Vaginal pH: what is it, and how does it lead to a healthy vagina?
Remember the pH balance test in high school chemistry? You know, the one where you dipped litmus papers into various solvents to see what color they changed, matched them to a color on the pH scale and determined each solution's pH value in a range of 1 to 14. We bet you didn’t know pH had anything to do with your vagina!
Actually, your pH levels down there is an important factor in determining whether you’re healthy. pH measures how alkaline or acidic something is on a scale of 0 to 14. The number 7 is the median, and anything below that is acidic, and anything above it is alkaline, or basic. The pH of your vagina is affected by bacteria coming from your gut, blood from your period, and external irritants such as tampons, lubes, or semen.
Your body's organs and systems are constantly maintaining an acid-alkaline balance. The vagina is perhaps one of the trickier organs in the human body to maintain this equilibrium. High maintenance, much?
According to doctors, the vagina is at its healthiest if it’s maintaining a lower pH than the rest of the body. When your pH is unhealthy, you will likely notice an unpleasant odor, which is a sign of an imbalance such as infection. To understand vaginal pH and why it is important to know, consider the information we provide below.
Keeping you healthy
The first thing to understand about vaginal pH is that when it’s healthy, it protects you from infection. It does this with the help of two “good” types of bacteria, experts explain.
Lactobacilli and corynebacterium rule the vulvovaginal ecosystem. Their acid-loving symbiotic relationship regulates and dominates by taking up full residence and crowding out unwanted guests. These bacteria generally do a good job of eating up “unwanted guests” like extra yeast and “bad” bacteria.
In general, a normal pH for the vagina is between a 3.8 and a 4.5 (although it might be higher if you’re going through menopause). To compare, battery acid is a 1, and lemon juice is about a 3. Your pH might be affected temporarily by factors such as period blood, which both have a higher, more alkaline pH. Basically, your vagina is at its best when it's acidic.
When a woman’s pH is out of whack, “bad“ bacteria can grow, and you can develop irritation, odor, and infections. Therefore, pH-balance is an important factor in maintaining vaginal health.
When your pH is unhealthy, the two key signs are odor and discharge. The three diseases typically associated with unhealthy vaginal pH, bacterial vaginosis (BV), trichomoniasis, and candidiasis (yeast infection), are hugely unpleasant due to the itching, odor, and excessive discharge.
If you’re not experiencing any unusual symptoms, chances are you’re all good.
Your glorious vagina, when healthy, regulates itself like the true gangsta that it is.
There is no need to check for vaginal pH as a routine, doctors assure. If a woman does not have recurrent vaginal infections or itching/burning symptoms, her vaginal pH is going to be normal.
How to test your pH
Doctors can take a vaginal pH measurement to determine how acidic the vaginal environment is. It is also possible to test this at home.
A home vaginal pH test kit typically includes a piece of pH test paper and a color chart for determining your vaginal pH results. To perform the test, place the pH test paper against the wall of your vagina for a few seconds.
Next, compare the color of your pH test paper to the color chart. Whilst the color may not be an exact match to the chart, you should choose the color your test result closely resembles.
You should do this test to help evaluate if your vaginal symptoms (i.e., itching, burning, unpleasant odor, or unusual discharge) are likely caused by an infection that needs medical treatment. The test is not intended for HIV, chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, or group B streptococcus.
To confirm the diagnosis
Several conditions and infections can affect the vaginal pH balance, usually by increasing pH levels. According to experts, causes of changes in vaginal pH include the following:
- Other vaginal infections (such as trichomonas vaginalis and group B
- Presence of menstrual blood
- Presence of semen
- Taking antibiotics
- Urinary tract infections
- Other conditions (such as infertility, premature birth, and increased risks for sexually transmitted infections).
Abnormal vaginal pH indicates the presence of a vaginal infection. Actually, doctors rarely rely just on measurements of vaginal pH to diagnose medical conditions. However, vaginal pH tests can help to confirm a suspected diagnosis.
This can help your doctor to decide whether or not you might need medical treatment.
The home vaginal pH tests are practically identical to the ones sold to doctors. But your doctor can provide a more thorough assessment of your vaginal status through your history, physical exam, and other laboratory tests than you can using a single pH test in your home.