The vagina can be susceptible to infections like trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis due to certain health conditions, sexual activity, diets, and tight clothing. Often, women may be unaware of what’s going on with their vaginal health because some infections are asymptomatic. Vaginal microbiome tests are one method for understanding vaginal bacteria, which can assist with official vaginal infection diagnosis.
The vaginal microbiome or vaginal flora is the vagina’s ecosystem that contains various bacteria that protect the vagina.
The vaginal microbiome can be disrupted due to hormonal changes, sex, douching, and other factors.
When there’s an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, it can lead to vaginal infections.
A vaginal microbiome test can help detect vaginal health concerns, which can lead to potential treatment.
Women can choose between at-home vaginal microbiome tests or get them done at the doctor’s office.
Women can get a vaginal microbiome test done by a healthcare provider or do it themselves. There have been a few health tech companies offering at-home vaginal microbiome tests, but what are they testing, and are they worth it? Here’s a look at what vaginal microbiome tests are and their benefits.
What is the vaginal microbiome?
A women’s genital tract contains the vaginal microbiome, also known as vaginal flora, which is an essential aspect of vaginal health. The vaginal microbiome is an ecosystem that constantly changes due to menstruation, sexual activity, and other factors throughout a woman’s life. Microbial bacteria, like lactobacilli and others, can help maintain estrogen levels and produce lactic acid, which lowers the vaginal pH.
Main vaginal microbiome disruptor
When your vaginal microbiome is disrupted, you may notice changes in the smell, consistency, and color of your vaginal discharge. These are strong indicators of an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina, and your pH may be imbalanced.
More research is necessary to understand the effects of the vaginal microbiome better, but we know what can potentially happen when vaginal bacteria is not balanced. When the vaginal microbiome is imbalanced, harmful infections can disrupt a women’s vaginal pH and cause sexual and non-sexual infections to occur. Vagina dysbiosis is a condition where a certain amount of healthy bacteria is reduced. Less protection from healthy vaginal bacteria can cause common vaginal health conditions such as bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when there’s an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina. BV is commonly diagnosed among women aged 15-44. BV is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Still, it can arise after engaging in sexual activity and increase the chances of developing an STD, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and endometriosis.
In addition, several studies reveal that BV and an imbalanced vaginal microbiome are risk factors for developing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When cervicovaginal mucus, a protective barrier within the vaginal microbiome, is disrupted, it leaves women more susceptible to becoming infected with HIV.
Other causes of vagina dysbiosis
Other causes of an imbalanced vaginal microbiome include:
- Sex toys. Bacterial infections can be transmitted through the use of uncleaned sex toys.
- Semen. Semen contains alkaline, which can disrupt the acidity levels within the vagina, altering the normal balance of vaginal bacteria.
- Hormones. When estrogen levels fluctuate in the vagina, it can cause an overgrowth of yeast, leading to a yeast infection. This is common among women transitioning into menopause.
- Douching. Although the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, some use douching products to clean their vagina. However, douching can draw in harmful vaginal bacteria, leading to vaginal bacteria.
- Antibiotics. The role of many antibiotics is to kill bacteria. But, unfortunately, antibiotics can also kill healthy bacteria within the vaginal that prevent the overgrowth of yeast.
- IUDs. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are birth control devices that can contain copper. IUDs may increase the risk of yeast infections with prolonged use.
How to protect the vaginal microbiome
Fortunately, there are ways to help sustain healthy bacteria within the vaginal microbiome. Here are some tips for supporting your vaginal microbiome:
- Maintain a healthy diet. Diets rich in nutrients and low in fats may help prevent the risk of BV. Plant-based or low-glycemic diets may help sustain the vaginal microbiome.
- Don’t douche. Use warm water and mild soap to wash the vagina.
- Wear breathable underwear. Cotton is the preferred fabric for underwear as it helps with moisture retention and allows the vagina to breathe.
- Avoid using synthetic or fragrances in or near the vagina. Some feminine hygiene products, such as sprays and deodorants, can disrupt the vaginal microbiome.
- Try probiotics. Probiotics can help to maintain healthy bacteria in the vagina.
- Use boric acid capsules. Boric acid capsules are suppositories inserted into the vagina to support vaginal health by maintaining your pH level.
- Get tested. This test can help you figure out what’s happening with your vaginal flora.
- Speak with your doctor. If you have concerns about your vaginal health, please consult your doctor to discuss treatment options.
Vaginal microbiome test – what it is?
Vaginal microbiome tests can help determine if you have infections like BV, yeast infections, trichomoniasis, and other vaginal health conditions. As mentioned, your vaginal microbiome can be altered due to your menstrual cycle, sexual activity, antibiotics, feminine hygiene products, and other factors. Therefore, by taking a vaginal microbiome test, you can better understand why you might be experiencing changes in vaginal discharge, pain or discomfort, or sexual dysfunction.
You can request a vaginal microbiome test from your healthcare provider or get one delivered to your home. Regardless of which route you choose to take, you’ll be required to insert a q-tip into your vagina to get a swab of your vaginal fluids. The sample is then sent off to be analyzed in a laboratory.
At-home vaginal microbiome tests
Over the past couple of years, there’s been an influx of at-home vaginal microbiome tests that women can purchase to get an overview of their vaginal health. Some of these tests aren’t FDA-approved as they don’t diagnose users with vaginal health conditions. In addition, there may be some privacy concerns with what health data is and isn’t disclosed by these health companies.
However, there isn’t enough evidence to determine if these at-home vaginal microbiome tests are as effective as the ones provided in a healthcare facility. You can thoroughly review your results and discuss treatment options by getting a vaginal microbiome test from a healthcare provider.
Your vaginal microbiome or vaginal flora is the ecosystem of your vaginal health. It is a protective barrier by maintaining your pH acidity levels and reducing your risk of developing sexual and nonsexual vaginal infections. Conversely, when the vaginal microbiome is disrupted, it allows for the overgrowth of bacteria, potentially leading to infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV), trichomoniasis, and yeast infections. One way to keep track of your vaginal health is to get a vaginal microbiome test, which can detect a disruption in your vaginal bacteria.
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