Beyond the usual itchiness, soreness and an unusual vaginal discharge, vaginitis (known as vaginal infection) could have terrible effects on women’s reproductive health. Worse still, such effects could last a lifetime, if not diagnosed and treated early.
Such was the case of 45-year-old Titilayo Alabi (not her real name) who married in late twenties but has had difficulty in conceiving due to the several vaginal infections she contracted. Mrs Alabi, who confided in our correspondent, during a chat, said she had undergone several treatments, all to no avail. According to her, she did not realise early what the problem was, until she was able to convince her husband to accompany her for a medical examination. It was then that diagnoses came up with genital tract infections.
Vaginitis refers to different conditions that can cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. While vaginal infections can be contracted without having penetrative sex, or any other type of sex, there are other sexually transmitted infections that enter the women system through the vagina.
Alabi further revealed that although some of the medications she was given were effective, infidelity on the part of her husband worsened her case. She accused him of re-infecting her after every episode of his extramarital affairs. Notwithstanding, she is still very optimistic of carrying her own bundle of joy, as she keeps attending her regular gynaecology clinic.
Types of vaginitis
Dr Modupe O. Adedeji, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), expatiated on the types of vaginal infections and how women can easily get rid of them before they dive deep into their reproductive system and causing irreparable damage or infertility.
Speaking in an exclusive chat with Pharmanews, Adedeji identified common types of vaginitis as bacterial infections, yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and atrophic vaginitis. The ones that pose the most risk, she said, are those that are sexually transmitted. She added that the commonest of these are chlamydia trachomatis and neisseria gonorrhoea, which have a predilection for the fallopian tubes in women, and the testes – where sperm production occurs – in men.
According to her, “Being in the fallopian tubes, they destroy the cilia. Cilia are the hair-like structures that assist the movement of follicles (eggs) towards the direction of the endometrial cavity – that is, towards the sperm when present. In men, STIs destroy the testes; hence the sperm production is defeated.”
Adetoro O.O. and Ebomoyi E.W. in their work, “The prevalence of infertility in a rural Nigerian community” corroborated the views of the consultant gynaecologist by identifying genital infections as major factors in the prevalence of infertility in Nigeria.
Their findings, published in African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences, state that primary infertility is rare after the age of 30 years but acquired causes of infertility are responsible for the high prevalence rate.
Also speaking with our correspondent, another woman, simply known as Chika, who is yet to have any issue due to vaginitis, revealed that several medications have been prescribed for her, which helped her to experience partial relief. According to her, while the vaginal discharge she was having stopped, she has not been able to conceive after 15 years of marriage.
“I cannot really say where and how I came about the infection. All I just discovered was that after my marriage, conception was supposed to take place after having sexual intercourse with my husband, but nothing happened. Years started counting, and instead of becoming pregnant, I observed I was having strange discharge with awful odour. Initially I thought it was the normal discharge; but when it persisted with pains, I had to seek medical attention.
“In fact, my husband was also invited and both of us were treated. But till now, though the discharge ceased, we are still expectant, as conception is yet to happen”, Chika narrated.
Symptoms of vaginitis
Adedeji’s description of some vaginal infections actually matched the experiences of the two patients interacted with, as she pinpointed their modes of operation in the woman’s reproductive tract. She said bacterial vaginosis (BV) causes a thin greyish-white, greenish, or yellow discharge, with a fish-like odour that tends to become stronger after penetrative vaginal sex. “You may not notice much itching,” she said.
She added that yeast infections and trichomoniasis commonly involve vaginal and vulval itching, soreness, and burning. “With yeast infections, you might also notice swelling in the labia, or the folds of skin on the outside of your vagina. While trichomoniasis also comes with a fish-like odour, along a greenish-yellow, frothy discharge, which may attract swelling, irritation, and inflammation in the vagina and vulva,” she explained.
The obstetric gynaecologist further mentioned atrophic vaginitis, which she said is not an infection but can increase chances of developing vaginal infections and UTIs. According to her, “With atrophic vaginitis, you might notice signs that resemble symptoms of other infections, like vaginal itching, burning, dryness, and changes in discharge.”
Prevention tips for vaginitis and STIs
To prevent vaginitis or STIs and their effects on reproductive health, Adedeji urged women to report any abnormality detected in their genitals to their healthcare provider as early as possible because further delay may worsen their condition.
She said: “Early presentation to appropriate clinic for precise diagnosis and management is required. Patients should avoid self-medicating; they should not visit chemist, nurses or pharmacy, which is a regular practice in our society. They must endeavour to present to their doctor early.
“Patients must always ensure to adhere to the prescribed medications and non-adherence to prescription as aggravated many women’s conditions.
“Lifestyle modification is crucial, infidelity in marriage can expose spouses to chronic infections.
“Couples should understand and not ignore the implications of multiple sexual partners and the repercussions. Most common of this is infertility, of which its management may warrant IVF, which also maybe unsuccessful due to these same organisms. Adoption is a treatment option which we still find it difficult to accept in our environment.”
For the single ladies, she urged them to embrace abstinence as the best option, which implies avoidance of sexual intercourse until when fully ready or married, stressing that as illicit sex with multiple sexual partners has been traced as one of the major cause of vaginal infections.
She also mentioned use of condom, which she describes as a dual protector, from unwanted pregnancy and STIs.