Women’s Sexual Health

Cystitis

Cystitis is inflammation of the lining of the bladder as a result of infection, irritation or damage.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain, burning or stinging sensations when urinating;
  • The need to urinate frequently and urgently, but only passing small amounts;
  • Passing urine which is dark, cloudy, strong smelling or contains traces of blood;
    Pain directly above the pubic bone, or in the lower back or abdomen
  • Bacterial infection is the most common cause of cystitis. This may be caused by not emptying the bladder fully, bacteria being pushed into the urethra in women when inserting a tampon or when having sex, and is more likely in menopausal women.

Mild cystitis will usually go away by itself in 2-4 days. If it doesn’t, you should see your doctor.

In some cases (especially if you are pregnant), a short course of antibiotics may be prescribed.

Self-help measures include:

  • Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be taken to reduce discomfort;
  • Drink plenty of water and/or cranberry juice;
  • Sodium citrate or potassium citrate in sachets or solutions (available from your pharmacist).

If you are unsure about your symptoms speak to a pharmacist or your doctor for advice before self-treating.

Thrush

Thrush is a yeast infection caused by the Candida species of fungus.

Many women are affected by vaginal thrush at some point in their lives and in some women it may recur regularly.

Symptoms include itching, irritation, discharge, redness, soreness and swelling of the vagina and vulva.

Thrush is caused by the fungus multiplying in the vagina. This is sometimes caused by changes in levels of female sex hormones (during pregnancy, before periods or when taking the oral contraceptive pill), taking antibiotics or using a spermicide.

Drugs used to treat vaginal thrush are available without a prescription. The most commonly used drug is Clotrimazole, which is available as a cream or in the form of a pessary (a small, soluble medicinal block inserted into the vagina).

For recurrent vaginal thrush, the doctor may prescribe a drug to be taken orally, such as Fluconazole. If you think you have thrush speak with your pharmacist for advice a number of medications for Thrush are now available to purchase over-the-counter to enable speedy treatment.

Self-help measures include:

  • Wash the vaginal area with water only, avoiding the use of perfumed soaps, vaginal deodorants or douches;
  • Avoid using latex condoms, spermicidal creams and lubricants if they cause irritation;
  • Change tampons frequently or use sanitary towels;
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes if possible

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium and is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK. It is often referred to as the ‘silent infection’, as there are often no obvious signs or symptoms.

Symptoms in women can include:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge;
  • Bleeding between periods or during or after sex;
  • Pain with sex or when passing urine;
  • Lower abdominal pain.

Chlamydia is passed from one person to another during intimate sexual contact. You can catch chlamydia through vaginal, anal, oral sex or through having genital contact with an infected partner.

As it is common for someone with the chlamydia infection not to have symptoms, it is possible for him or her to infect a partner without realising it. Uncomplicated chlamydia infections can usually be successfully treated using antibiotics such as azithromycin and doxycycline.

The most effective way of stopping Chlamydia being passed on is by using condoms. If you have a new partner it is a good idea for you both to be tested for STIs before having sexual intercourse.

Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness can be a particular problem at and after the menopause, because of a lack of oestrogen (the female hormone). Oestrogen levels fall at the menopause, so the vagina loses some of its elasticity, its lining becomes thinner and it feels dryer.

Because there is less moisture, there are fewer of the ‘friendly’ bacteria that help to keep the vagina acidic. When the vagina becomes less acidic, infections such as thrush can take hold, which cause further irritation and discomfort.

Vaginal dryness in women before the menopause causes most problems during sex; however lack of lubrication is also common in breastfeeding women and in women with diabetes.

There are several treatments available both over-the-counter and on prescription:

  • Simple lubricants, such as KY jelly, or moisturisers, can be used if you need additional lubrication for intercourse;
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will increase vaginal lubrication and thicken the vaginal lining, but has associated risks. Therefore, HRT is not appropriate if vaginal dryness is your only problem as there are safer ways of dealing with dryness;
  • Vaginal oestrogen creams can be prescribed by your doctor if you prefer not to take HRT.

If you think you may be suffering from any of the above conditions you should consult a suitably qualified practitioner.