Stores are packed with self-help books and over-the-counter "cures" that recommend self-diagnosis and sometimes treatment of medical problems, as well as gynecological ones. Learning as much as you can when it comes to your body is a positive step towards good health, but a little knowledge can be a serious thing when it keeps you from seeking appropriate medical care.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
1. My periods have stopped. It’s probably because I work out so often.
2. I’m spotting between periods. Obviously, I’m under a lot of stress.
3. There goes that itching again. I may have a yeast infection –yogurt to the rescue.
4. I have pain during sex. Perhaps some Vaseline will help counteract my vaginal dryness.
5. I have to go to the bathroom always. I must be getting another bladder infection–time to stock up on cranberry juice.
WHAT THE SYMPTOMS COULD MEAN
If you answered "yes" for any of the above statements and didn’t call your physician, you could be playing with fire. Let’s take a closer look at the seemingly harmless symptoms listed above.
1. Amenorrhea or cessation of periods for three months or longer, is a diagnosis by exclusion. Exercise must never be the presumed cause till other conditions, like pregnancy, premature menopause (in women under 40) or a pituitary tumor have been eliminated. The latter two conditions can step-up your risk of developing osteoporosis. Even if you don’t menstruate on a regular basis due to triathlon training, for instance, you still need to see your doctor. It might your ovaries have close down estrogen production, which places you at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis.
2. Spotting or abnormal uterine bleeding, anytime during the menstrual cycle is not normal and may be an early indication of endometriosis. Or it could indicate a lack of progesterone production during the second phase of the menstrual cycle (known as a luteal phase defect). A structural irregularity like a polyp or a fibroid might be causing bleeding. Or you could be pregnant or have an infection. Other possible causes include hormonal upsets, human papillomavirus (vaginal warts), or dysfunctions of the ovary, thyroid gland or adrenal gland. When you’re spotting, have a doctor’s appointment this instant.
3. Yeast infections are more common on women who are on the pill, are taking antibiotics, are predisposed to diabetes or are pregnant. Wearing wet bathing suits, sweaty jogging outfits, tight clothes or nylon underwear can also trigger an infection. But yeast is not the only culprit that can cause itching. Any organism that irritates the vagina will create that symptom, including sexually transmitted diseases like human papillomavirus, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and gonorrhea.
4. Painful intercourse, or dyspareunia, can be caused by factors other than lack of vaginal lubrication and the absence of foreplay. A low estrogen level might be the cause, or there could be infection of the cervix, vagina, urethra or pelvis. Painful intercourse can also result from such severe conditions like endometriosis, ovarian tumors and uterine fibroids. In a young woman, it might inexperience or a structural problem such as a vaginal septum (an extra wall in the vagina). In any event, you must never use Vaseline in the vagina to treat dryness as it works like a sealant and may in fact cause a secondary infection. To counteract dryness, use K-Y jelly or Replens, a vaginal moisturizer (but never assume that unrelenting vaginal dryness is normal).
5. Frequent trips to the bathroom do not necessarily indicate a bladder infection. A lot of women often fail to take time to drink plenty of water and to urinate on a regular basis. If you’re among them you could develop chronic urethritis, whose symptoms mimic a bladder infection. This irritation of the urethra can induce urinary frequency, which can be worsened by tampons, diaphragms or sex. Certain infections can mimic a bladder infection as well, so never assume that this is the cause of your frequent trips to the ladies room.
The above scenarios should illustrate why self-diagnosis can be unsafe. Putting off medical treatment till your symptoms become more advanced will just make a bad situation worse and can lead to irreversible damage. True, you may luck out at the right time with the right diagnosis. On the one hand, you could possibly be playing Russian roulette with your life. See your doctor when irregularities occur.
Randall, Lawrence Merrill, and Thomas W. McElin. Amenorrhea;. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, 1951.
Fugate, Andrea Lacroix, Shelly Gray, Aaron Aragaki, Barbara Cochrane, Robert Brunner, Kamal Masaki, Anne Murray, and Anne Newman. "Frailty: Emergence and Consequences in Women Aged 65 and Older in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study." Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 53.8 (2005): 1321-1330.