DO I HAVE AN INFECTION?

Red flag: Whenever you experience symptoms such as itching, redness, burning, strange smells, or cottage cheese-like discharge, it is a red flag that things are not the way they should be. There are a few different types of infections, and each requires a different plan of treatment. It is essential that the doctor diagnose you and provide you with a treatment plan.

The vagina is a fragile balanced ecosystem. Inside, we have different types of bacteria that help keep our vaginas healthy. The balance is sensitive and can be changed, leading to various infections.

Yeast infections, often know as vaginal candidiasis, is one of the most common female infections. It is estimated that nearly 75% of women will experience at least one vaginal yeast infection at some point. The candida can be naturally present in our body but changes in the environment can facilitate its overgrowth.

Another vaginal infection is Bacterial vaginosis. Probably the most frequent female infection.  It occurs when the vaginal bacterial flora is out of balance.

Sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) are passed on through sexual contact via body fluids, like blood, semen and vaginal secretions. Infections like this can be herpes, chlamydia, HIV/AIDS, gonorrhoea, syphilis and genital warts.

Urinary tract infections, while not affecting the reproductive system, can also cause sexual pain. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.

It can be challenging to know where symptoms come from. It might be from vaginal dryness, allergy or cell transformation.

That is why you always have to see your doctor if you feel, something is off.

GOING TO THE DOCTOR

It is vital that you are specific about your symptoms and your lifestyle.

Be honest about your sexual activity and history so they can better understand your situation.

Many of these infections are curable. The sooner you understand and do something about them, the better you can stop them and the easier it is to prevent them from coming back. Some infections are contagious. The sooner you stop them, the better for you and for others.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR

Create a vulva & vaginal profile page. Be specific about how and where it hurts. Does it burn or is it an itch? What does your discharge look like? Your doctor will want to know these answers, so you might as well brainstorm on beforehand. Think about your sexual partners.  Has your partner(s) been tested for infections and STI’s?  Have you? 

WHAT CAUSES THESE INFECTIONS?

Vaginal Infections

Typically, vaginal infections are caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. An imbalance can happen when

  • douching and cleaning the inside of the vagina. It can cause bacterial imbalances. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ and does not need to be rinsed out
  • the immune system is weak
  • a change in the pH values occurs. The vagina has a naturally low pH, meaning it is an acidic environment. Introducing neutral or basic pH substances (semen is basic and has a high pH) can be enough to trigger an imbalance
  • you are in treatment with an antibiotic for another illness,
  • by a change in your hormonal levels (during pregnancy, menopause) or through a deficiently regulated diabetes

YEAST INFECTIONS

You can experience a yeast infection in your vagina, on your skin, or in your mouth.  Another common name for a yeast infection is thrush, although it is generally used to refer to the oral yeast infection.

Candida albicans is the cause of 80-90% of vaginal thrush infections. Other candida infections might be caused by; Candida glabrataCandida tropicalisCandida krusei, and Candida parapsilosis

Candida is a common fungus and is commonly found in our bodies. Yeast infections occur when the yeast can multiply beyond what is healthy for the body. However, treatment will only work if you indeed have a yeast infection.  

It is essential to figure out if your symptoms are an indication of a yeast infection. Furthermore, it is important to know, which type of candida you might have. Sometimes it takes a particular treatment to get rid of one specific kind of candida. This medicine can be quite harsh on tissue and environment so make sure you know exactly what you are treated for.

It is up to you and your doctor to identify what is causing your infection and how to treat it properly. 

Examinations and culturing of your infection will let your doctor find the best course of treatment for you. Unfortunately, resistant candida infections are becoming more frequent. Don’t give up; it just might take some time to find the proper treatment.

BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS

Bacterial vaginosis is an overgrowth of anaerobe bacteria and an undergrowth of lactobacilli bacteria. Like yeast infections, an imbalance in the body’s ecosystem opens up for infection. Try to see if you can find a pattern. Some experience BV certain times in their menstrual cycle, others after sex. 

Infections in glands or skin

Swollen and sore labia majora indicates infection in the Bartholin glands. Skene’s gland can also swell while infected.

Contact eczema or allergic eczema can be another reason. Eczema can either be caused by external irritants or rooted in a more profound biological skin issue. If you have eczema and treat it as if it were thrush – your eczema might get worse.

BLADDER AND URINARY TRACT INFECTIONS

Infections of the urinary tract are quite frequent. The most common bacteria that cause these infections is Escherichia coli.

E. coli is a bacterium that lives in our digestive tracts. Certain types can provoke an infection in the urinary tract as well. 

Infections in the urinal system may be:

  • cystitis a bladder infections
  • infection of the urethra called urethritis
  • kidney and pelvic infections can be very painful and need to be taken care of.
  • painful bladder syndrome (Interstitial cystitis), which is a chronic type of bladder infection. It is not known for sure what IC derives from, and often a diagnosis is found when other possible illnesses have been eliminated

SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS

Depending on the sexually transmitted infections (STI), the cause can be attributed differently. The diseases are all contagious due to sexual contact with the infected area. It might be through skin contact or different kinds of body fluids. 

The infections are Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Genital Warts,  HIV/AIDS and Trichomoniasis. 

Other possible reasons

Maybe it is not an infection that is causing you trouble. Diseases in your skin can irritate your skin.  Illnesses like lichen planus and lichen sclerosis can cause severe skin issues and discomfort. Genital psoriasis is another option.

SYMPTOMS

TRY TO NARROW DOWN YOUR INFECTION

Yeast infections

  • Vaginal yeast infections are often presented with symptoms like itching and burning in the vagina, generally accompanied by a white, chunky discharge with no odour. Some women even experience a rash at the entrance of the vagina and on the vulva. If there is any smell to your discharge, it would mildly resemble bread or beer (That’s the yeast at work).
  • Yeast infections of the skin present redness, rashes, and sometimes pus-like discharge. Candida skin infections generally occur in moist skin folds, like the vulva, armpits, elbows, or behind the knees. 
  • In rare cases, Candida is all over the body. This is a systemic disorder that needs to be treated systemically.

Bacterial Vaginosis 

Many women with BV do not notice any symptoms. If you do have them, you may experience a thin white or grey vaginal discharge, “fishy” odour, itching, or burning. Sometimes BV comes in cyclic – parallel to your monthly cycle. At other times after a change in the vaginal milieu – i.e. pH level after sex.

Eczema 

is when your skin might be itching, red, swelling or have cracks. It can all derive from stress in your everyday life or sensibility to irritants such as chemicals in soaps, toilet paper or maybe even treatment for yeast infections. Eczema can be provoked by excessive wetness, friction or heat such as tight pants, g strings or excessive discharge. You might also have atopic eczema; a very sensitive skin or be allergic to specific allergens. If your gynaecologist is unfamiliar with genital eczema, a dermatologist will be able to help you out.

Sexually transmitted infections

 – It must be noted about all sexually transmitted infections, that a person may be infected and never experience symptoms. Especially concerning men, it is common that these infections don’t have any physical signs. It is quite important that you get tested if you are sexually active. This is particularly true with new or multiple sexual partners. This section is a very superficial list of STI’s – read more about the infections elsewhere.

  • Herpes – Genital herpes, in a high percentage of cases, never or rarely present any physical symptoms. However, there can be some that warn you of an “outbreak.” An unpleasant tingling, or stinging in your skin. Liquid filled blisters on the genital skin. If they break, they leave behind painful ulcers that make the transmission of the disease more likely. Fever, body aches, headaches, and swollen lymph nodes often accompany the first outbreak.
  • Genital Warts – Warts can appear at any time between weeks and months after the initial infection. Genital warts are growths on the skin of the genital area and around the anus. Warts can be flat or may have a cauliflower texture. They can be singular or grow in clusters in a certain area. Generally, they grow in your vagina, vulva, or near your anus. They can sting and itch. Other diseases and their treatments can cause warts to grow more quickly, especially if one’s immune system is compromised. That includes undergoing chemotherapy, suffering from immune disorders, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS. They might also show up during pregnancy.
  • Gonorrhoea – far from all women will experience symptoms.  If you do get them, they can include an increase in discharge and painful urinating.
  • Chlamydia – A high percentage of women with chlamydia have no symptoms.  If you do get chlamydia symptoms, they may begin about one to three weeks after you get infected. They can include an increase in discharges and stinging urinating. It is possible in Denmark to have a chlamydia home test. It is a good idea to find out if you are infected and in that case to be treated – chlamydia can lead to infertility. 
  • Syphilis – Can provide no or such mild symptoms that a person does not notice them.  A small painless sore or an open, wet ulcer might appear. It can take years before symptoms develop to be noticeable.  All the more reason to get tested if you’re in any doubt.
  • HIV/AIDS –Some people develop HIV symptoms shortly after being infected. For others, it takes many years. There are several stages of the HIV disease. The first symptoms may include swollen glands in the throat, armpit, or groin. Other early HIV symptoms include slight fever, headaches, fatigue, and muscle aches. After that, there are usually no signs for many years. That is why it can be hard to know if you have HIV.  AIDS symptoms appear in the most advanced stages of the HIV disease. 
  • Trichomoniasis –Often, trichomoniasis has no symptoms. Men are carriers of the parasite, but generally do not even know they are infected. Symptoms generally are only seen in women. They might show as itching in and around the vagina and vulva. Or it can be an unpleasant-smelling increase in the discharge. It can be a yellow/green/ grey colour and frothy. It might lead to abdominal pain or there might be pain urinating

Urinary tract infections 

Unlike many infections, especially if you have earlier had a UTI, you will often recognize it. Symptoms are generally evident and troublesome with a burning feeling when you urinate; frequent or intense urge to urinate, even though little comes out; pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen, maybe a fever.

Infection is mostly caused by E.coli bacteria infecting the urinary tract system. Fragile mucous membranes are less effectively preventing the bacteria from causing trouble.

Read: I have an infection

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