Are vaginal douches safe?

By Dr Cory Couillard

ID-100104533Women douche because they mistakenly believe it gives many health benefits. Women who douche say they do it to prevent pregnancies, avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and rid odors associated with their monthly periods. However, health experts say douching is not effective for any of these purposes.

Most douches are prepackaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine and often contain antiseptics and an assortment of fragrances. The mixtures usually come in a bottle and can be squirted into the vagina through a tube or nozzle. It’s common to be able to buy these products at pharmacies and grocery stores.

A significant percentage of women use vaginal douches despite the little known scientific benefits.  The highest rates of douching are seen in sexually active teens and women that engage in unsafe sexual practices.  Men also encourage their significant other, as they do not know the serious side effects of douching as well.

Douching increases the risk of infection

Overall, the risks of douching far outweigh the benefits. Douching is known to upset the natural balance of healthy bacteria within the vagina.  The removal of healthy bacteria will make the environment far more favorable for the growth of unhealthy bacteria. This phenomenon is also seen with the overuse of antibiotics as most antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria.  Serious, non-treatable infections can arise without good bacteria.

Studies have confirmed that women who stopped douching were less likely to have serious vaginal and reproductive system infections.  Vaginal infections often increase the risk of endometriosis, preterm labor and pelvic inflammatory disease.  Pelvic inflammatory disease affects the uterus, fallopian tubes and the ovaries.  A recent study found women who douche have a 73 percent higher risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.

Increased risk of cervical cancer

Women who douche may reduce the chance of getting pregnant but through sacrificing one’s health in the process.  Douching has been linked to an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.  This may also be associated with engaging in questionable sexual practices such as multiple partners. It’s a known scientific fact that cervical cancer is directly related to the number of partners one has. If one does get pregnant, women who douche have a 76 percent higher risk of having an ectopic pregnancy.  Ectopic pregnancies occur when the embryo implants itself and starts to develop in the fallopian tube versus the uterus.  This condition often results in emergency medical care and significant financial burden.

Differences between normal discharge and infections

However unpleasant, having some vaginal odor is normal. Vaginal infections often present themselves with a strong, persistent odor and colorful discharge.  A brown or bloody discharge is often associated with irregular menstrual cycles.  Not to be alarmed, this type of discharge is also associated with cervical and endometrial cancers.

Thick, white discharge is almost always associated with yeast infections.  Associated symptoms include swelling and pain around the vulva, itching and painful sexual intercourse.  A fishy odor with a white, gray or yellowish discharge usually indicates a vaginal infection.  This type of infection causes itching, burning, redness and swelling of the vagina.

The natural acidity of the vagina will naturally control both good and bad bacteria. It’s important to realize that vaginal discharge serves an important housekeeping role and should not be altered or artificially manipulated. Simply washing the vagina with warm water and mild soap is enough to keep clean.

Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.


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