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Vaginal pH Balance: Why it’s Important for your Health

Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Even though the vagina is situated inside the body, it can be exposed to outside elements that can pose a risk to women’s health. To keep diseases at bay, the vagina works quietly behind the scenes maintaining the right level of acidity, which helps sustain a balance of flora—healthy microbes or bacteria (1). 

Vaginal pH: What is it? And why is it important?

Vaginal pH is a measure of how acidic one’s vaginal secretions are. It is important because the vagina’s level of acidity is a form of protection (2) against the growth of disease-causing microorganisms. When things are out of balance, there may be signs of trouble that can include itching, pain, redness, swelling, discharge with an unusual color or smell, and pain during sex or when going to the bathroom.

If you experience any of these symptoms, speak to your healthcare provider as they may recommend pH testing along with other tests.

Understanding vaginal pH level

The normal range of vaginal pH usually falls between 4.0 to 4.5, out of a scale of one to 14 (5). Some of the following conditions may cause your pH level to be outside the normal range:

  • Higher than 4.5: This may indicate bacterial vaginosis (a bacterial vaginal infection).
  • Higher than 4.6: This may indicate vaginal dryness (clinical name: vaginal atrophy) related to menopause, if other issues have been ruled out. This condition is linked to lower estrogen levels and can result in itching, irritation, and discharge  (5).
  • Higher than 5.4: This may indicate trichomoniasis, a type of vaginal infection.

So what about yeast infections? Yeast infections are not detected with pH tests, you should speak to your doctor as they will administer other tests to diagnose yeast infections. (1).

Restoring vaginal pH

Depending on the cause of your vaginal pH imbalance, your doctor may recommend different treatment options, such as:

  • Bacterial Vaginosis treatments: Oral medication (like Metronidazole or Tinidazole) or vaginal topical medication (Clindamycin) (4, 5).
  • Vaginal dryness treatments: Options for this symptom of menopause include over-the-counter options like lubricants and moisturizers or prescription (systemic or topical) estrogen. Home remedies may also help.
  • Trichomonas treatments: Oral medications (like Metronidazole or Tinidazole) (5)

If you are experiencing new vaginal symptoms, it is recommended that you see a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

References

1. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Vaginitis and Vaginosis. Lab Tests Online. https://labtestsonline.org/conditions/vaginitis-and-vaginosis Last updated July 23, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Vulvovaginal Health. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Vulvovaginal-Health?IsMobileSet=false Published November 2015. Accessed April 4, 2019.

3. FDA. Vaginal pH. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/InVitroDiagnostics/HomeUseTests/ucm126074.htm Last updated September 27, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

4. Mayo Clinic Staff. Bacterial Vaginosis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352285 Published July 29, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2019. 

5. Hainer BL, Gibson, MV. Vaginitis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Apr 1;83(7):807-815.