Since a woman's reproductive system is not a perfect system, she can experience any number of changes that does not amount to a serious issue. However, there are some changes that are best addressed by a medical professional to determine if there is a serious medical concern.
Any unusual bleeding is best evaluated by your gynecologist to be safe. Unusual bleeding can include bleeding between periods or post-menopausal bleeding. Additionally, significant changes in your menstrual period can also be considered abnormal, such as having longer periods or unusually heavy bleeding. Fortunately, most of instances of abnormal bleeding are benign. Fluctuations in hormones, especially as you approach your perimenopausal years might lead to heavier periods. Bleeding at unexpected times tends to be more of an indicator something is wrong. Changes in discharge can be just as concerning. Discharge with an unusual odor is often consistent with an infection. In rare instances, women with certain reproductive cancers might experience higher amounts of discharge that might warrant use of a pantyliner or pad.
Much like self-breast exams, you should become familiar with your vagina. Use a hand mirror to look around and see what is normal for you, so it is easy to spot changes you see or feel. You should be concerned if you experience either painful or non-painful growths or lesions on your vagina. Some benign issues that can cause unusual areas are boils, which are painful lumps that generally occur on areas of the genitals where hair would normally grow. Since boils are caused by bacteria becoming trapped in the hair follicle, tight underwear or friction from clothing could easily contribute to the problem. Other issues that are more concerning are the manifestation of STIs, such as genital herpes or warts, or cancerous growths.
Sometimes issues with pelvic pain can be easier to ignore if you already have a history of endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disorder, or painful menstruation. Pelvic pain throughout the month, independent of your cycle, can be an indication something new is wrong. Another problem some women experience is pain during sex, during urination, or with bowel movements. Since there are many organs in the pelvis that could be the cause of pelvic pain, it can be difficult to pinpoint what is causing the pain. Pelvic pain can also be caused by spasms of the pelvic floor, which is not a serious condition, but the amount of pain can be severe. These spasms might be more common in women with endometriosis, which can irritate surrounding organs and muscles.
Knowing what is normal for your body will make it easier to spot changes. Not ignoring certain changes in your body will make it easier to diagnose serious problems in the early stages, if they occur. Contact your OB GYN to learn more.