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Women's Sexual Health Archive

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Should I use vaginal probiotics?

Published September 1, 2022

Vaginal probiotics contain live microorganisms and come in oral and suppository forms. Some ads claim these products can prevent or treat infections. But the vagina regulates its own bacterial mix, so vaginal probiotics aren’t necessary.

What symptoms should I report to my gynecologist?

Published September 1, 2022

Women with unusual pelvic or vaginal symptoms should report them to their gynecologist. These symptoms include vaginal odor, itching, or burning; menstrual changes; pelvic pain or discomfort; or new bleeding.

Laser therapy can counter vaginal symptoms of menopause

Published October 1, 2021
The results of a small trial published online in July 2021 by the journal Menopause found that both vaginal estrogen and fractional CO2 laser therapy are effective for postmenopausal symptoms related to skin problems of the vulva and vagina.

Understanding and treating pelvic organ prolapse

Updated May 1, 2021

This common problem is often ignored or misunderstood.

Roughly half of women over age 50 have pelvic organ prolapse, a condition in which the uterus, bladder, small intestine, or rectum bulges into the vaginal wall or drops down through the vagina. But unlike with other common health conditions, many women don't talk about it — even with their doctors. For some, this may stem from embarrassment, but in other instances, it's because they think it's just something they need to deal with as they age.

"Women will say to me, 'I thought this was normal because I had kids.' But it's not normal. Not everyone who has had a vaginal delivery or is over 65 has urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse," says Dr. Emily Von Bargen, a Harvard Medical School instructor in Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology. Pelvic organ prolapse is treatable, and it's not something women have to live with, says Von Bargen.

Affairs of the heart

Updated March 1, 2021

Cardiovascular problems can conspire to put a damper on sexual enjoyment. Talking to your doctor and your partner can help.

A physical connection with your romantic partner is often an important part of a fulfilling relationship. But when it comes to matters of the heart, the health of your heart matters.

"A satisfying sex life depends on physical health, psychological well-being, and the quality of the relationship," says Dr. Jan Shifren, who directs the Massachusetts General Hospital Midlife Women's Health Center. Heart disease and related conditions can influence all three of those factors in both men and women. Here's a look at the range of those effects and some possible solutions.

Probiotic may help prevent recurrences of bacterial vaginosis

Updated September 1, 2020

Research we're watching

If you've ever experienced a bout of bacterial vaginosis, a vaginal infection that affects anywhere from 15% to 50% of reproductive-age women, a study published May 14, 2020, in The New England Journal of Medicine may be of interest. It found that women who inserted a type of probiotic called Lactobacillus crispatus (Lactin-V) in their vagina twice per week were less likely to have a recurrence of bacterial vaginosis than women who did not. Experts don't fully understand what causes bacterial vaginosis, but it is associated with an overgrowth of some microorganisms (such as Gardnerella vaginalis or Prevotella), which outnumber healthier types of vaginal bacteria, including a common one called Lactobacillus. In many cases, the condition will recur after treatment. All of the 228 women in the study were initially treated for bacterial vaginosis with the standard topical antibiotic metronidazole (MetroGel Vaginal). But after that treatment, 152 of the women were assigned to use Lactin-V for an additional 11 weeks. The remainder of the group got a placebo treatment. Researchers found that only 30% of the Lactin-V group had a recurrence of bacterial vaginosis by week 12, compared with 45% of the placebo group.

Image: © spukkato/Getty Images

Can certain exercises worsen my pelvic organ prolapse?

Updated June 1, 2020

Ask the doctors

Q. I have pelvic organ prolapse and I want to start working out. Are there exercises I should avoid?

A. Pelvic organ prolapse is a common problem, caused by a weakening of the bowl-shaped group of muscles and tissues that supports your pelvic organs. As this support fails, one or more of these organs — such as the uterus, bladder, or rectum — can shift out of place, typically pushing into (and sometimes protruding out of) the vagina.

Sexual and gender minorities face unique health risks

Updated November 1, 2019

Memory problems and confusion are just the newest in a list of health problems that appear to disproportionately affect LGBT individuals.

Past research has shown that sexual and gender minority groups may be at higher risk for certain health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. A new study suggests that another condition — dementia — may also be on that list. Findings presented at the 2019 Alzheimer's Association International Conference showed that people who identified as a sexual or gender minority were more likely than other people to report worsening memory or increased confusion over the past year.

It's possible that some of the same underlying factors that affect risk of other diseases are playing a role in these reported cognitive changes as well, says Dr. Ole-Petter R. Hamnvik, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Almost any health outcome that you look at, you can find disparities in these groups. It's not just dementia," he says.

Women with post-traumatic stress disorder may be at higher risk for ovarian cancer

Updated November 1, 2019

Research we're watching

Could a traumatic experience raise the risk of ovarian cancer? Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Moffitt Cancer Center found that women who remembered experiencing six or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had double the risk of later developing ovarian cancer, compared with women who had not reported PTSD symptoms. They were also more likely to develop a more aggressive form of the cancer. The researchers looked at data from more than 50,000 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study II. Early in the study, women were asked to identify their most stressful life experience and any PTSD symptoms they had experienced following that event. Researchers then looked to see which of the women went on to develop ovarian cancer. The study, published Sept. 5 in Cancer Research, found higher cancer risk persisted even if a woman's PTSD symptoms had occurred decades in the past. Past animal research suggests that stress hormones may spur tumor growth.

Image: martinedoucet/Getty Images

What is a submucosal uterine fibroid?

Updated July 1, 2019

Ask the doctors

Q. I was recently diagnosed with a uterine fibroid. My doctor told me that the type I have is called a submucosal fibroid. What does this mean?

A. Uterine fibroids are common, affecting some 70% or more women. Doctors describe fibroids based on where in the uterus they are growing. There are three main types:

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