Have you heard of the vaginal microflora but don’t understand the importance of it? That’s not surprising since most women don’t think about the vaginal microflora until they have a vaginal problem that needs fixing.
Understanding Vaginal Microflora
The vaginal microflora refers to the different microorganisms that live inside the vagina. These microorganisms include various strains of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. When the vagina is healthy, the lactobacilli (good bacteria) are dominant.
The Importance Of Vaginal Microflora
The vaginal microflora plays a crucial role in a woman’s overall health and wellbeing. Here’s how it works.
The lactobacilli produce lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and other elements, which keep the pH balance of the vagina mildly acidic. When the pH is at this level, it suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria, and reduces the risk of infections, by protecting against invading organisms. However, this situation can change if there is a shift in the vaginal milieu.
When the healthy balance of bacteria in the vaginal microflora is disrupted, it can cause lactobacilli levels to decrease and make the vaginal milieu more alkaline. Bad bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens thrive in this type of environment and will therefore multiply.
When the bad bacteria multiply, it affects the components of the vaginal secretions that bathe the tissues of the vaginal walls and the vestibule (the area just inside the vagina).
The secretions from an abnormal microflora can irritate the vaginal tissues and cause a variety of symptoms including the following:
- Abnormal discharge
- Pain in the vulva
- Urinary frequency/urgency
The symptoms associated with a shift in the vaginal microbiome tend to vary, based on the reaction of the vestibular tissue to the irritants in the vaginal fluid.
Altered Vaginal Microflora Pattern
When the vaginal microflora deviates from the normal state, it is referred to as an altered vaginal microflora pattern.
An altered vaginal microflora pattern is often the underlying cause of conditions such as vulvodynia, urinary incontinence, chronic vaginal odor, pain with intercourse, recurrent bacterial vaginosis, and recurrent vaginal yeast infections.
There are several altered vaginal flora states, but detecting them requires advanced skill and training and expensive microscopic equipment.
Treating Altered Vaginal Microflora
Every woman’s vaginal ecosystem is different, so there isn’t a standard treatment for altered vaginal microflora. As a result, treatment is customized based on the composition of the vaginal microflora.
Dr. R. Stuart Fowler board-certified gynecologist and vulvovaginal specialist of Fowler GYN International (FGI), developed the vaginal fluid analysis (VFA) test to diagnose altered vaginal microflora patterns.
The VFA test is a diagnostic tool that provides a quantitative analysis of the vaginal secretions to determine if the vaginal microflora is in an altered state.
FGI treats altered vaginal microflora with medications that contain the nutrients needed to restore the vaginal microflora to normal. The results of treatment are not immediate, as it typically takes at least 4 months to see a response.
Changes in the composition of the vaginal microflora can occur due to various factors including the use of hygiene products such as lubricants and douches, which contain chemical irritants. That’s why hypocontactant skincare products are often recommended for women with altered vaginal microflora. These skincare products are specially formulated and don’t contain chemicals that will irritate the vaginal tissue.
Women experiencing the vaginal symptoms associated with altered vaginal flora should consult with an experienced vulvovaginal specialist.