A doctor has urged women to be aware of symptoms of intimate health issues after missed appointments during lockdown.
Leading Harley Street intimate health specialist Dr Shirin Lakhani, of Elite Aesthetics, Kent, told FEMAIL about how changes in discharge, laxity and public hair can be early indications that there is something wrong.
She also advised checking your own intimate area regularly to detect any anomalous changes.
A doctor has warned of the ‘potential time bomb’ women face as a result of missed smear tests and other doctor’s appointments involving their intimate areas. Stock image
It comes as charities issued warnings over the number of appointments postponed, missed, or cancelled due to lockdown.
According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, around 600,000 cervical cancer screening tests would have been carried out in the UK between April and May were services working normally, but many were cancelled or delayed.
The research found around one in eight women said they feel less likely to attend their smear test than before the Covid-19 pandemic, with 13 per cent believing it’s best to put off going for cervical screening at the moment.
Women had concerns over not wanting to put ‘additional strain’ on the NHS, their own and others’ safety, and uncertainty over changes to cervical screenings.
Similar issues relating to cancelled and missed appointments across the health spectrum have been reported.
Dr Lakhani explained to FEMAIL while it is vital women continue to check their intimate areas regularly, either in clinic or at home.
She said: ‘The vagina, labia Minora, the labia Majora, the clitoris, Perineum, and anus all need to be checked regularly.
‘They can be home to conditions such as Lichen Sclerosus – a relatively unknown condition which an estimated one million UK women suffer from that can destroy sex lives and sometimes turn into cancer.’
‘It’s important to keep an eye out for changes in feel, texture, appearance and smell of our intimate areas as these can be an early indication of more serious underlying problems.’
Here Dr Shirin reveals the symptoms to look out for in your intimate area that could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
What’s normal: You can get vaginal discharge at any age and the amount varies. It’s usually heavier during pregnancy, if you’re sexually active or if you’re using birth control. It’s often slippery and wet when you’re ovulating, and a bit like egg white.
When to see a doctor: Keep an eye out for changes in discharge; for example: smell, colour and texture. This may be a sign of an infection.
What’s normal: Pubic hair is there for a reason – it acts as a barrier to protect your intimate areas against harmful bacteria and viruses. Nowadays there is a big trend for shaving and waxing this area, and some people even wrongly think that shaving it makes it more hygienic.
Public hair can become itchy at times, as a result of contact with different fabrics or due to ingrown hairs. It can also be itchy because of pubic lice, also known as crabs.
When to see a doctor: If you experience itching there, especially at night, inflammation and irritation, black powder in your underwear, blue spots or small spots of blood on your skin, these could be an indication of lice, so see your doctor or a sexual health clinic.
Your pharmacisit can give you advice about over-the-counter treatments but your sexual health clinic or GP can test for other STIs too. Public lice are usually easy to diagnose by examining the area.
What’s normal: Vaginal laxity refers to the looseness that occurs in the vagina. Many women find this happens after vaginal childbirth, but it has also been associated with ageing and menopause.
Women with vaginal laxity often feel less sensation in their vagina during intercourse.
When to see a doctor: You should see a doctor if the vaginal laxity is negatively impacting on your life – for example, resulting in incontinence or impacting your sex life, or if it is causing pain or discomfort.
With lockdown measures easing, Dr Shirin stresses the importance of seeking medical advice if you are at all concerned
What is Lichen Sclerosus?
Lichen sclerosus affects people of all ages, including children. But it’s much more common in women over 50.
It causes patches on the skin that are usually: itchy, white, smooth or crinkled or easily damaged – they may bleed or hurt if rubbed or scratches
The patches can appear anywhere, but most often are on the: area around the opening of the vagina (vulva) and anus – in girls and women foreskin and end of the penis – in boys and men
Although treatment can help, skin affected by lichen sclerosus can sometimes become scarred and tight over time.
This can cause discomfort when peeing, pooing, having sex or getting an erection.
If it’s severe, you might need a small operation, such as surgery to widen your vagina or remove your foreskin (circumcision).
Lichen sclerosus also increases your risk of getting cancer on your vulva or penis.