Why We Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Talk About Them
Vaginal infections, like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV), and UTIs represent some of the most common medical conditions women and people with vaginas experience.
Yet due to a lack of available education, research, and diagnostic capabilities, millions of people suffer from one-time and recurrent infections every year—many of whom report that they feel uncomfortable discussing their infections and don’t experience a high standard of care when they go to the doctor.
“We’ve talked to hundreds of women who have felt dismissed or ignored at the OB/GYN, especially because vaginal and sexual health can be intimidating to discuss,” shares Laine Bruzek, Evvy Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer.
Evvy, a new startup on a mission to radically reinvent how we understand and treat the female body, was founded to help push medical research forward and help women access better care and information about their health, starting with the vaginal microbiome.
“I definitely feel that shame and stigma around discussing vaginal health, even at the doctor’s office, prevents women and people and vaginas from getting the care they need.” Bruzek added.
This is especially concerning as recent research has shown that imbalances in the vaginal microbiome can increase the risk for more serious health issues such as gynecological cancers, pelvic inflammatory disease, STIs, and fertility complications.
While we wait on a future with medical equality, take some time to familiarize yourself with the symptoms and types of vaginal infections so you can best advocate and care for your body.
Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Infections You Should Pay Attention To
Identifying the signs of a vaginal infection may seem obvious at first, but things like regular discharge and hormonal fluctuations can blur the line between an itch that’s normal and an itch that’s cause for concern. With that in mind, here are some of the common symptoms of various vaginal infections:
Out of The Ordinary Discharge If you have a vagina, discharge is both common and healthy. Even cooler, it’s a sign that the vagina is self-cleaning. That being said, if you notice a change in color or smell (or both), it may be an indicator that something’s up down there. In that case, it’s best to get it checked out by a healthcare provider you trust.
Pain While You Pee A burning sensation during urination is a common sign that a vaginal infection may be at play.
Pain During Sex People who are experiencing some form of vaginal infection may find that it is uncomfortable or even painful to have penatrative sex. Whenever you notice discomfort during intimacy, you should book an appointment with the OBGYN. Aside from infections, this symptom could indicate other medical issues.
Itchiness, swelling, and soreness. Many vaginal infections cause itching, swelling, and soreness in and around the vagina. While many women presume that this is symptomatic of a yeast infection, conditions like bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis can also produce these symptoms so it’s best to ask your doctor to test you to identify the microbes that may be causing this irritation.
While it’s not frequently talked about, many people with vaginal infections like chlamydia or bacterial vaginosis don’t exhibit symptoms at all. When it comes to caring for your vaginal health, prioritize annual visits to your OBGYN and make sure to get tested after having sex (especially unprotected) with a new partner.
For those folks who have recurrent vaginal symptoms such as odor, itchiness, and swelling, it can be helpful to invest in higher fidelity testing, such as the metagenomics used in the Evvy test. This way, you can get a full picture of all the microbes (bacteria and fungi) in your vaginal microbiome and review them with your provider.
Common Types of Vaginal Infections
You’re now familiar with the signs and symptoms of vaginal infections, but what are the specific conditions they’re related to and how do they present in each type of infection?
While only a doctor or medical professional should diagnose your symptoms, it’s helpful to be familiar with the most common vaginal infections so you and your provider can have an informed conversation about what’s happening in your body.
Aerobic vaginitis (AV). Affecting up to 24% of women and causing painful inflammation of the vagina, aerobic vaginitis (AV) has only been recently identified as a condition that is different to bacterial vaginosis (BV). Its symptoms include sticky yellow discharge, redness and swelling, pain during sex, and an unpleasant smell. AV is identified by a microscopic analysis of vaginal discharge, which tends to be a swab test.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV). Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the diagnosis given when you have a high diversity of bacteria in your vaginal microbiome— including an overgrowth of some bacteria like Gardnerella that may be harmful. While an astounding 84% of people with BV are asymptomatic, symptoms of BV often manifest as watery, gray discharge and fishy odor. It is the most common vaginal condition in women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Cytolytic vaginosis (CV). Also known as Lactobacillus overgrowth syndrome, cytolytic vaginosis (CV) occurs when the protective bacteria in the vaginal microbiome multiplies and overgrows. This can cause vaginal discomfort, itchiness, pain during sex, pain when urinating, and abnormal discharge—symptoms often mistaken for a yeast infection. While there is no accepted diagnostic test for this condition, a high-fidelity microbiome test like Evvy’s can help identify the types and levels of Lactobacillus present in the vaginal microbiome and how they change over time.
Yeast Infection (Vulvovaginal Candidiasis)
Yeast infections are a common and bothersome vaginal infection caused by the overgrowth of Candida in the vaginal microbiome. There is no one thing that causes a yeast infection and triggers include everything from antibiotics to diabetes to estrogen levels to sex. Like many other vaginal infections, symptoms for a yeast infection range from person to person but often include cottage-cheese-like discharge, itching, pain during sex, and redness.
For people with vaginas, vaginal health should be viewed not as an isolated condition within the body, but a key barometer for general health. While companies like Evvy and the medical community at large work hard to improve the state of research and available treatments for women’s health, it’s important for people with vaginas to feel not only comfortable but encouraged to ask questions and seek information about their bodies and the best way to care for them.