Reproductive health is very important, yet many women find it daunting to see a doctor for concerns related to it. This could be because of shyness, but in most cases, it is primarily because of their uncertainty of what counts as normal and what isn’t.
Still, you must never hesitate to talk to your gynaecologist about any question you might have, no matter how insignificant your concerns may seem. You see, some of the top reproductive issues start as something as small as an itch or even a tiny bump or pimple.
To keep your reproductive health in check, watch out for these five telltale signs that it’s time to visit your gynaecologist:
1. Vaginal itch, swelling, or discomfort during/after intercourse
One of the topics women find most difficult to discuss is a vaginal itch, swelling or discomfort during or after sexual intercourse.
A gynaecologist can help you understand the potential causes and risks attached to these signs, allowing you to make an informed decision about your health.
Possible Reason: Latex allergy
Pain after coitus that lasts for roughly 36 hours could be because of a latex allergy.
Some women may experience itching, swelling, and discomfort because of irritation from latex – the material most commonly used for making condoms.
To determine if you have a latex allergy (or remove it as a possibility, at the very least), try using condoms made from other materials. For example, you can use a polyurethane condom and be on the lookout for any unwelcome post-intercourse reaction.
If the symptoms don’t go away within two to three days or after your partner switches condoms, talk to your gynaecologist about the problem. Your doctor should be able to help you figure out whether a vaginal infection is to blame.
2. Vaginal odour
Another thing many women are afraid to talk about – be it with their doctor or their closest female family members – is vaginal odour.
Normally, vaginal discharge is mostly odourless. Some have a “normal” odour that isn’t in any way offensive.
But if this changes and the odour becomes stronger, more “fishy,” is accompanied by irritation, itchiness and a change in discharge colour, you might want to consider visiting your doctor.
Possible Reason: Infection
Changes in vaginal odour should never be left unsaid during your visits to your gynaecologist, no matter how uncomfortable you might feel talking about it. This is because this change could signal an infection that can only be treated with prescription medication.
A foul-smelling discharge could mean several things, including:
- bacterial vaginosis
- trichomoniasis (a common sexually transmitted infection)
- yeast infection
3. Prolonged, debilitating menstrual cramps
Most women have different menstrual cycles and symptoms. There are those who normally feel some level of pain during their period but never to the point of incapacitation.
If you’ve experienced period cramps all your life, there is a good chance that what you’re experiencing is less clinically significant.
However, if you only experience it later in life or the pain worsens over time, you should be concerned. The debilitating ache could mean you may be facing a more serious reproductive problem, or an underlying condition is causing your discomfort.
Possible Reason: Endometriosis
Sore breasts, headaches and cramps in your lower abdomen that take longer and become more painful could point to endometriosis. This condition pops up when extra tissue (also called fibroids) builds up in the uterus, causing swelling and bleeding.
Endometriosis can be managed and treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) or minimally invasive gynaecologic surgery.
Of course, you can only determine if this is truly the case if you visit your gynaecologist. Even if it’s just a false alarm, you’ll be glad you attended that check-up as your doctor could offer a solution to the pain you are suffering from.
4. Bleeding outside your expected menstruation schedule
Spotting might be normal for some women as a side effect of oral contraceptives.
But if it’s not your period, you don’t usually experience spotting, and don’t take the pill, it could mean something else entirely. The best way to know is to talk to your doctor about it.
Possible Reason: Depends on your current condition
Heavy or continuous bleeding merits a trip to your gynaecologist. Spotting outside what’s normal could be a sign of:
- pelvic infection
On rare occasions, it can also be a sign of gynaecological cancer.
Remember that spotting is common during pregnancy as well and is typically not a big deal. Still, you should consider telling your doctor about it to ensure that it doesn’t come lead to two potentially awful scenarios: ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.
5. Vaginal bumps or sores
Women may experience rashes or bumps in the vagina or around the skin folds surrounding it (called the labia).
If these don’t come with other symptoms, they will usually go away with home remedies. But just to be sure, it would be best to talk to your gynaecologist about it.
Possible causes: Skin conditions or sexually transmitted infection
Rashes could be a result of skin irritation due to a wide range of causes. It could be as simple as clothes rubbing against your skin or:
- Scabies – a skin condition caused by very small mites that burrow into the outer layers of the skin, causing itchiness.
- Pubic lice – tiny insects that live on humans and feed on blood.
- Yeast infection or cutaneous candidiasis – causes rashes, mostly in the moist areas of skin folds of the vagina.
- Psoriasis – comes with raised white or red patches that appear silvery on top, making the skin look scaly. This can appear anywhere in the body, but it’s more common on the elbows, scalp, knees, back, and tailbone.
Aside from these possible reasons, unexplained pimples, sores, and other bumps in the vaginal area can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), two of which are:
- Genital warts – small lumps the same colour as human flesh with a cauliflower-like appearance as a result of the human papillomavirus (HPV). These are more prevalent in women, though treatment is unnecessary if they do not cause discomfort.
- Genital herpes – painful or itchy spots brought about by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The virus could lie dormant in the body, which means genital herpes can be passed on even without visible sores, spots, and signs.
Prevent problems from getting worse
Many medical concerns could be easily treated if caught early on.
In other words, talking about any abnormalities or unusual change with your gynaecologists, no matter how small, could impact your reproductive health significantly. In some rare cases, it could even mean life and death.