The 6 Below-the-Belt Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore
If you find symptom No. 4 in your panties, call your doctor at once.
How acquainted are you with your vagina? Although the two of you have been hanging out together for decades, she likely can still be quite mysterious. When all seems to be going just fine, something — who knows what — throws everything off-balance. Then you suddenly have a funky discharge. You get that itchy-scratchy feeling. Or something simply doesn’t feel right. While it’s sometimes OK to take a wait-and-see approach or try to treat an issue on your own, in other cases, like the ones below, it’s better to see your gynecologist or provider ASAP.
1. Your discharge looks or smells off
First, “normal” discharge (and how much you have) is different for every woman. Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, whether you use hormonal birth control and what your reproductive stage is, discharge can be clear to whitish, light and stringy, a little thicker if you use certain birth controls or thin and yellowish if you’re menopausal, says Nichole Butler-MooYoung, M.D., a gynecologist at Weiss Memorial Hospital Women’s Health Center in Chicago. Regardless of its appearance or amount, discharge should have no noticeable odor. Anytime something unfamiliar occurs with your discharge, whether it’s a foul odor, a weird color like green or gray, a change in consistency (such as being foamy or like cottage cheese) or an increase in your usual amount of discharge, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Also, if you experience discharge with any itching, burning, stinging or irritated feeling, get it checked out, Dr. Butler-MooYoung says.
2. You’re no stranger to pelvic pain
For many women, cramps are a normal (and dreaded) part of periods. However, if the pain is so severe that it disrupts your life (as in forcing you to call off work), the cramps are getting worse, or you’re suddenly starting to experiencing them and you’ve never had menstrual cramps before, see your gyno. Also check with a medical provider if you have pelvic pain or discomfort that’s not related to your period and is excruciating, happens frequently, lasts longer than a few days or occurs during or after sex.
3. Your lubrication is lacking
Of course, we all experience vaginal dryness at one point or another. Childbirth, birth control, changes to the hormonal levels during perimenopause or after menopause, medications, and many other things can cause women to produce less lubrication. However, you don’t have to suffer from vaginal dryness. “Your vagina can be comfortable and you can still have a good and comfortable sex life,” Dr. Butler-MooYoung says. Talk to your gyno. There are many options available to bring the juice back to your lovin’.
4. You see blood (and you’re not on your period)
Spotting or light bleeding can be normal for some women around ovulation. And if you’re perimenopausal, your period may be different — longer, shorter, lighter, heavier or irregular, with more or less time between periods, or you may even skip periods. However, if you don’t spot during ovulation every month or you’re not yet perimenopausal, but you experience bleeding between periods or your period gets heavier than usual, bring it to your doctor’s attention right away. Follow the same advice if you’ve gone through menopause and see any spotting or bleeding. “A menopausal woman who has bleeding needs to be seen immediately, period, hard stop,” Dr. Butler-MooYoung says. Why such urgency? Abnormal vaginal bleeding and spotting can be a symptom of uterine cancer. According to a recent study by the National Cancer Institute, deaths from uterine cancer have been increasing by almost 2 percent each year. Black women have a higher incidence of uterine cancer and are nearly twice as likely to die from the cancer compared with women of other races and ethnicities. So any abnormal bleeding, including any spotting or bleeding after sex (especially if this is the first time you experienced this), warrants an immediate evaluation. “It may be nothing, but it may be something,” Dr. Butler-MooYoung says.
5. You dread going to pee
If it’s painful or it feels like you’ve got a hot lava situation going on when you urinate, you may have a urinary tract infection. Other symptoms include urinating more often, feeling the need to go even though your bladder is empty, pressure or pain in your lower abdomen, and urine that looks cloudy or smells bad. Schedule a visit with your health care provider right away if you experience any of those symptoms. Left untreated, a UTI can spread to the kidneys and cause serious problems or even be life-threatening. If you experience recurrent UTIs (two in six months or three in a year), your provider may do tests to determine why and may refer you to a urologist.
6. You’ve got a lump or bump
If you shave or wax down below, it’s not unusual to have an ingrown hair pop up sometimes. Grab a hand mirror to see if what you’re dealing with looks like an ingrown hair. If you’re not sure or didn’t shave or wax recently, have your health care practitioner take a look. She’ll want to rule out sexually transmitted infections or a malignancy. Don’t freak out. Not every bump is associated with something bad, Dr. Butler-MooYoung says. For instance, she points out that folliculitis (inflammation of a hair follicle, often from shaving or waxing), skin tags and sebaceous cysts can all cause nonworrisome lesions in the area. Getting checked by a pro can help determine what caused the bump and hopefully put your mind at ease.