When something pops up down there that seems a little suspicious, we're rushing to our gyno in an instant. But it's important to remember that for every unfamilar thing you might encouter, down there, many, many other women have shared in your anxiety. Being a woman comes with a whole crop of health issues. We spoke to New York City-based gynecologist and obstetrician Jhansi Reddy to determine what's worrisome and what's totally normal.
1. More than one yeast infection in the summer months. Yeast infections are a pain in the you-know-where, there's no denying it. Reddy says favored summer activities like swimming and long runs outside lend themselves to developing yeast infections—sometimes, multiple times during the summer months. In order to prevent this itchy ailment, she suggests avoid lounging around in wet or sweaty clothes.
2. The I-want-to-die-I-have-to-pee-so-bad-but-nothing-is-happening kind of pain, otherwise known as a UTI. If you've ever known the pain of waking up in the middle of the night with an unbearable urge to pee, then you know the pain of a Urinary Tract Infection. While they are painful, getting one UTI a year is relatively normal. What is uncommon, however, is when you're getting multiple (think four to five) UTI's in a year, Reddy says. If you want to get rid of a UTI, try cranberry juice, but better to just see your doctor. To prevent, try to stay well hydrated and of course, always pee after sex.
3. Discharge. When it comes to your vagina, it doesn't get more normal than discharge, but it's still one of Reddy's most asked-about topics. "It's very normal to have some amount of physiologic discharge," she says. The most important thing to remember is that while discharge happens to everyone, different women have different levels of it. There are cases where discharge could mean something more, however. A curdy white discharge most likely means you have a yeast infection, while a thicker discharge could be a sign of a bacterial infection.
4. Early or extended periods. You're definitely not the only one who has ever missed a pill or two, so you're not the only one who has accidentally prolonged their period, or enticed it to come prematurely. Missing a pill substantially drops your hormones, Reddy says, which will signal your body to start your period. "By not taking your pills for a few days, you're essentially inducing a period," cautions Reddy. If you're especially sensitive, you may even have a prolonged period after just one missed pill.
5. Ingrown hairs. If you're the type of girl who likes to stay fairly bare down there, then you're more susceptible to ingrown hairs. Shaving or waxing, even if it's not excessive, makes your nether regions more vulnerable to those painful little bumps. If you get one, let it be. "You want the hair to come out of the follicle, rather than getting wrapped up inside of it," Reddy comments. She also adds that regularly changing your razor and exfoliating will decrease your risk.
6. Funky smells. If you've ever had a not-so-lovely smell from below, it's understandable that you'd think there's cause for concern. While foul odors are something to get checked out, Reddy says, they aren't a cause for serious alarm. Oftentimes a foul odor is a sign of bacterial vaginosis, which thankfully, can be treated easily with medications. To thwart bacterial buildup, avoid super tight clothing, change after you work out, and keep your bathtub soaks to a minimum.
7. Varying levels of cramps. One month, you feel like someone is wringing out your ovaries, and the next, they're facing a mild, if not non-existent pain. A wide variance in levels of cramp pain isn't weird, in fact, it's normal, Reddy says. What is cause for worry is punched-in-the-gut, stay-home-from-work level cramps every single month, which could be a sign sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis, all of which you can discuss with your doctor.
8. Cysts on your breasts. Feeling a lump in your breast is synonymous with immediate panic, and with good reason. However, not all lumps instantly mean breast cancer. Sometimes, they can be harmless cysts that go away within the month. Monthly breast exams are key to catching these, and the ideal time is just after your period, when your breasts are at their least tender. For a woman in her twenties or thirties without a family history of breast cancer, Reddy will tell her patients to wait to see if nature takes its course and the cyst goes away within the month.
9. An aversion to scented products. You know how you can get seriously turned off by a certain perfume (or even a men's cologne). Same goes for your vagina. To avoid developing reactions to certain prducts, steer clear of scented pads or pantiliners and stick to the classic, unscented kind for worry-free coverage, suggest Reddy.
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I'm an Associate Editor at the Business of Fashion, where I edit and write stories about the fashion and beauty industries. Previously, I was the brand editor at Adweek, where I was the lead editor for Adweek's brand and retail coverage. Before my switch to business journalism, I was a writer/reporter at PEOPLE.com, where I wrote news posts, galleries and articles for PEOPLE magazine's website. My work has been published on TheAtlantic.com, ELLE.com, MarieClaire.com, PEOPLE.com, GoodHousekeeping.com and in Every Day with Rachael Ray. It has been syndicated by Cosmopolitan.com, TIME.com, TravelandLeisure.com and GoodHousekeeping.com, among other publications. Previously, I've worked at VOGUE.com, ELLE.com, and MarieClaire.com.
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