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Section I–Common Health Problems - Vaginal Problems

HealthyLife® Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section I–Common Health Problems

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Vaginal Problems

“I just learned
that yogurt could help to prevent yeast infections. Now when I take
antibiotics, I eat a yogurt in the morning to help keep clear from any

P., University of Maryland

Vaginal problems include vaginal pain,
discharge, abnormal bleeding, irritation, and/or infections. Infections may
or may not be sexually transmitted. Common vaginal problems in college age
females are listed below.

Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Bacterial Vaginosis

This is an infection from one or more types
of bacteria. With this you may have:

Mild vaginal irritation or burning

A watery, grayish-white, or yellow
vaginal discharge with a fishy odor

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

This is an infection of the uterus,
fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries. With PID, you have vaginal bleeding with 2
or more of these problems:

Abdominal tenderness and/or bloating

Pain in the pelvis, lower abdomen, or
back. The pain can be severe enough to make
you walk bent over and to take small steps.

Pain during intercourse

The skin on your abdomen feels

Vaginal discharge with abnormal color or

Change in menstrual flow

Fever, chills

Vaginal Yeast Infection

This is caused by an overgrowth of the
fungus, Candida albicans, which is normally present in the vagina. Taking
some brands of birth control pills and/or an antibiotic may trigger this

Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are:

Itching, irritation, and redness around
the vagina

Thick, white vaginal discharge that
looks like cottage cheese and may smell like yeast

Burning and/or pain with urinating or
during sex

Vaginitis From Contact

This is a reaction to products that irritate
the vaginal area, such as harsh detergents, scented items, douches, latex
condoms, and tight-fitting clothing. With this, you have itching and redness
in the outer genital area without other symptoms.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

These include genital herpes, genital warts,
gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. (See signs and
symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases


Treatment for the vaginal problem depends on
the cause. Bacterial infections and PID are treated with antibiotics. Fungal
infections are treated with antifungal medicines.

Questions to Ask

Has a recent sexual assault or major injury to the
abdomen, pelvis, or vagina occurred?

Do you have vaginal pain that spreads upward to
the pelvis and you are unable to walk due to the pain?

Does vaginal irritation and/or pain occur with all
of the symptoms of a kidney infection?


Do you have very heavy vaginal bleeding
(you saturate more than 1 full size pad or super absorbent tampon in an
hour’s time) with any of the following problems?

  • Dizziness, feeling faint, or feeling
    lightheaded when you sit up

  • Pale and moist skin

  • Extreme shortness of breath or a very
    hard time breathing

  • Severe abdominal pain


Do you have any of the following?


Do any of the following apply?

  • You have had 3 or more vaginal
    infections within 3 months time.

  • After diagnosis and 72 hours of
    treatment for a vaginal infection, your symptoms continue.

  • Vaginal pain occurs during or after
    sexual intercourse.

Do you have bleeding in the vaginal area from
itching due to vaginal irritation?


Do you have vaginal bleeding with any of
these problems?

  • Increased vaginal bleeding or you
    continue to have spotting or bleeding between your periods after 3
    months of taking birth control pills. (Your dose may need to be

  • Bleeding heavier than your normal
    period (you are saturating almost or equal to 1 full pad or tampon
    every hour)

  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain

  • Increasing pain and tenderness in
    your vaginal area

  • Menstrual periods that are abnormally
    heavy or long (>10 days)

  • Heavy menstrual periods and passing
    many small or large blood clots and you are pale and feel very tired


With vaginal pain, do you use an IUD for
birth control and do any of the following conditions apply?

  • The IUD was inserted during the last 4
    to 6 weeks.

  • The strings from the IUD cannot be

  • The IUD can be felt through the
    vagina. (An IUD can become embedded in the wall of the uterus. When
    this happens, surgery is needed to remove the IUD.)


Has a vaginal discharge or irritation
been present for longer than 1 week despite using Self-Care?



For Vaginitis from
Contact Dermatitis:

Avoid products that cause the problem
(scented items, douches, feminine hygiene sprays, etc.). Don’t scrub the
affected area with a washcloth.

Don’t wear tight and constricting
garments (girdles, tight blue jeans, etc.).

Use medicated wipes, such as Tucks,
instead of dry toilet paper. Follow package directions.

Add an oatmeal bath product (Aveeno) or
baking soda to bath water.

Apply an over-the-counter 1%
hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. Use this infrequently,
though. Hydrocortisone can lead to a thinning of the vaginal tissue.

Put a cool compress on the affected

Take a sitz bath every 4 to 6 hours or
as needed. A sitz bath basin is a device that fits on the toilet seat
and is used to cleanse the genital area. You can buy a sitz bath basin
at a medical supply store and at some drug stores.

Wash your underwear in a gentle
detergent. Rinse it twice. Use only plain water for the second rinse.
Don’t use fabric softener.

For a Vaginal Yeast

If you have a history of vaginal yeast
infections and these current symptoms are the same and you used an
over-the-counter remedy successfully in the past, use the same or
similar product. Use vaginal creams or suppositories, such as Monistat
and Gyne-Lotrimin. If you get a vaginal yeast infection when you take an
antibiotic, use one of these over-the-counter products during and/or
after the period of antibiotic treatment.

Limit your intake of sugar and foods
that contain sugar. Sugar promotes the growth of yeast.

Eat yogurt and/or take an
over-the-counter product that contains live cultures of lactobacillus

Take showers, not baths. Avoid bubble

Keep the vagina as clean and dry as

Wear cotton or cotton-lined underwear.

Don’t wear tight and constricting
garments (girdles, tight blue jeans, etc.).

Wear knee-highs instead of panty hose,
if possible. When you wear panty hose, wear ones with cotton crotches.

For Information, Contact:

National Women’s Health Information


6th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine
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December 08, 2005