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Misdiagnosed: My Long Battle with Repeated Vaginal Infections Revealed


While certain health issues are observable to others, numerous individuals encounter chronic conditions that lack visible signs or symptoms, commonly referred to as invisible illnesses. In our ongoing series, we provide a platform for individuals with invisible illnesses to share their personal journeys. Our aim is to increase awareness about these conditions and offer support to those facing similar circumstances.

During my second year of college, I began experiencing unfamiliar and uncomfortable symptoms in my vaginal area. This manifested as itchiness and pain during sexual activity, and it was the first time I had encountered such issues. Prior to that, I had never really considered my vaginal health beyond menstruation, and it was not a topic covered in my high school sex education. Consequently, I felt ill-prepared and uncertain.

Like many others in a similar situation, I initially assumed that I had a yeast infection. I went to the pharmacy and obtained over-the-counter medication, hoping it would provide relief. While this approach works for many individuals, my symptoms persisted and returned after a brief respite.

My infections started taking over my life.

Reluctantly, I made my way to the college health center, voicing my concerns about yeast infections and seeking prescription medication. Unfortunately, I found myself trapped in a relentless cycle. The symptoms would occasionally disappear, only to resurface shortly afterward. It became an ongoing ordeal of visiting the health center every few weeks. These visits were far from routine examinations; they involved intimate and embarrassing pelvic exams that I dreaded. Being in that vulnerable position repeatedly began to disrupt my life and erode my self-confidence.

After enduring months of repeated visits, I started advocating for myself, expressing my doubts about the effectiveness of the medication. Consequently, I was placed on a more prolonged treatment plan involving antifungals—an oral Fluconazole pill once a week for six months. It did provide temporary relief as the symptoms subsided, but a couple of years later, the same cycle reemerged.

I was then subjected to another six-month course of antifungal therapy, but this time, a new problem arose. I began experiencing an allergic reaction characterized by swelling, hives, and other symptoms. It turned out that I had developed an allergy to the antifungal medication. However, in my desperate desire to alleviate the vaginal symptoms, I sometimes still took the medication, hoping against hope that the reaction would be less severe than before. Sadly, it always proved to be just as intense. Eventually, my doctors switched me to another medication, but the cycle of recurrence persisted.

This challenging experience persisted for five years, spanning my college years, graduate school, and even my relocation to New York.

Years later, I finally had an accurate diagnosis. 

Upon relocating to a new city, I sought out a new gynecologist and informed them about my persistent yeast infections (which, unsurprisingly, I was experiencing at the time of my first visit). Following the examination, the gynecologist straightforwardly informed me that I actually had bacterial vaginosis (BV). It was a revelation for me, as I had been grappling with these symptoms for five years without ever having heard of BV before.

During that visit, I discovered that BV is the most common vaginal infection among women of reproductive age, affecting over 21 million individuals annually. I was taken aback by this information. It dawned on me that for five years, I had been taking medication that was targeting a condition I didn't have. While it's possible that I may have had a yeast infection at some point, I lacked the necessary knowledge and vocabulary to accurately describe my symptoms and guide my healthcare accordingly.

As it turned out, knowing the correct diagnosis made a world of difference in my journey toward recovery (surprising, I know). BV is characterized by an overgrowth of disruptive bacteria, which necessitates treatment with antibiotics, whereas yeast infections are treated with antifungals. Once I began taking the appropriate medication, my symptoms finally subsided. Interestingly, this placed me in the "fortunate" category, as up to 80% of BV cases recur within three months of treatment.

However, this change in my treatment approach also impacted my behavior. I stopped self-diagnosing and assuming that every discomfort I experienced was a yeast infection. (A study I later came across revealed that 69% of participants who believed they had a yeast infection actually had a different condition.) 

Of course, it's important to acknowledge that many individuals do experience recurrent yeast infections, and it's crucial to remain aware of this possibility as well. Ultimately, I believe it is essential to educate oneself about the available options and develop a keen understanding of one's own body.

Vaginal health is mental health.

I would like to emphasize another significant aspect of my experience: the anxiety that accompanies recurrent vaginal symptoms. Suddenly, you feel alienated from your own body. Every slight itch, tingling sensation, or any other symptom can send you into a spiral of doubt, questioning whether it's happening all over again.

Even when my symptoms subsided, some of the anxiety persisted. There was a lingering fear that various aspects of my life could somehow trigger another infection—consuming sugar, alcohol, caffeine, engaging in sexual activity, and so on.

In my case, I discovered that vaginal health was intricately linked to mental well-being. That's why I strongly believe in the importance of destigmatizing discussions surrounding vaginal health, and one of the most effective ways to achieve that is by sharing our personal experiences.

My experience inspired me to help others better understand their vaginal health.

Three years after being diagnosed with BV, my friend Priyanka approached me with an intriguing idea: developing a vaginal microbiome test. I distinctly remember her sitting me down and expressing how vaginal infections are poorly understood, frequently mistreated, and prone to recurring. At that time, she had no knowledge of my health journey or how deeply I resonated with this topic. Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear about her idea and eagerly joined in. That marked the birth of our company, Evvy.

While initially focused on offering at-home vaginal microbiome testing and care, Evvy quickly expanded its scope to include educational initiatives and destigmatization efforts. Through our website and active presence on social media, our primary objective is to empower individuals to become better advocates for their own health. We provide them with the necessary knowledge and language to actively participate in making informed decisions about their healthcare. Additionally, we strive to dismantle stigmas surrounding vaginal health, demystify the topic, reassure people that they are not alone, and eliminate any sense of shame associated with discussing vaginas.

Some misconceptions we need to ditch.

Regarding vaginal health and infections, I'd like to call attention to a few myths and stereotypes. Here are some that should be commended:

1. The belief that vaginal odor is unhealthy.
People, including companies, individuals with penises, or popular culture, often convey the idea that vaginas should have no smell or should smell like flowers or fruit. It is crucial to clarify that vaginas have a natural scent, just like any other body part. If there is a fishy odor, which is often stigmatized, it could indicate a medical condition or an imbalance in the vaginal microbiome.

2. The misconception that having a vaginal infection means you are unclean.
Another stigma I aim to dispel is the notion that experiencing recurrent infections implies being dirty, inferior, or having a flawed vagina. It is essential to emphasize that these are simply medical conditions, and there is nothing inherently wrong with individuals who experience them. Seeking assistance from a medical professional can help address and resolve these conditions.

3. The assumption that painful sex is normal.
Although pain during sexual intercourse may be common, it should not be considered normal. It could be indicative of a pelvic floor issue or an undiagnosed infection. It is important to recognize that persistent pain during sex deserves attention and should not be dismissed as a normal occurrence.

4. The belief that vaginal discharge is shameful.
The menstrual cycle includes a healthy and normal vaginal discharge. 
Its consistency and appearance can vary throughout the cycle, ranging from thin and clear to whiter or slightly yellowish before menstruation. Unfortunately, many women are unaware of the natural patterns of their discharge, making it challenging to detect abnormal changes.

Understanding what is "normal" for your own body is key to recognizing when something is amiss and seeking appropriate care.

These misconceptions and stigmas can be debunked by promoting awareness and knowledge about vaginal health, empowering individuals to understand and advocate for their own well-being.

My biggest piece of advice.

The primary message I want to convey from my experience is the importance of advocating for yourself. Instead of waiting for someone else to provide you with information, take the initiative to educate yourself. Seek out reliable online resources and compassionate healthcare professionals who can support you on your journey.

If you're feeling isolated or embarrassed, social media community groups can be incredibly valuable. Numerous groups exist, consisting of women and individuals with vaginas who have come together to share knowledge and support one another. Additionally, Evvy is actively involved in this realm, whether through informative website content or entertaining TikTok videos aimed at destigmatizing vaginal health.

Remember, you are not alone, and there are incredible communities and individuals working to transform the conversation surrounding this topic and educate people worldwide.