Taking care of your vagina as you grow older

  • Wellness
  • Tuesday, 11 Aug 2020

While it may feel embarassing to talk about your private parts, do not hesitate to see the doctor if you feel something is wrong with your vagina. — AFP

Our bodies grow, change and age; from childhood through puberty, and onwards to adulthood, we can see subtle and not so subtle changes.

Just as the rest of our bodies change as we grow and age, so does a woman’s vagina.

The vagina is a vital part of a woman and presents different health challenges at various inflection points of a woman’s life.

And so, preserving the health of the vagina is just as important as preserving the health of the heart or any other organ in a woman.

Various sex hormones like oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are involved in the regulation of cells and tissues in the female body.

The balance of these various hormones is crucial for healthy functioning.

These hormones fluctuate not only during your menstrual cycle, but also peak and decline at various stages of life.

As you enter your 20s and 30s from puberty, oestrogen in your body keeps your vagina elastic, well lubricated and in top condition.

When you give birth to a child, you will experience vaginal changes, including the loss of some elasticity.

Much later in your life when you experience menopause, oestrogen levels nosedive and you will notice your vaginal walls thinning and becoming drier.

Statistically, many women tend to be more sexually active during their 20s to 30s, which may present the possibility of vaginal infections and associated health problems.

These include vaginal sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, as well as common vaginal infections like yeast and bacterial vaginosis, which can occur when your natural vaginal balance is disrupted.

Vaginal infections can cause symptoms such as abnormal vaginal discharge, spotting, bad odour, discomfort, itching or soreness.

However, they can be treated with appropriate antibiotics or medications.

It is important to adopt simple and continuous hygiene practices, such as washing gently with warm water or with a mild and hypoallergenic cleanser.

Avoid douching.

You can also reduce your risk of vaginal STIs by observing safe sexual practices and going for regular STI screenings.

When you are pregnant, your hormonal levels change and this will affect your vagina as well.

You may be more prone to yeast infections.

These can cause itching, discomfort and abnormal discharge, which can be relieved with an anti-fungal medication.

As the baby grows within you, changes in blood flow and pressure from the enlarging womb can cause vaginal pains due to nerve compression.

After pregnancy, your pelvic floor muscles may become lax or weakened, making your vagina feel less elastic than before.

This may be associated with other problems such as stress urinary incontinence, where you experience urinary leakage when you cough, sneeze or strain.

Some women may also feel decreased sexual satisfaction due to these lax pelvic floor muscles.

Besides Kegel (pelvic floor) exercises, there are various treatments including laser, radio frequency therapy and high intensity focused electromagnetic technology that can help tighten the muscles and increase collagen production.

Later in life, your female hormones decline drastically as you go through menopause.

With less oestrogen, you may experience a condition called vulvovaginal atrophy, where both your vulva (the external genitalia) and the lining of your vagina become drier, thinner and less elastic.

This can result in discomfort, dryness, vaginal itching, urinary incontinence and discomfort during sexual intercourse.

If these symptoms become problematic and troubling, topical oestrogen creams (applied within the vagina) may be helpful.

Continuing to have an active sex life actually helps, as sexual activity increases blood flow to the vagina and can help with maintaining vaginal elasticity and a healthy vaginal lining.

Maintaining your vaginal health is just as important as taking care of other aspects of your health.

While you may feel awkward approaching this topic, just remember that you are not alone - every woman goes through these stages of life and many have experienced similar vaginal problems.

Don’t be afraid to approach a doctor if you are facing an issue with your vaginal health.

Dr Grace Huang is a general practitioner (GP) in Singapore. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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