It’s never been more vital to banish the stigmas surrounding the topic of intimate health—we share our knowledge on the most recurrent conditions and how to self-examine
Intimate health is an umbrella term referring to a range of health concerns; from sexual wellbeing to life-threatening diseases. Intimate health affects every man and woman, so why is it such a taboo? There still remains a huge amount of embarrassment among adults in regards to seeking out diagnoses and treatment. If you have intimate health concerns, it’s important to identify the warning signs and take action. Here are some of the most common intimate health issues today:
Vaginal Dryness: is a common condition where the vagina’s natural lubricant is lacking. It can be experienced by women of any age although it is most common in menopausal women. The vagina usually stays moist with a thin layer of cervical fluid, this protects against infection, keeps the vagina clean and aids intercourse. Symptoms include: loss of vaginal elasticity, thinning of vaginal lining, irritation caused by lowering of vagina’s natural acidity, painful intercourse, itching and burning. Medicated moisturising creams are usually prescribed to relieve symptoms or a course of estrogen therapy.
Thrush: is a yeast infection mostly found in women but can also occur in men. It appears when certain types of fungus increase in the genital area which can trigger a yeast infection. Thrush can develop for a number of reasons; pregnancy, effect of diabetes, low immune system or even as an effect of prescribed antibiotics. Symptoms in men and women include: thick discharge, itching and irritation around the genitals, soreness during sexual intercourse and burning sensations when passing urine. It can be treated easily with an oral pill or anti-fungal cream.
Prostatitis: is the swelling or inflammation of the male prostate. It can leave you at risk of a more serious infection and can be identified by pain in the penis, scrotum, lower abdomen or lower back—lasting three months or more. Other symptoms include: excessive need to urinate, discomfort when ejaculating and urinating, and a weak urine stream. Although there can be warning signs for prostatitis, there are different strains of the infection, some of which do not involve any symptoms at all. You are likely to be given a course of antibiotics and pain relieving drugs to treat the condition. Some may be offered alpha-blockers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to improve urinary problems.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): can be caused when bacteria infect the female upper genital tract, including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. In most cases it is caused by an untreated STI like chlamydia or gonorrhea. It can be caused by everyday bacteria present within the vagina. If untreated, PID can lead to more serious and long-term problems such as infertility, long-term pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. Symptoms include: pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen, pain during sex, bleeding between periods and after sexual intercourse, heavy or painful periods and unusually coloured discharge (green or yellow). PID can be treated with a course of antibiotics.
Erectile Dysfunction: is the inability to get and maintain an erection. Erectile dysfunction is said to affect half of men between the ages of 40 and 70 but can also appear in young men too. Erectile dysfunction can sometimes be a red flag for a number of more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease. Treatment can vary depending on whether the cause is physical or psychological. Your doctor may suggest a change in diet, cholesterol-lowering statins for blood pressure, therapy sessions, sildenafil (sold as Viagra) or a vacuum pump depending on the causation.
Testicular Cancer: predominantly affects men between the ages of 15 and 49 years. Symptoms include: painless lump on/in testicle, swelling of genitals, dull aches and feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. Although most lumps aren’t cancerous, if you do feel a lump on your testicles it is always recommended to have it checked. The first line of treatment is usually chemotherapy, but it can sometimes require the removal of the affected testicle. It can be a life-threatening condition so should be treated as early as possible.
Ovarian Cancer: is one of the most common types of cancer among women. It is caused by abnormal cells in the ovary beginning to multiply out of control to form a tumor; if the tumor spreads it can worsen the condition. Symptoms include: feeling constantly bloated, swollen tummy, discomfort in pelvic area, urge to urinate more frequently.
Don't suffer in silence!
There are simple checks that can be performed at home or by your doctor to diagnose your intimate health issues:
Breast self-checks: are relevant for males and females. In the shower or in front of a mirror use the pads of your fingers to move around your entire breast in a circular motion looking for any lumps, thickening or hardened knots. If you do spot something unusual consult your doctor.
Testicle self-checks: are best performed after a warm shower, ensuring your skin is relaxed. One at a time, roll each testicle between your thumb and first two fingers to feel for any lumps or changes in size and consistency. If you notice something unusual ask your doctor for guidance.
Smear tests: are a method of detecting abnormal cells on a female’s cervix, this is done with a speculum and a soft brush to collect the sample. The NHS recommends cervical screening for women aged 25-49 every three years, aged 50-64 every five years and aged 65 only if they notice any alarming symptoms. A smear test can detect early signs of HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.
Rectal exams: consists of a physical examination of your rectum conducted by a doctor or nurse, to feel for abnormalities. You should consult your doctor who may administer such an exam if you notice changes in your normal bowel habits, which may indicate a bigger problem. A rectal exam can detect early signs of prostate disease and prostate cancer.
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