Did you know that your vagina has a natural mechanism for protection against unhealthy bacteria and infections? It’s called your vaginal pH balance. “A healthy level of vaginal pH for a woman in her reproductive years is 4.0 to 4.5 acidic, and can be higher than 4.5 in women after menopause,” according to Srijaya Soujanya Nalla, MD, a gynecologist and obstetrician with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, Colorado.
What if My Vaginal pH is Higher?
Dr. Nalla cautions that if your vaginal pH is higher than the recommended healthy range, it may be a sign of infection.
- Yeast Infection: Yeast is present, and normal, in a healthy vagina but when the “good” bacteria is out of balance, you are more susceptible to a yeast infection.
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV): This is the most common type of vaginal infection and occurs when the vaginal flora - the healthy bacteria inside the vagina - aren’t as plentiful and unhealthy bacteria take over. This condition isn’t harmful on its own but can lead to more serious conditions like HPV or HIV.
- Trichomoniasis (trich): This common sexually transmitted disease affects women more than men and often doesn’t present with any symptoms. It is caused by a parasite that is transferred to the vagina through sexual activity.
What Causes Increased Vaginal pH?
It may come as a surprise, but some commonly used products could increase your vaginal pH balance. “Many women think they are doing their body a favor by douching, but douching can cause the good bacteria in the vagina to become unbalanced,” said Dr. Nalla. “The natural balance of good versus bad bacteria is what helps the vagina protect against infection.”
Another culprit of increased vaginal pH is vaginal lubricants, which are used to combat vaginal dryness or to make intercourse more enjoyable. However, these lubricants can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina. Additionally, the use of vaginally administered medications, like estrogen and progestogen, which are often prescribed for women going through fertility treatments or menopause, can change your vaginal pH levels. Semen can also upset your vaginal pH balance. A healthy vagina is normally acidic, while healthy sperm are alkaline, which can throw off the balance of bacteria in your vagina.
To maintain a healthy vaginal pH balance, your best bet is to use condoms during intercourse, and to avoid both douching and medications that contain estrogen, if possible.
How to Test Your Vaginal pH Level
If you’re concerned that your vaginal pH level may be unbalanced, there are over-the-counter tests you can purchase and take at home. But an even better option is to meet with a Banner Health women’s health specialist who can assess your symptoms and perform any tests you may need.