What are signs or symptoms of vaginal problems?

Consult your doctor if you notice:

  • A change in the color, odor or amount of vaginal discharge — especially when accompanied by a fever
  • Vaginal redness, itching or irritation
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or after menopause
  • A mass or bulge in your vagina
  • A sensation of pressure or heaviness in your vagina

You might not need to see your doctor every time you have vaginal irritation and discharge, particularly if you've been diagnosed with a vaginal yeast infection in the past and you're experiencing similar signs and symptoms. However, if you choose to use an over-the-counter medication and your symptoms don't go away, consult your doctor.

What can I do to keep my vagina healthy?

You can take steps to protect your vaginal health and overall health. For example:

  • Be sexually responsible. Use condoms or maintain a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who's free of sexually transmitted infections.
  • Get vaccinated. Vaccinations can protect you from human papillomavirus (HPV) as well as hepatitis A and hepatitis B — serious liver infections that can spread through sexual contact.
  • Practice good hygiene. Don't douche or use perfumed soaps. Don't use feminine sprays or scented tampons. If you use sex toys, clean them after every use.
  • Do Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises can help tone your pelvic floor muscles. Simply tighten your pelvic muscles as if you're stopping your stream of urine. Once you've got the hang of it, do at least three sets of 10 Kegel exercises a day.
  • Know your medications. Discuss medication use and possible vaginal side effects with your doctor.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and don't smoke or use drugs. Alcohol and illegal drugs can cause sexual dysfunction. Nicotine can inhibit sexual arousal. If you're under the influence, you're more likely to take sexual risks.

While not all vaginal problems can be prevented, regular checkups can help ensure that problems affecting your vagina are diagnosed as soon as possible. Don't let embarrassment prevent you from talking to your doctor about any concerns you might have about your vaginal health.

Feb. 25, 2012 See more In-depth