College is an exciting time filled with significant change. You’re navigating living away from your family for the first time, keeping your own schedule, and engaging in a new social scene. But between all of this and keeping up with classes, it can be easy to forget about your health. Here we’re sharing some of the key things every woman should know about her GYN and reproductive health during her college years.
1. If your birth control isn’t working for you, speak up!
Making sure you’re on the right birth control is one of the easiest ways to take control of your health during college. In today’s modern age, there are a host of different options. Some common forms of birth control medications include implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs), the pill, ring, patch, and shot.
Depending on your needs and lifestyle, each may have different pros and cons for you. If you’re not happy with your current birth control, don’t hesitate to speak with your provider.
If your primary form of birth control fails or you have unprotected sex, an emergency contraception pill can be taken within 72 hours to reduce the risk of pregnancy. However, it should not be used as a regular form of birth control. Think of it as a backup, not a regular routine.
No matter which option you choose, it’s important to remember that birth control medications do not protect against STDs. Using barrier control methods like condoms is the most effective way to prevent STDs.
2. There’s a difference between normal vaginal discharge and discharge that could indicate an infection.
Vaginal discharge can come in many colors, consistencies, and odors. A “normal” discharge will usually be white or clear-ish in color –although what’s normal can vary from woman to woman. It’s important to keep track of your typical color and smell, so you can notice if something is off.
If you’re experiencing any of the below kinds of discharge, it’s time to call up your gynecologist.
- Red or Brown: If you’re experiencing red or brown discharge outside of your period, this could be a sign of an irregular period or spotting that can be tied to conditions like uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or thyroid conditions.
- Grey and Cloudy: If grey and cloudy discharge also has a “fishy” smell, you likely have a bacterial infection which could be bacterial vaginosis (BV), a common condition that affects one in three women.
- Yellow or Green: Yellow or green discharge is almost always a sign of a bacterial infection or sexually transmitted disease. STDs that can present with a discolored discharge include trichomoniasis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea. This type of discharge is typically accompanied by a foul-smelling odor.
- White and Lumpy: Often referred to as a “cottage cheese” type appearance, a white and lumpy discharge could indicate a yeast infection.
3. STDs are even more common than you may think.
STDs affect 1 in 5 people, with half of the new cases occurring in teens and young adults between the ages of 15 to 24 years old. The good news: STDs can be preventable. Of course, abstinence is the only 100% foolproof way to protect yourself from an STD. However, practicing safe sex by using barrier protection methods (i.e., condoms or dental dams) can be very effective as well.
Prevention is so important because if left untreated, STDs can lead to serious health concerns. In women, STDs can result in chronic pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and/or severe pregnancy and newborn complications.
If you think you may have been exposed to an STD, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider right away. Detecting an STD on your own can be tricky as many of them can present without any symptoms or can take weeks, months, or even years to develop symptoms.
We get it–it can be awkward to have these honest conversations with your doctor. But chances are, he/she has heard it before and are ready to help you navigate any sexual health situation!
4. Your vagina actually needs certain bacteria to stay healthy and ward off infections.
If you remember from high school chemistry class, the pH scale measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance on a scale from 0 to 14 – the lower the number, the more acidic. A substance like water, for example, is a neutral 7. A healthy vaginal pH should be between 3.8 – 4.5, which is somewhat acidic.
When we have enough good bacteria, known as Lactobacilli, it produces substances like lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This creates an acidic environment that prevents bad bacteria like e. Coli, Staph, and Candida from growing down there. This can lead to things like yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (BV).
To maintain this healthy vaginal pH level, it’s important to practice good hygiene by wiping from front to back, wearing breathable cotton underwear, and avoiding scented washes or douches. Other things like investing in a vaginal probiotic can help to restore the good bacteria.
5. Don’t skip your annual GYN exam, it’s important!
By keeping up with your annual exam, you can stay empowered and on top of your future health. Not only is this visit key for keeping up with your birth control if you’re on it, but there are a host of other preventative screenings your doctor can provide.
A manual breast exam can be done to detect for any abnormalities that could indicate breast cancer. He/she can also provide a Pap smear to look for changes in the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer.
Axia Women’s Health also offers convenient telemedicine appointments for certain birth control consults, STI testing, and follow-up appointments so you can access your care while you’re away from home, if needed.
Remember, college is a great time to start investing in your health and caring for your future by staying on top of your GYN and reproductive health needs.
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