1. Common Health Problems

Vaginal Problems

“I just learned that yogurt could help to prevent yeast infections. Now when I take antibiotics, I eat a yogurt in the morning.”

– Kim P., University of Maryland

Vaginal problems include vaginal pain, discharge, abnormal bleeding, irritation, and/or infections. Infections may or may not be sexually transmitted. Common vaginal problems in college age females are listed below.

Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Bacterial Vaginosis

This is an infection from one or more types of bacteria. With this you may have:

  1. Mild vaginal irritation or burning.

  2. A thin, gray or milky white vaginal discharge with a fishy odor.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

This is an infection that goes up through the uterus to the fallopian tubes. Signs and symptoms are:

  1. Abdominal tenderness and/or bloating.

  2. Pain in the abdomen or back. The pain can be severe or it can occur midway in the menstrual cycle or during a pelvic exam.

  3. Pain during sex.

  4. Menstrual cramps can be very painful.

  5. The skin on your abdomen feels sensitive.

  6. Vaginal discharge with abnormal color or odor.

  7. Change in menstrual flow.

  8. Fever. Nausea.

Vaginal Yeast Infection

This is caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida. This is normally present in harmless amounts in the vagina, digestive tract, and mouth. Taking some brands of birth control pills and/or an antibiotic may trigger this overgrowth.

Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are:

  1. Thick, white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese and may smell like yeast.

  2. Itching, irritation, and redness around the vagina.

  3. Burning and/or pain when passing urine or with sex.

Vaginitis From Contact Dermatitis

This is a reaction to products that irritate the vaginal area, such as harsh detergents, scented items, douches, latex condoms, and tight-fitting clothing. With this, itching and redness occur in the outer genital area without other symptoms.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

These include genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. (For signs and symptoms of these Sexually Transmitted Infections, click here.)


Treatment for the vaginal problem depends on the cause. Bacterial infections and PID are treated with antibiotics. Fungal infections are treated with antifungal medicines.


For Vaginitis from Contact Dermatitis

  1. Avoid products that cause the problem (scented items, douches, feminine hygiene sprays, etc.). Don’t scrub the affected area with a washcloth.

  2. Don’t wear tight and constricting garments (girdles, tight blue jeans, etc.).

  3. Use medicated wipes, such as Tucks, instead of dry toilet paper. Follow package directions.

  4. Add an oatmeal bath product (Aveeno) or baking soda to bath water.

  5. Apply an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. Use this infrequently, though. Hydrocortisone can lead to a thinning of the vaginal tissue.

  6. Put a cool compress on the affected area.

  7. Take a sitz bath every 4 to 6 hours or as needed. A sitz bath basin is a device that fits on the toilet seat and is used to cleanse the genital area. You can buy a sitz bath basin at a medical supply store and at some drug stores.

  8. Wash your underwear in a gentle detergent. Rinse it twice. Use only plain water for the second rinse. Don’t use fabric softener.

For Vaginal Yeast Infection

  1. For a repeat vaginal yeast infection, use an over-the-counter (OTC) vaginal medication, such as Monistat, if it treated the infection successfully in the past. Use it as directed.

  2. Let your health care provider know if you get yeast infections when you take an antibiotic. You may be told to use an antifungal product.

  3. Limit sugar and foods with sugar. Sugar promotes the growth of yeast.

  4. Eat yogurt and/or take an over-the-counter product that contains live cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus. Or, take an OTC product that has this.

  5. Take showers, not baths. Avoid bubble baths.

  6. Keep the vagina as clean and dry as possible.

  7. Wear cotton or cotton-lined underwear.

  8. Don’t wear garments that are tight in the crotch. Change underwear and workout clothes right away after you sweat.

  9. Wear knee-highs instead of panty hose, if possible. When you wear panty hose, wear one with a cotton crotch.

Has a recent sexual assault or major injury to the abdomen, pelvis, or vagina occurred?

Questions to Ask

Do you have vaginal pain that spreads upward to the pelvis and are you unable to walk due to the pain?

Do you have very heavy vaginal bleeding (you saturate more than 1 full size pad or super absorbent tampon in an hour’s time) with any of the following problems?

  1. Feeling dizzy, faint, or lightheaded when you sit up.

  2. Pale and moist skin.

  3. Extreme shortness of breath or a very hard time breathing.

  4. Severe abdominal pain.

Does vaginal irritation and/or pain occur with all of the symptoms of a kidney infection?

Do you have any of the following?

  1. Signs and symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) listed above.

  2. Signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis listed above.

  3. Signs and symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection.

Do any of the following apply?

  1. You have had 3 or more vaginal infections within 3 months time.

  2. After diagnosis and 72 hours of treatment for a vaginal infection, your symptoms continue.

  3. Vaginal pain occurs during or after sexual intercourse.

Do you have bleeding in the vaginal area from itching due to vaginal irritation?

With vaginal pain, do you use an IUD for birth control and do any of the following conditions apply?

  1. The IUD was inserted during the last 4 to 6 weeks.

  2. The strings from the IUD cannot be felt.

  3. The IUD can be felt through the vagina. (An IUD can become embedded in the wall of the uterus. When this happens, surgery is needed to remove the IUD.)

Has a vaginal discharge or irritation been present for longer than 1 week despite using Self-Care?

Do you have vaginal bleeding with any of these problems?

  1. Increased vaginal bleeding or you continue to have spotting or bleeding between your periods after 3 months of taking birth control pills. (Your dose may need to be adjusted.)

  2. Bleeding heavier than your normal period (you are saturating almost or equal to 1 full pad or tampon every hour).

  3. Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.

  4. Increasing pain and tenderness in your vaginal area.

  5. Menstrual periods are abnormally heavy or last longer than 10 days.

  6. You pass many small or large clots with heavy menstrual periods and you are pale and feel very tired.