Most women have heard a wide range of suggestions about keeping the vagina healthy. Most of these techniques are unnecessary or harmful since the vagina has mechanisms for maintaining its health. While over-the-counter treatments or those from your gynecologist may temporarily improve symptoms of a vaginal issue, they will not get rid of the underlying problem.
What Keeps Your Vagina Healthy?
The vagina usually maintains its health by providing a hospitable location for “good” bacteria called lactobacilli. These bacteria cause no harm, protecting the vagina by crowding out problem bacteria. They also secrete lactic acid, maintaining the vagina at an acidic pH. This pH hinders the growth of problematic bacteria, yeasts, and other microorganisms.
The health of this bacterial population relies on the squamous cells shed from the inner surfaces of the vagina. These cells form the mucous membrane and mature through several stages before reaching the surface and shedding. These discarded cells constitute a significant food source for the lactobacilli protecting the vagina.
What are Some Symptoms of Vaginal Health Issues?
When things go wrong with the healthy balance inside your vagina, you may experience a wide range of symptoms. These often depend on which other microorganisms have thrown off the balance of the vaginal microflora and may include:
- Pain during intercourse
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal odor
These symptoms occur when the normal acidic pH of the vaginal secretions becomes altered. The secretions then become an irritant, especially to the vulva and vestibule, the sensitive entrance to the vagina. These irritating secretions sensitize the cells in this area, triggering nerves that sense pain.
Why Do Vaginal Problems Happen?
Vaginal problems usually occur when the natural balance of the vaginal microflora becomes disrupted. The healthy vagina protects itself from many issues, but some factors upset the balance and open a doorway for problematic organisms to start reproducing.
Factors that affect estrogen can cause vaginal health problems by affecting the maturation of the squamous cells. When these cells shed, they make an excellent food source for lactobacilli, letting them reproduce in large numbers. With a lack of estrogen, these squamous cells do not mature fully and do not make a good food source, reducing the numbers of lactobacilli. Other organisms seize the opportunity with these “good” bacteria in decline.
Why is a Diagnostic Approach So Important?
To treat your vaginal health issues, you first need an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, most gynecologists and other doctors learn about the common types of problem organisms, but not the factors allowing them to over-produce or address the causes of their excessive growth.
A vulvovaginal specialist like Fowler GYN International will have extensive testing abilities to diagnose your issues accurately. Objective testing lets your specialist measure many indicators of vaginal health. It also allows them to track changes throughout the treatment process, providing direct evidence on whether the treatment protocol works. This evidence enables your provider to adjust your treatment plan as needed to meet your changing needs.
Without objective diagnostic testing, your doctor makes assumptions about your condition based on their knowledge of a few possible causes. A full diagnostic test will reveal what conditions exist in the vagina to cause these problems and how a healthy balance can be restored so the vagina can heal itself.
How are Vaginal Issues Treated?
A vulvovaginal specialist will seek to restore the healthy functioning of your vagina by addressing the factors that caused the imbalance in the microflora. This can include estrogen therapy to improve the condition of the squamous cell layers. When the vaginal tissue produces enough mature squamous cells, the lactobacilli can thrive and drive the problem organisms back to their normal low, harmless levels.
Take the Next Step
The experts in vaginal health at Fowler GYN International (FGI) Phoenix, AZ, can explain the importance of vaginal care and treatment if needed. The team at FGI is led by Dr. R. Stuart Fowler. Dr. Fowler is an Emeritus Mayo Clinic board-certified gynecologist.
You can reach FGI at https://www.fowlergyninternational.com/, or by calling (480) 420-4001.