HOW many times have you noticed a little itch or bump… down there?If the answer is “never”, you’re either lying to yourself or you’re not examining your vagina enough.
Because it’s not just your boobs you should be checking on the regular – your vulva (that’s the fleshy outer bit of your vag) also needs some attention to make sure nothing odd is going on.
Most of the time, small changes are nothing to worry about.
It could be that your underwear is irritating the area, or you’ve got an easily-treatable infection.
But if you don’t check, you’ll never know.
And although it’s unlikely, you definitely don’t want to miss any early warning signs of things like vulval cancer – which is much more easily treated if you pick up on it ASAP.
Consultant Gynaecologist, Anne Henderson said: “One of the main reasons people don’t treat infections is because they don’t know they have one as they simply don’t know the symptoms.”
Anne recommends checking your intimate area several times a year, to help understand any changes: “Women should examine their vulva at least two to three months at a time, you need to check for change in skin colour, anatomy and shape.
“If you’re suffering with painful symptoms or bleeding you need to examine yourself there and then, or seek specialist help from your GP.”
So, here are the five things to look out for down south:
“A lot of women are concerned about their discharge, however discharge is mostly a healthy bodily function, as it sweeps bacteria away from the vagina,” Anne confirms.
But that’s not to say that discharge can’t cause problems.
“If you have a heavy white discharge, this may be thrush presenting itself. At the beginning, it is often very thick, severe thrush can be like cream cheese or cottage cheese. It can have also have obvious particulate lumps in it.
“If your discharge is runny, watery or even has a greyish colour, this may be an indicator that you are experiencing bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is caused by specific garnerella bacteria.”
If you do notice a change in your discharge and you’re not sure what’s going on, you can test yourself using the Canestest Self-Test for Vaginal Infections.
That can help you quickly identify if your pH levels have changed and if you are experiencing thrush or BV.
“Once you have your diagnosis, you can effectively treat any changes.”
An itchy vag is a sign that something’s up.
Anne explains: “Experiencing an itchy vulva can indicate a number of problems.
“Problems can range from a definite infection such as thrush, to a reaction to underwear or clothing, especially clothes made from synthetic fibres. Vaginal itching can also be caused by vaginal dryness, often onset by the menopause.”
If you do itch down there, Anne advises wearing cotton undies rather than anything made from synthetic material.
Try to use non-bio washing powder to wash them in too, which will be less harsh.
And then have a think about how you wash your vagina and what you’re using in the bath or shower. You really don’t need any specific products – warm water is enough. If you really want to use soap, make sure it’s a gentle, unscented one.
“Finally, some tampons which are scented can cause irritation and I always recommend that women should consider using one of the organic sanitary protection brands, as these are less likely to cause irritation and adverse symptoms in the delicate genital area.”
If sex hasn’t always been painful, then you really can’t ignore it becoming uncomfortable.
In fact, sex shouldn’t be painful at all – so if it is, you need to work out what’s going on.
“Pain with intercourse is a very important symptom which you might ignore, particularly if it has never happened before.
“If it’s a sudden change then that should definitely be checked out because that could be one of the first signs of a serious infection.”
Even if you’ve been dealing with pain for a while due to vaginal dryness, that can be a sign that you’re a little out of balance.
“It could be a symptom of the menopause or a hormonal imbalance due to a lack of oestrogen,” Anne says.
“This can be treated effectively with local oestrogen replacement which is very safe and is not absorbed systemically into the body.
“In some cases, pain during sex can indicate thrush. If you are experiencing pain and bleeding during intercourse it may indicate an STI or even inflammation of the cervix, which you may need to seek advice from your GP for.”
4. Change in odour
Your vagina smells differently at different times of the month, largely because the pH level changes and the whole consistency of the mucus changes due to hormonal cycles.
“Everyone has a slightly different odour and what women find normal or abnormal is not the same for everyone.
“Getting to know what’s going on down there will help you understand what is normal for you. If you notice a dramatic change combined with an increase or change in discharge, it may represent a problem, which needs to be checked out.”
If your discharge starts smelling a bit fishy, you probably have BV – which can be treated really quickly with the right pH-balancing medication.
We all get lumps and bumps from time to time and they’re usually completely harmless.
“However, in very rare cases, new lesions can indicate something more serious, including vulval pre-cancer or cancer.
“Vulval cancer can present either as an ulcer or open sore which is common than a lump or cystic swelling.
“The affected area can also be uncomfortable, with burning discomfort and itching, but some cases are asymptomatic.
“Changes such as this should always be checked promptly by your GP.”
So stay on top of your vaginal health and if anything changes, talk to your GP.
There’s absolutely no need to be embarrassed – remember that everything is much easier to sort if you catch it early on.