HealthyLifeģ Students' Self-Care Guide

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 Section IĖCommon Health Problems Caution

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Vaginal Problems

ďI 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 problems.Ē

Kim 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 (PID)

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 sensitive.

Vaginal discharge with abnormal color or odor

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 overgrowth.

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 Dermatitis

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? Yes. Get Immediate Care.


Do you have vaginal pain that spreads upward to the pelvis and you are unable to walk due to the pain? Yes. Get Immediate Care.


Does vaginal irritation and/or pain occur with all of the symptoms of a kidney infection? Yes. Get Immediate Care.



Do you have very heavy vaginal bleeding (you saturate more than 1 full size pad or super absorbent tampon in an hourís 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

Yes. Get Immediate Care.



Do you have any of the following?

Yes. See Provider.



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.

Yes. See Provider.


Do you have bleeding in the vaginal area from itching due to vaginal irritation? Yes. See Provider.



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 adjusted.)

  • 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

Yes. See Provider.



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 felt.

  • 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.)

Yes. See Provider.



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

Yes. See Provider.



For Vaginitis from Contact Dermatitis:

Avoid products that cause the problem (scented items, douches, feminine hygiene sprays, etc.). Donít scrub the affected area with a washcloth.

Donít 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 area.

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. Donít use fabric softener.

For a Vaginal Yeast Infection:

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 acidophilus.

Take showers, not baths. Avoid bubble baths.

Keep the vagina as clean and dry as possible.

Wear cotton or cotton-lined underwear.

Donít 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.

ComputerFor Information, Contact:

National Womenís Health Information Center

February 19, 2004

©2003, 4th edition. American Institute for Preventive Medicine All rights reserved.