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Vaginal Itching & Burning: Your Top 3 Questions Answered

Vaginal Itching & Burning: Your Top 3 Questions Answered

As much as we love being women, there are some issues that aren’t so fun to deal with – vaginal itching, yeast and urinary tract infection, or worse, cervical cancer.

Find out which gynecological problem you might encounter, how to recognize and treat the symptoms and what steps you can take to prevent them. Plus: Are you at risk for breast cancer?

1. Yeast Infections
A yeast infection is a type of vaginitis, and 3 out of 4 women will experience at least one in their life; half of women will have more than one. Yeast infections can be passed to men, but this is rare.

What it is: Yeast infections are caused by a naturally occurring fungal organism called Candida albicans. The acidic environment of the vagina helps keep the yeast from growing, but when the pH  is altered, a yeast infection can occur. Moisture and other irritation can also promote the yeast to grow, causing vaginal itching.

Certain medications, antibiotics, steroids and birth control pills, stress, pregnancy, diabetes, and AIDS can kill “good bacteria,” cause changes in hormones or weaken the immune system, which all contribute to yeast infections.

Signs include:

  • Redness, itching and burning around the vulva
  • Abnormal discharge; foul-smelling, thick, white (similar to cottage cheese)
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Painful urination

Treatment: If you’ve never had a yeast infection, your doctor can diagnose it with a pelvic exam or by taking a swab.

RELATED: Bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection: How to tell the difference

First-time yeast infections can generally be treated with over-the-counter medications, and symptoms usually clear up within a week. It comes in cream or suppository form, and the cream can also be used to relieve outer vaginal itching.

For recurrent yeast infections or hard-to-clear-up infections, your doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic.

What you can do to help prevent vaginal itching and yeast infections:

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes and synthetic materials like nylon. Only wear cotton underwear
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom
  • Change out of a wet bathing suit right away
  • Avoid douching and scented products like soap, bath products sanitary products
  • Dry off well after a shower
  • Avoid baths and hot tubs

2. Urinary Tract Infection
What it is: A UTI is a bacterial infection of your urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.

Bacteria from your skin near the rectum or in the vagina can spread and enter through the urethra, causing a UTI.

The most common UTI is in the bladder, which can be very painful.

More than half of all women will develop a urinary tract infection (UTI) sometime in their lifetimes. Men can develop UTIs too, but they’re more common in women because their urethra is shorter, so bacteria have a shorter distance to travel.

Sexual intercourse, use of diaphragms, menopause, or a weakened immune system are common causes of UTIs.

Signs include:

  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • Feeling the urge to urinate but not being able to
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Cloudy or bloody urine

Treatment: Your doctor will obtain a urine sample to determine the type of bacteria present in the urine.

Unless you have other health problems, antibiotics are then prescribed, and symptoms usually clear up within a few days of treatment.

For recurrent UTIs, your doctor may prescribe you low doses of antibiotics for several months to prevent infections from coming back.

If sexual intercourse is the cause of UTIs, your doctor may prescribe a single dose of an antibiotic after you have sex.

If the infection is more serious and has spread to your kidneys, you may need to take an antibiotic for longer or you may need to be hospitalized.

Nausea, lower back pain and fever are some signs of a kidney infection.

What you can do to help prevent it:

  • Drink plenty of water. Cranberry juice may also help
  • Don’t hold urine in
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom
  • Urinate after intercourse
  • Avoid feminine products like deodorant sprays, douches and powders

3. Cervical Cancer
What it is: As the third most common type of reproductive organ cancer, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. It usually develops slowly over time when normal cells in a woman’s cervix become cancerous.

Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, is the most common cause of cervical cancer, but not all women who contract HPV will develop cervical cancer.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved vaccines against HPV for females between the ages of 9 and 26.

HIV also can weaken the immune system’s ability to fight any infection.

Cervical cancer in its earliest stages usually produces no signs, but as the cancer progresses, you might notice:

  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge with a foul smell
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding; after sex, in between menstruation or increased menstrual bleeding
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

Treatment: For pre-invasive stage treatment, the following types of surgery can be performed: conization, laser surgery, loop electrosurgical excision procedure, cryosurgery and hysterectomy.

For cancer that’s reached the invasive stage, the following treatments may be performed: hysterectomy, radical trachelectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy.

When the cancer is still confined to the cervix, a five-year survival rate is more than 90%.

What you can do to help prevent it:

  • Prolong the age of having sexual intercourse
  • Limit the number of sexual partners
  • Use protection like condoms
  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise to help boost your immune system
  • Get regular Pap smears and pelvic exams
  • Get vaccinated against HPV

Women’s Health: How Much Do You Know?
As a woman, your health concerns are as unique as your body. How you take care of yourself has a huge impact on your future, affecting everything from your ability to have children to your risk of heart disease. There’s no substitute for good health, and when it’s gone, it’s often gone for good. Don’t let it pass you by.

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