal vaginal discharge is usually white or clear. It shouldn’t smell excessively or cause burning, itching. It is not normal for discharge to be discolored. Green discharge, especially if it is frothy, can often be a sign of infection. Discharge that is the consistency of cottage cheese, especially if it accompanied by itching, is usually a sign of a yeast infection.
A very pungent fishy odor can be a signal of a bacterial infection. Sometimes, vaginal discharge can be a sign of a pelvic infection. A change in discharge after an encounter with a new sexual partner or associated swollen lymph nodes, pelvic pain, or fever should prompt a visit to your doctor right away.
Infections and pregnancy
Many women wonder about the possibility of becoming pregnant in the presence of a vaginal infection. It may be possible for women to become pregnant even if they’ve had pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), but there may be complications. If PID is diagnosed and treated early, women may have no problems becoming pregnant. However, if PID is left untreated, women may have trouble getting pregnant.
Vaginal infections are usually easy to treat, and once treated, shouldn’t affect your fertility in the long run. However, if left untreated, vaginal infections can cause longer-term damage to your reproductive health. So if you have an infection, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
When discharge has a very noticeable odor, or burns or itches, that’s likely a problem. You should call your doctor when your vaginal discharge changes color, is heavier, or smells different, you notice itching, burning, swelling, or soreness around or outside of your vagina, it burns when you pee and sex becomes uncomfortable.
In cases of recurrent urinary infections, it is necessary to perform a urine culture to determine the type of bacteria causing the problem.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases that can infect both men and women. This infection is easily spread because it often causes no symptoms and may be unknowingly passed to sexual partners. Around three-quarters of women who have chlamydia do not have any symptoms. It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, making it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later on. Chlamydia can also cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the womb). Chlamydia may be difficult to detect because early-stage infections often cause few or no signs and symptoms. When they do occur, they usually start one to three weeks after you’ve been exposed to chlamydia. Even when signs and symptoms occur, they’re often mild and passing, making them easy to overlook. Signs and symptoms may include painful urination, lower abdominal pain, vaginal discharge in women, discharge from the penis in men, pain during sexual intercourse in women, bleeding between periods in women and testicular pain in men.
A chlamydia infection can inflame the coiled tube located beside each testicle (epididymis). The infection may result in fever, scrotal pain and swelling. The chlamydia organism can spread to a man’s prostate gland. Prostatitis may result in pain during or after sex, fever and chills, painful urination, and lower back pain. The chlamydia infection can pass from the vaginal canal to your child during delivery, causing pneumonia or a serious eye infection. Chlamydia infections — even those that produce no signs or symptoms — can cause scarring and obstruction in the fallopian tubes, which may make women infertile. People who have chlamydia are at higher risk of developing reactive arthritis, also known as Reiter’s syndrome. This condition typically affects the joints, eyes and urethra — the tube that carries urine from your bladder to outside of your body.
Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. You may receive a one-time dose, or you may need to take the medication daily or multiple times a day for five to 10 days. In most cases, the infection resolves within one to two weeks. During that time, you should abstain from sex. Your sexual partner or partners also need treatment even if they have no signs or symptoms. Otherwise, the infection can be passed back and forth between sexual partners. Having chlamydia or having been treated for it in the past provides no immunity against reinfection in the future.
You should not have sex for at least one week after you have finished your antibiotic treatment. You may need to avoid having sex for longer if your sexual partner has not been treated so that you do not become re-infected. You should also avoid having sex until your symptoms have gone. The surest way to prevent a chlamydia infection is to abstain from sexual activities. However, you can use condoms during each sexual contact. Condoms used properly during every sexual encounter reduce but don’t eliminate the risk of infection. You should also limit your number of sex partners and get regular screenings. If you think you are infected, avoid sexual contact and see a doctor. If you are told you have chlamydia or any other sexually transmitted disease and receive treatment, you should notify all of your recent sex partners so that they can see a doctor and be treated.
Bacterial vaginosis is a mild infection of the vagina caused by bacteria. Normally, there are a lot of “good” bacteria and some “bad” bacteria in the vagina. The good types help control the growth of the bad types. In women with bacterial vaginosis, the balance is upset. Bacterial vaginosis is usually a mild problem that may go away on its own in a few days. But it can lead to more serious problems. So it’s a good idea to see your doctor and get treatment. The most common symptom is a smelly vaginal discharge. It may look grayish white or yellow. A sign of bacterial vaginosis can be a “fishy” smell, which may be worse after sex. About half of women who have bacterial vaginosis do not notice any symptoms. Many things can cause abnormal vaginal discharge, including some sexually transmitted infections (STIs). See your doctor so you can be tested and get the right treatment. Doctors diagnose bacterial vaginosis by asking about the symptoms, doing a pelvic exam, and taking a sample of the vaginal discharge. The sample can be tested to find out if you have bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis usually does not cause other health problems. But in some cases it can lead to serious problems. If you have it when you are pregnant, it increases the risk of miscarriage, early (preterm) delivery, and uterine infection after pregnancy. If you have it when you have a pelvic procedure such as a cesarean section, an abortion, or a hysterectomy, you are more likely to get a pelvic infection. Doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic to treat bacterial vaginosis. They come as pills you swallow or as a cream or capsules (called ovules) that you put in your vagina. If you are pregnant, you will need to take pills.
Genital tract infection
Infection in the genital tract is common in men as well as women and it is caused by various bacteria, fungus and viruses. Genital tract infection can develop after a sexual intercourse where one partner is infected and transmits the disease to other; these infections are known as sexually transmitted diseases or STD. Some genital tract infection can also occur without sexual contact. It’s normal and healthy for a woman of childbearing age to have a vaginal discharge. The amount and color of the discharge can change during your menstrual cycle, sexual excitement and pregnancy. However, vaginal discharge can also signal infection. Symptoms of vaginal infection include unusual vaginal discharge (may differ in colour and smell unpleasant), irritation and soreness of the vulva and vaginal itching, pain during sex, bleeding after sex, abdominal pains and pain when passing urine. It’s important that you see your GP if you have any of these symptoms. The symptoms include aches in the affected area, such as cervical inflammation which is accompanied by white vaginal discharge or vaginitis accompanied by discharge with an unpleasant smell and itching in the openings of the vagina and urethra or cervical ulcers accompanied by the presence of thick secretions and severe pain in the lower back or in the abdomen or bleeding after sex.
Yeast is a fungus that normally lives in the vagina in small numbers. A vaginal yeast infection means that too many yeast cells are growing in the vagina. These infections are very common. Although they can bother you a lot, they are not usually serious and treatment is simple. The fungus candida causes a vaginal yeast infection. Your vagina naturally contains a balanced mix of yeast, including candida, and bacteria. Lactobacillus bacteria produce acid, which prevents yeast overgrowth. That balance can be disrupted and lead to a yeast infection. Too much yeast in your vagina causes vaginal itching, burning and other classic signs and symptoms of a yeast infection. Yeast infection symptoms can range from mild to moderate and include itching and irritation in the vagina and the tissues at the vaginal opening (vulva), a burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating, redness and swelling of the vulva, vaginal pain and soreness, vaginal rash, watery vaginal discharge and thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese appearance. Overgrowth of yeast can result from antibiotic use, which decreases lactobacillus bacteria in your vagina and changes the pH of your vagina, pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes, impaired immune system and taking oral contraceptives or hormone therapy, which increases estrogen levels.
Prevention then cure
The first step is to diagnose the condition and know the type of infection, by knowing the symptoms such as the color of vaginal discharge and the presence of any itching and foul odor. The doctor also examines the culture that has been done to determine the type of bacteria in order to prescribe the appropriate treatment of anti-inflammatory drugs or injection or vaginal suppositories. However, the key to preventing or at least avoiding having a vaginal infection in the future is to follow the doctor’s instructions.
There are some daily steps that a woman can follow to avoid any type of bacterial infection. These include:
- Avoid using perfumed soap and shampoo to clean the external genital area.
- Avoid vaginal douching with water or soap because it will remove the good bacteria.
- After showering, the external genital area must be cleaned from front to back.
- Wear looser-fitting cotton underwear and avoid nylon underwear.
- Use condoms during sex.
- Reduce stress.
- Visit the gynecologist regularly and undergo routine examinations.