Life is busy. The last thing any woman wants is to run off to her OB-GYN every time something is a little "off" down there. But there are several vaginal symptoms you should never ignore. As a general rule of thumb, my doctor told me every woman should know how long her periods usually last and how heavy they are. She also encouraged me to keep track of my vaginal discharge—from cervical mucus to milky discharge. The more you know about your body and its processes, the easier it is to tell when something's wrong.
One of the most serious health conditions is gynecologic cancer, and what's scary is that the symptoms are often ignored. Cynthia Gelb, a health communication specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Live Science that "the earlier that gynecologic cancers are found and treated, the more effective treatment can be." There were almost 90,000 cases of gynecological cancers diagnosed in the Unites States in 2012, according to Live Science. About half of those cases were cervical cancer, and one third of the cases were ovarian cancer, the most potentially fatal of the gynecological cancers. So if in doubt, pay your OB-GYN a visit if you experience any of the following vaginal symptoms.
1. Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
Julian Schink, chief of women's health for Spectrum Health Medical Group, told Prevention that abnormal vaginal bleeding could be a sign of something small, like a hormone imbalance or something more serious. If you notice this, then it's worth contacting your OB-GYN right away.
2. Frequent Urination
If you're urinating more than normal, there could be something serious going on in your body. According to Healthline, you could have a urinary tract infection, overactive bladder, or you could be pregnant.
3. Vaginal Itching
A little itch in your vagina is natural. After all, there's a lot going on down there. But as Dr. Lauren Streicher told Women's Health, frequent itching could be a sign of eczema or psoriasis, or lichen sclerosus, a skin disease that requires prescribed medication.
4. Abnormal Odor
Depending on hormonal levels, physical activity, the type of underwear or pants you wear, your vagina has an odor. But how do you know if the odor is harmful? According to Medicine Net, a "fishy" odor might indicate an infection called bacterial vaginosis, not to be confused with a yeast infection. BV is caused by an overgrowth of (you guessed it) harmful bacteria in the vagina. Treatment includes oral or topical antibiotics.
5. Colored Vaginal Discharge
The color of you discharge can say a lot about your health. According to Web MD, yellow discharge might be a sign of gonorrhea, while frothy, yellow or greenish discharge might be a sign of trichomoniasis. Brown discharge, on the other hand, might be a sign of irregular menstrual cycles or endometrial cancer. It's important to see a doctor STAT if you notice a change in color.
6. Thick, White, Cheesy Discharge
The U.S National Library of Medicine notes that cheese-like discharge usually is a sign of a yeast infection, caused by an overgrowth of candida. Though a yeast infection is uncomfortable, it's not serious. It must, however, be treated. If not, not only can you pass it back and forth between your partner, but the candida could get into your bloodstream.
7. Abnormal Pap
An abnormal pap smear might terrify you, but it does not mean you have cervical cancer. According to the Centers For Disease Control, abnormal changes on your cervix are likely caused by HPV. It's crucial to follow up with your doctor ASAP to find out what steps to take next.
8. Your Vagina Clamps Shut
Alysssa Dweck,author of V is for Vagina, told BuzzFeed Life that sometimes, the vaginal muscles constrict so tightly your vaginal opening closes. This is called vaginismus and doctors aren't sure what causes it, though some think it could be psychological. However, it's painful and makes sex impossible.
9. Persistent Vaginal Pain
Persistent vaginal pain might be a sign of endometriosis, which according to Mayo Clinic is when displaced endometrial tissue gets trapped in your body. If left untreated, this painful condition can lead to fertility. However, there are plenty of ways to treat endometriosis, so be sure to see your doctor.