Let us continue our update and review of vaginitis from my last post about this topic.
To better understand why vaginitis occurs, let us look at the vaginal environment. The lining of the vagina is made of squamous epithelial cells. These are flat and stratified, which means that there are multiple layers of these calls. These cells are rich in glycogen – a storage form of glucose. Remember, glucose is the most important simple sugar, and it is used as a source of energy for all human functions.
The squamous cells are continuously being shed from the lining and the glycogen in these becomes the energy for the lactobacilli that are naturally found in the vagina. These bacteria convert the glucose into lactic acid, which keeps the vaginal environment in an acidic state, helping to maintain the normal vaginal bacterial flora plus preventing abnormal organisms from growing.
If you disrupt the normal community of organisms, vaginitis can occur. There are many factors that can affect this natural environment:
Estrogen levels, for example, a menopausal state where estrogen levels are decreased
Different phases of the menstrual cycle
Sexually transmitted diseases
Different medications such as oral contraceptives and antibiotics
Young women are at a high risk of acquiring STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and of developing the serious complications of untreated chlamydial and gonococcal infections. Almost half of all STIs occur in teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25. Physical and behavioral factors place the sexually active teenager at an increased risk to develop these infections.
Physically, the cervix is more vulnerable to these infections because it has not fully developed, exposing more susceptible cells to the infections. Since the young woman may be coming into contact with these infectious agents for the first time, her immune defenses are not strong.
Behavioral risk factors include having multiple new sexual partners and not using condoms or not using condoms properly. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a goal to increase the simultaneous use of both condoms and hormonal contraception (birth control pills). This combination of methods is highly effective in preventing a pregnancy and preventing the acquisition of STIs. Yet currently, some studies reveal that only about 5% of adolescent females are using this practice.