Whether you don’t have time to take a trip to the doctor, you’re too embarrassed to bring the subject up or you just assume the problem will sort itself out eventually, there may be times when you find yourself ignoring certain intimate health issues. But it's important to look after your wellbeing.
Here are 4 symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore, as well as advice on what to do if you experience them.
1. Frequent urination
Need to pee more often than usual? One common cause of this is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). These infections can occur in different parts of your urinary tract, including your urethra, bladder or kidneys. As well as making you need to urinate more often than normal, UTIs can cause symptoms including pain in your lower tummy, a burning sensation when you wee and cloudy or smelly urine. They can also make you feel tired and generally unwell.
Upper UTIs, which affect the kidneys or the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder, can be serious if they’re left untreated as they can damage the kidneys and spread to the bloodstream. The good news is, UTIs can usually be treated quickly and easily with a course of antibiotics.
Other possible causes of frequent urination include diabetes, pregnancy, overactive bladder syndrome, bladder or kidney stones, bladder cancer and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as Chlamydia. So that you can get an accurate diagnosis and receive the treatment you need, it’s important to book an appointment with your doctor to get checked out.
2. Bleeding between periods
There are many different reasons why you might bleed between your periods. It could be nothing serious. For example, it can happen if you switch to a new type of hormonal contraception or if you forget to take the combined pill or progestogen-only pill. Hormonal imbalances caused by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or the onset of the menopause can also mean you bleed between your periods, and in some cases, pregnancy can lead to irregular bleeding.
This issue can be caused by an injury to the vagina too, for example if you’ve had penetrative sex, and it can be the result of harmless changes to the cervix. Bleeding is also sometimes a result of uterine fibroids or cervical or endometrial polyps.
However, there are other more serious possible causes. For example, irregular bleeding can be a sign of cervical cancer, womb (or uterine) cancer, vaginal cancer or vulval cancer. It can also by a symptom of certain STIs.
If you’re concerned about bleeding between periods, you should visit your doctor. They will discuss your symptoms and, depending on your situation, they might recommend tests for STIs, a cervical screening test, a pelvic ultrasound or a speculum examination of your vagina and cervix.
3. Unusual discharge
Vaginal discharge helps to keep the vagina moist and protects it from infections. Healthy discharge can appear clear or white and the consistency can be either thick and sticky or wet and slippery. It shouldn’t have an unpleasant or strong smell. If you notice changes to the smell, texture or colour, this could be a sign of an infection.
For example, a fishy smell or greyish-white watery discharge can be a symptom of Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), which is an infection caused by a change in the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina. BV can be treated with antibiotics, or with the antibiotic-free BETAFEM® BV Gel which both treats and prevents recurrent BV.
If you notice thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese, this could be a sign that you have Thrush (which is a yeast infection), while green, yellow or frothy discharge can be a symptom of the STI Trichomoniasis. If you experience changes to your vaginal discharge and you also have pelvic pain or bleeding, this could be a sign of STIs such as Gonorrhoea or Chlamydia, and if you notice sores or blisters, this could be caused by Genital Herpes.
So, if your discharge changes colour, texture or smell, it’s important to see your doctor or visit a sexual health clinic. They will be able to carry out tests and advise you on the most suitable treatment.
4. Persistent vaginal pain
If you have persistent pain in your intimate area, or in your lower tummy or back, this could be a symptom of Endometriosis. The condition, which can affect women of any age, causes tissue similar to your womb lining to grow in other areas, such as your fallopian tubes and ovaries. Other signs of Endometriosis include very painful or heavy periods, pain during or after sex, difficulty getting pregnant, or feeling sick or having constipation or diarrhoea during your period. Seeing blood in your urine during your period can be an indication too.
You should see your doctor if you’re having symptoms of Endometriosis, particularly if they’re impacting on your quality of life. Although there is currently no cure for the condition, there are a number of treatments that can ease the symptoms, including painkillers, hormone medicines and surgery.
No matter how busy you are, or how awkward you might feel discussing the subject, you should never ignore intimate health symptoms like these. Treating the problem might be much easier than you think, and it’s important to rule out anything that could have a serious impact on your long-term wellbeing.