Discussing personal health issues can be embarrassing and invasive, especially when it comes to something as personal and important as reproductive health for women. It’s hard to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin if something is off either internally or externally and is impacting vaginal health. Some vaginal health factors such as infections and complications during pregnancy or childbirth can lead to problems with a woman’s urinary health in addition to the symptoms that come about with the initial vaginal complications.
A Urinary Tract Infection is probably the most commonly known vaginal health issue that is connected to urinary health. By definition, a UTI “ is an infection in any part of your urinary system — your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract — the bladder and the urethra.” While both women and men can develop a UTI, it is more common among women. There are two kinds of infections that may occur – cystitis (infection of the bladder) or urethritis (infection of the urethra). Cystitis is usually caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a type of bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but it may be caused by other bacteria. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are more susceptible to this kind of infection than men because of the short distance between the vagina and urethra and the anus. This increases the chances of cross-contamination. Urethritis, on the other hand, is when GI bacteria infects the urethra. This is more likely to be caused by sexual intercourse due to the proximity of the vagina and urethra in women.
Urinary Tract Infections can have multiple symptoms depending on the location of the infection and the severity. Symptoms include:
- A strong, persistent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Urine that appears cloudy
- Urine that appears red, bright pink or cola-colored — a sign of blood in the urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain, in women — especially in the center of the pelvis and around the area of the pubic bone
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, go to your doctor or local clinic to get tested. UTIs are usually treatable with prescription antibiotics and pain medicine (in addition to the antibiotics). It is imperative to get tested as these symptoms could be a sign of something more serious such as an STD, or if your kidneys become infected to take the appropriate steps to treat the larger infection.
STDs & STIs
Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Sexually Transmitted Infections can also have an impact on urinary health. While STDs are common in the U.S. with more than 20 million new infections being diagnosed every year, and countless that go undiagnosed, according to the CDC, many ignore the risks and symptoms of the infections and diseases. There are several STDs that may impact urinary health in both men and women, with symptoms of painful urination. These include:
- genital herpes
Women may also develop severe pelvic pain that may lead to infertility or even death. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) may occur if an STD like chlamydia or gonorrhea goes untreated as the bacteria travel from the cervix to the uterus. It is also sometimes caused by a complication with pelvic surgery. Symptoms can include everything from lower abdominal or pelvic
pain, pain during sex, abnormal bleeding or spotting, abnormal vaginal discharge, fever,
frequent urination, low back pain, and nausea. Because these are so similar to other kinds of infection symptoms, it is important for a healthcare professional to properly diagnose you.
Tips for Vaginal Health
Generally, practicing safe, healthy, and sanitary daily practices and leading a healthy and active life can help prevent vaginal health complications. There are a few other tips and preventative measures that women can use to support their overall and vaginal health, which may be leading to urinary complications.
Keep Clean – Make sure you’re practicing good hygiene habits. Shower or bathe regularly, change undergarments daily, and in the bathroom, wipe front to back (this is a very real suggestion from the Mayo Clinic). Avoid using heavily perfumed “feminine hygiene” products, such as deodorant sprays and soaps as they are often heavy in chemicals that can irritate the vagina and throw off pH balance.
Practice Healthy Sex Habits – To avoid both STDs and UTIs, healthy and safe sex is important. If you don’t know your partners’ past sexual history, using condoms will prevent the spread of STDs or STIs. In addition, always urinate both before and after sexual intercourse to flush out any bacteria.
Drink Your Water – Water helps to dilute the urine, allowing the body to not only pass urine more frequently but pass more bacteria through the system before an infection can occur.
Birth Control Options – Spermicide, a chemical that is inserted into the vagina before sex to kill or immobilize sperm to prevent pregnancies has been linked to an increase in UTIs and vaginal irritation. Women that use a diaphragm as a form of birth control are also more likely to develop UTIs because the diaphragms push against the urethra and make it harder to completely empty your bladder. The urine that stays in the bladder is more likely to grow bacteria and cause infections.
These are all preventive and precautionary steps that women can take to help support their vaginal and urinary health. In addition to taking these steps, visit your doctor, OBGYN, and take advantage of local women’s health clinics to ensure that your vaginal health is stable.
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