Most of us know when our period is late or when we have some unwanted discharge down there, but there are so many other subtle symptoms when it comes to feminine health that it's unlikely we are aware of all of them. There are a number of common women's health problems that many women don't known about, but by becoming more aware of potential issues, you can feel more in tune with your body so you can get the treatment you may need. Sometimes, a symptom may be minor, but it's best to get it checked out or treated to make sure it doesn't indicate any underlying issues.
"It is always important to look for changes in your body," Jessica Vaught, MD, gynecologist and Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, tells Bustle. "Sometimes it can be for simple reasons, like ... you are feeling tired because you are not going to bed early enough or practicing good sleep habits, but sometimes these subtle changes are signs of more complex problems that need to be handled with your gynecologist."
Not everything is always a cause for alarm, but it's important to know what could potentially indicate a health issue. Here are seven feminine health red flags OB/GYNs say most women don't know about.
1Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Many women are not aware of the symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer. "Most common symptoms of this rare and highly aggressive cancer [happen on one side and include] spontaneous bleeding from one duct around the nipple or areolar region, tenderness, swelling, burning, itching, or red 'inflamed' breasts," gynecologist Tami Prince, M.D. tells Bustle. "It is not normal to have discharge from the nipples unless lactating, and bloody discharge is especially concerning." If you notice any of these symptoms, discuss them with your OB/GYN immediately, and they will help you find the best course of treatment.
2Chronic Vulvar Itching
The occasional itch is pretty common, but take note if the itching is more consistent. "Most women overlook vulvar/vaginal itching as they may be too embarrassed to mention it to their physician," says Prince. "However, chronic itching may not be normal and can signal more serious conditions such as lichen sclerosis [when affected skin becomes white, patchy, and thin], infections such as candidiasis [yeast infection], vulvar dysplasia (pre-cancerous cells), or possible vulvar/vaginal cancer." Although you should not panic, do talk to your OB/GYN if you find you are itching more than usual, and it is interfering with your daily life.
Thyroid issues are often subtle, and many women may not even know they are present. "Women with thyroid issues such as hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid) and hypothyroidism (under active thyroid) can experience irregular vaginal bleeding, vaginal dryness, and galactorrhea [a milky nipple discharge that isn't from breastfeeding]," says Prince. "Some other signs and symptoms may be hair loss, dry skin, constipation or diarrhea, cold or heat intolerance, weight gain or loss, and heart palpitations." If you notice many of these symptoms together, talk to your doctor about the possibility of thyroid issues. They can offer you help in how to feel like yourself again.
Although not all bumps are cause for worry, pay attention if you notice any bumps that arise on your body. "Women sometime ignore lumps in their breasts or in their vagina or their abdomen," says Vaught. "While we can have changes in our breasts in accordance with our menstrual cycle, it is not normal for lumps to be persistent and need to be checked out with a doctor." If a bump seems to be sticking around, it's best to ask your OB/GYN about it, just to be safe.
STIs in women may be difficult to self-identify, as the symptoms can sometimes mimic normal function or women can be asymptomatic. "Most common symptoms may include malodorous yellow/green discharge, spotting, pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, and bleeding with intercourse," says Prince. That's why it's important to always get checked, even if things may not be feeling off. There is no shame in asking your OB/GYN for an STI test, and it can help prevent potential health issues down the line.
Many women experience bloating and ignore it, not realizing that it can mean something is off. "Bloating can be a symptom of your digestive system, but it can also point to issues with your ovaries or your uterus," says Vaught. "If you have a cyst on your ovaries, or inflammation in your pelvis, this can lead to bloating and/or abdominal pain. If bloating is persistent, you should see your doctor."
Repeat after me: Sex should not be painful. And if it is, your doctor can help. "If it is, this could mean several things," says Vaught. "It could indicate infection in your vagina or your cervix, lesions on your cervix, or even problems inside your body, like endometriosis or ovarian cysts."
It's always important to keep an eye on your health, and while slight changes may not indicate anything major, if you're ever unsure, checking in with your OB/GYN is the solution.