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When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, your daily habits affect more than just your weight and mood. Having a healthy lifestyle is also linked to good vaginal health. But what factors specifically affect your vaginal health? Here’s what women need to know.
One of the most common confusions, says Lindsay Wardle, DO, OB-GYN with Advanced Women’s Healthcare, is that women don’t have an understanding of their anatomy. “Understanding the difference between the vulva (the outside) and the vagina (the inside) can make a big difference in describing symptoms to your doctor,” Dr. Wardle says.
She also explains that many women don’t realize what constitutes normal discharge. “I always tell women to think of discharge as the same kind of bodily function as nasal mucus or tears—it’s completely normal.” That said, discharge can change with your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or other factors. Any discolored, foamy, or odorous discharge should be checked out by a doctor. If there is any itching or pain, a lot of women tend to fall down a rabbit hole of searching the Internet and self-diagnosing. But many things can cause the same symptoms, and it’s best to schedule an appointment with your OB-GYN.
A big no-no
“A lot of women think that the inside of the vagina needs to be cleaned, whether with pH washes or soaps,” says Dr. Wardle. “The vagina is actually a self-cleaning oven; nothing needs to go in there.” It’s fine to wash the vulva area and outside of the vagina. But avoid using products inside the vagina.
“Just like the inside of the mouth or the digestive tract, your vagina absorbs what is put in there,” says Dr. Wardle. She recommends avoiding scented menstrual products and aiming to use products that are as natural as possible.
What can I do preventatively?
Regular well-woman visits are an important factor in preventive care. “For vaginal health specifically, you should be getting cervical and vaginal exams yearly with your OB-GYN,” says Dr. Wardle. Maintaining overall healthy lifestyle habits is also important. Make sure you’re getting adequate multivitamins, are exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. Health habits affect vaginal health more than many women realize. For example, chronic yeast infections can be a sign of prediabetes.
“It’s also important for women to educate themselves and ask questions,” says Dr. Wardle. For example, pelvic physical therapy is a service that many women don’t know about but can be effective for multiple conditions, such as incontinence, painful sex, or pelvic pain. “If you have any concerns, always start a conversation with your doctor.”