Vaginal and Urinary Tract Infections
Infections in the vaginal area can be annoying and uncomfortable and, depending on the infection, can lead to more serious health problems if they are left untreated. Yeast and urinary tract infections often aren’t a one-time deal; women can have them many times during their lifetime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that at least 75 percent of women will get a yeast infection at least once in their lives; 40 to 45 percent will have two or more episodes. Other vaginal infections include trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis. What do you need to know?
Yeast Infection or Candidiasis
A yeast infection is usually caused by Candida albicans but can also be caused by other yeasts. Symptoms include:
- Intense itching, burning sensation in your vagina and/or vulva
- Abnormal vaginal discharge ranging from clumpy white stuff that looks like ricotta cheese to a faintly yellow and thin discharge
- An abnormal smell of bread or beer (in other words, a smell of yeast) from your vagina.
Simple yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter medications. But be careful. If you are experiencing discomfort in your vaginal area, you may or may not have a yeast infection. The symptoms are similar to those of bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. To be sure, see your health care provider before you try to treat yourself for yeast infection.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a syndrome that occurs when the normal bacteria in the vagina are replaced with high concentrations of anaerobic bacteria. BV during pregnancy is associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, including preterm labor and preterm birth. BV is also associated with other reproductive problems, such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). So, it isn’t something to mess around with. Symptoms include:
- An abnormal discharge that is dark yellow, green, or brown
- A smell like fish or something rotting, especially after sex
- Itching or pain in your vagina and/or vulva.
You need antibiotics, prescribed by a health care professional, to treat a bacterial infection of the vagina. Remember that bacterial vaginosis can sometimes be asymptomatic, meaning you won’t have the discharge, smell, or itching.
Trichomoniasis (trich for short) is caused by a protozoan (Trichomonas vaginalis) that can infect both the vagina and the urinary tract. People usually get trich infections from sexual intercourse with an infected partner. Trichomoniasis has been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm delivery and low birth weight. Symptoms of infection with trichomoniasis include:
- An abnormal discharge that is yellow-green
- Disagreeable smell
- Itchy or painful vagina
- Pain when urinating
- Painful intercourse
- Occasionally, pain in your lower abdomen.
You need antibiotics, prescribed by a health care professional, to treat a trich infection. Sometimes, trich is asymptomatic, meaning you might have little or no discharge, smell, itching, and/or pain.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Okay, this is not an infection of the vagina or vulva. It is an infection of the urinary tract, including the bladder; and the urinary tract is entirely separate from the female’s reproductive system. However, UTIs make you very uncomfortable at best. Symptoms include:
- Pain or burning when urinating (peeing)
- Blood or mucus in the urine
- Feeling that you need to pee almost all the time
- Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
- Fever or chills.
You need antibiotics, prescribed by a health care professional, to treat a urinary tract infection. Only antibiotics will stop the infection and prevent it from traveling to where it can damage your kidneys.
While yeast infections can be treated with medication you can pick up from the shelves in a drug store, please see a health care professional first. There are two reasons for this:
- Infections such as a urinary tract infection, bacterial vaginosis, and trichonomiasis require antibiotics, which only a doctor or nurse practitioner can prescribe for you. Although you can treat the pain with over-the-counter medication, you will not get at the source of the problem. You will not cure the infection; and the consequences can be serious.
- You may think you have one condition when you actually have another. For example, many women treat themselves for a yeast infection with antifungal creams from a pharmacy when, really, they have bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. Both require antibiotics. If a woman has self-medicated for the wrong thing, she will still have the original infection.
If you are experiencing discomfort and you notice anything abnormal with your vagina or vulva or ability to urinate, visit a doctor. It’s your best bet to keep yourself healthy.
For more information about vaginal infections, check out the CDC’s website for STD’s http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2006/vaginal-discharge.htm#vagdis2
>> Read Omega's article on vaginal odor...