WHETHER it’s a particularly painful period or an itch you just can’t get rid of, most women have hang-ups when it comes to their private parts.
And with the coronavirus pandemic making many people more apprehensive about visiting their local GP many women have been left without answers when it comes to reliable information about their vaginas.
A lot of women have been out of contact with their GPs and gynecologists during the pandemic. The Eve Appeal recently warned that thousands of women were ignoring symptoms of gynecological cancers while in lockdown.
But what do you need to know about your vagina?
Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr Shree Datta answers the top ten most commonly asked in-clinic questions.
Is my discharge normal?
Dr. Shree, who is the in-house expert for healthcare brand Intimina said discharge is a very good sign of your vaginal health.
“It’s needed to make sure your vagina is healthy and clean, and keeps the bacterial balance there in check.
“For that reason, internal douching of the vagina isn’t recommended, as this can actually alter the natural bacterial balance you have in your vagina.”
Dr. Shree highlighted that the type and amount of discharge you pass can be impacted by what stage of your menstrual cycle you are in.
In your second half, it can be thicker and more jelly-like.
However, if you notice a persistent change in color, consistency, and smell then it might be worth getting checked out.
Why am I bleeding in between periods and after sex?
It’s important to note down when you experience any irregular bleeding, how heavy it is, and when it happens in relation to your periods.
This could help decipher a pattern.
Dr. Shree said there are many reasons as to why you may experience bleeding and one of which could be if you have just changed the contraception you are on.
This is while some sexually transmitted infections can also cause bleeding, as well as stress or pregnancy.
Smear tests are still going ahead during the coronavirus lockdown and cell changes to the cervix could also cause bleeding - it’s important you have an up to date smear test in order to make sure everything is working as it should.
Dr. Shree said: “When consulting your Gynaecologist, we’ll also explore whether you would benefit from an ultrasound scan to look for fibroids or polyps in your womb, which can affect your period length, frequency and heaviness as well as bleeding in between periods.”
How can I fix my heavy periods?
Whether you have a light or heavy flow, periods differ from person to person.
Dr. Shree said it’s important to note how many sanitary products you use each cycle and whether or not you are leaking through them.
She added that the type of sanitary product you chose could make all the difference.
She highlighted that period cups are great at monitoring flow.
The average blood loss during a period is 80ml in total.
Brands such as the Lily Cup B can hold up to 32ml of blood. Other cups such as the BeYou cup can be left in for over 12 hours and can hold up to three tampons of blood.
Saalt Cups claim they can hold up to four times the amount of a tampon taking in up to 30mls.
But cups can be daunting and it might just be the case that while on your period you make sure you pack extra sanitary products just in case.
Dr. Shree added: “Having long heavy periods – with flooding, clots, or heavy bleeding with hourly or two hourly changes - would suggest it’s a good idea to get checked over by your gynecologist.
“Things that I would be thinking about that may be causing heavy periods include fibroids and polyps, which can grow in your womb.
“Sometimes you may be on medication which can alter the flow of your periods, or have a hormonal imbalance in your thyroid so these are other things we would check for."
My pregnancy test is negative but I haven’t had a period for three months, what shall I do?
Many people have had the scary and exciting moment where they miss their period and have to take a pregnancy test.
If you haven't had a period in a while and your test is negative Dr. Shree said there is no need to worry.
Some forms of contraception can lighten your period, especially the Mirena coil.
This is while stressful circumstances can also disrupt your period.
“This can often affect your weight, which, believe it or not, has a massive impact on your periods. So sudden weight loss, doing too much exercise, or being significantly overweight can impact your periods.
“Medical problems such as poorly controlled diabetes or an overactive thyroid can also influence whether you get periods and how frequently.”
Dr. Shree said there is a chance that it could also be early menopause but added that just one percent of women go through this under the age of 40.
Why does it hurt to have sex?
While sex is meant to be a pleasurable experience, Dr. Shree said it’s not uncommon for it to feel uncomfortable from time to time.
She said this could be down to a whole host of things such as having sex with a new partner, trying a new position, or feeling stressed.
“You might find sex more uncomfortable at certain points of your menstrual cycle or need more lubricant.
“Medical problems such as infections, fibroids, or endometriosis may also cause sex to be painful, so it’s important to see your doctor if sex is persistently uncomfortable.
“If sex has always been problematic, it’s worth seeking help to see whether there is an underlying physical or emotional connection.”
My lower stomach hurts - especially leading up to my periods, what should I do?
Period pains are not uncommon and we have all had to reach for the hot water bottle at one stage or another.
Dr. Shree said pelvic pain in the second half of your period can suggest endometriosis.
“This is a medical condition where the womb lining is found elsewhere – often in your ovaries and around the womb as well as within it.
“We don’t know the exact cause but we do know it’s hormone-dependent and runs in families.
Dr. Shree said there are a few reasons why you could experience stomach pains
“Endometriosis can cause regular pains, which worsen in the time leading up to and during your period.”
She also added that pain in the lower stomach can come down to an infection or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Dr. Shree said it was important to keep track of the pain in relation to when you are getting your period.
Why do I need to pee so often?
We have all had that last-minute dash to the loo and Dr. Shree said this can be really disruptive to your life.
In the first instance, she said you should look at how much caffeine and booze you are drinking - as well as your water intake.
“Remember, if you don’t drink enough water, your urine is more concentrated and this can irritate the bladder leading you to go to the toilet more often.
“You may also have a urine tract infection or an overactive bladder. Certain medicines or medical conditions – including constipation – can affect how often you’re going to the toilet.
“As well as this, anything that puts pressure on your bladder – a fibroid in your womb or pregnancy, for example, can also lead to frequent urination.”
Dr. Shree added that pelvic floor exercises may also be beneficial as these support the bladder, bowel, and sexual function.
Do I need a fresh wax if I’m seeing my gynecologist?
You’ve run out of time and before you know it you’ve not managed to fit in a wax or you’ve forgotten to shave before your appointment.
Dr. Shree says it’s no big deal and added that a gynecologist can examine you with or without pubic hair.
“The only time we may consider removing hair is if we are performing an operation on the skin around the vagina – and even then, we will only remove hair in the operating zone as is needed.”
Why do I need to have a smear if I've had the HPV vaccination?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection, with over 100 different types.
This can cause warts and cervical cancer and those with HPV don’t usually know they have it.
It can take 18 to 24 months to clear and the vaccine does not protect against all strains of HPV.
Dr. Shree said it’s because of this that you need to go for regular smears when you reach 25.
“Remember, it’s free and it can help detect any problems early, so it’s worth attending – you will usually receive a reminder from your GP to attend every 3 years until the age of 50, after which it’s every 5 years.”
Can I still have children if I have polycystic ovaries?
While it’s true that the condition can in some cases affect your fertility it’s not always the case.
PCOS is a common condition and affects 2-26 women per 100.
You may not have symptoms if you have PCOS as the conditions relating to the number of fluid-filled follicles in your ovaries.
Dr. Shree said you should watch out for irregular or no periods, acne, and an increase in body hair.
“Being overweight can also be associated with PCOS, but diagnosis depends on your menstrual regularity, blood tests, and an ultrasound scan.
“In the longer term, PCOS can be related to other medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and changes to your womb lining, so it’s important to seek advice from your gynecologist.”