For a healthy body, a healthy reproductive system is also an important contributing factor. Most of the time, women either ignore the early signs and symptoms of certain diseases or are not aware of what to term normal and what not to.
Women should be highly aware of their bodies and their reproductive systems because, in most cases of certain diseases, some signs can be seen early on, ignoring these can make you pay heavily for it later on while getting tested on time can save your life.
If you are experiencing some things that do not look normal, you should immediately get yourself checked; however, you should not wait for something to go wrong before getting yourself checked. Regular pelvic tests are mandatory for all women above 26 years old and are sexually active. Such tests can reveal sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc. in their early stages. Also, women that have multiple sexual partners should get themselves checked.
1. The health of the vagina
The vagina is a major part of the female reproductive system; it is self-cleaning, meaning it can clean itself with the help of vaginal fluids that trap any pathogens and get rid of them. The vaginal fluids help maintain the delicate vaginal microbiome and maintain its PH levels to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Vaginal fluids are composed of the mucous from the walls of the vagina, the cervix, and also from the good bacteria lactobacilli. The hormones mainly control the environment of the vagina; therefore, the viscosity and the amount of vaginal discharge can change in a menstrual cycle.
Normal discharge looks whitish with a mild odor. The amount and its consistency can become thicker and heavier during ovulation. Abnormal vaginal discharge is of a strange color like green, gray, yellow, and a very strong fishy odor may also accompany it.
Women that are experiencing abnormal vaginal discharge should get themselves checked as it might point towards a major problem. Apart from abnormal discharge, other symptoms like pain and burning in the genitals can also be due to something not functioning right in the vagina. The infection of the vagina is known as vaginitis. It is very common and is mostly caused due to bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. Getting yourself checked if you are experiencing the following symptoms is very important:
- abnormal and heavy vaginal discharge
- a very strong fishy odor from the discharge
- itching or pain in the vaginal area
2. Issues with menstruation
A normal menstrual cycle for most women is supposed to be 28 days; however, that is not the case as it can be anywhere between 21 to 45 days. Someone who has just started to have periods and entering menopause may experience irregular periods. Getting screened for the following is highly imperative:
- if you miss a period and are sexually active. It might mean that you are pregnant.
- if your periods are still not following a normal pattern even after four years of getting periods or if you have normal periods for some months, they stop and become irregular
- If your menstrual cycle falls below 21 days and exceeds 45 days or if after having the first period, you miss three cycles.
- absence of period or if the periods are extremely heavy for more than seven days
The cause of experiencing these symptoms doesn’t need to be always serious; most commonly, it is due to an imbalance in the level of the hormones or due to a problem with the structure of the reproductive organs.
To be in tune with your menstrual cycle, there are several tracking apps you can use. Such apps can help you track periods and help you see the pattern of irregularities in the cycle. You need to consult a doctor in the case of:
- very heavy periods that require you to change your pad every hour for a stretch of some hours
- periods that last longer than 7 days
- if you are 16 with the first signs of puberty but with no periods
- you have a normal cycle, and then you miss them for as long as 3 or 6 months
Dysmenorrhea or painful periods is a great cause of concern for many women. Experiencing some sort of pain during the first and the second days of your cycle is normal, but then if the pain is severe and coming in the way of your normal daily life, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
Breakthrough bleeding is when you are spotting or are experiencing bleeding in between a normal menstrual cycle. Getting yourself checked is the only way to rule out any serious problems, such as abnormal growths inside the uterus.
Toxic shock syndrome
It is a very serious condition which is caused by a bacterial infection. In most cases, it is linked to the use of tampons, but it can also be caused by the use of a diaphragm or a contraceptive sponge. Its symptoms include fever, vomiting, along with diarrhea. Anyone who is experiencing these symptoms should get themselves checked right away. The symptoms might also be due to some other less serious issues, but it is always important to get checked.
3. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases are those diseases or infections transmitted from one person to the other through oral, anal, and vaginal sex with an infected person. For sexually active people, staying away from sex is the best option to prevent STDs, but since that might not be feasible for some in that case use of certain methods of protection like a condom and dental dams is very helpful.
Most sexually transmitted diseases do not come with any symptoms like in the case of trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, etc. therefore, in that case, getting regularly tested is the only option to know if you are suffering from them or not. Some common symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases are:
- the ache in the pelvic area
- lower abdominal pain
- pain during sex
- abnormal vaginal discharge that is either yellow, gray, green with a fishy smell
- breakthrough bleeding or bleeding between periods
- a burning sensation while peeing
- painful bowel movements
- loss of appetite, vomiting, and nausea
- fatigue along with fever
- rashes, sores or blisters on the skin
- inflammation or itching
The only way to really know if these symptoms are indeed a cause of concern is through screening. Sometimes these symptoms might point towards another disorder and not a sexually transmitted disease. Like for instance, breakthrough bleeding can also be due to a hormonal imbalance.
Every year 1 in 4 adolescents gets diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. At this rate, by the age of 25, half of all young people will have contracted an infection or two. Getting evaluated by a doctor, therefore, is very important.
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The first pelvic exam: What to expect?
The first step is to let the doctor know that you are getting a pelvic exam for the very first time; this will help them to make you understand the procedure thoroughly. A physical exam is done to look for any abnormalities in the shape of the reproductive organs.
A speculum is used to help make the opening of the vagina wider to help the doctor see the cervix more clearly. Then the doctor takes a swab sample from your cervix to be examined under the microscope for any abnormalities in the lab. A pap smear is very important as it lets you know if you have cervical cancer early on.
Apart from these during a pelvic exam, the doctor might also perform a rectovaginal or a bimanual examination. The bimanual exam involves the use of lubricated, gloved fingers by the doctor, which are then inserted in the vagina. The doctor can feel the insides for any sign of abnormalities like tumors or cysts.
On the other hand, a rectovaginal exam involves inserting a lubricated, gloved finger by the doctor into the anus to see if there are any abnormalities in the uterus from behind. The doctor can also insert one finger in the vagina and another in the anus to check the pelvic floor muscles’ state. A pelvic exam is generally quick and also painless.
The next time you go for a pelvic exam, the doctor can compare your current state of the reproductive organs with your first normal test results to rule out any abnormalities that can then be treated with ease.
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Maintaining your reproductive health is highly important, and one step to do that is to be aware of your body and look for signs that do not seem normal. Going for a regular pelvic exam is another important thing that you can do to maintain the health of your reproductive organs and help you catch any diseases early on, which makes it possible for the doctor to treat them effectively. Anyone who is sexually active and is above 26 years of age should get themselves checked regularly.