When we experience anxiety, it can throw off the levels of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the vagina, known as the pH balance. This may result in a vaginal infection, known as bacterial vaginosis.

The disturbance in your vaginal ecosystem due to stress can pave way for several intimate-health and gynecological issues:

When it comes to the modern-day lifestyle, stress is inevitable. Unfortunately, this inevitable stress has several negative impacts on our health—especially if it persists and is ill-managed. From acne and premature signs of aging to hormonal imbalances and heart-health problems—the hormone cortisol produced as a result of your body’s fight-or-flight response to a stressful situation is capable of doing immense damage to your health.

But can stress affect your vaginal health?

Stress leads to an increase in the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones like norepinephrine. These hormones inhibit the estrogen-related maintenance of the vaginal lining and glycogen accumulation.

1. It can cause an infection in your genital tract or the vagina

According to Dr. Vaidyanathan, stress hormones can decrease the levels of vagina’s free glycogen and the lactobacilli bacteria leading to a decrease in lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) synthesis.

She further explains that this can lead to a decrease in the pH of the vagina and consequentially, create an environment conducive for the proliferation of female genital tract infections like bacterial vaginosis.

2. It can increase the risk of STIs and STDs

Stress can also make a woman more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia trachomatis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and fungal infections such as candidiasis.

“Basically, the overall effect of stress is an imbalanced vaginal ecosystem where protective responses are blunted, which encourages upper genital tract infection with deleterious gynecologicalsequelae,” Dr Vaidyanathan mentions.

3. It can lead to pregnancy complications as well

As per Dr Vaidyanathan, women who are pregnant are also at risk of letting stress ruin their vaginal health as it can also lead to pregnancy-related complications such as preterm labor and infection in the uterus.

4. Your vagina may give foul-smelling signs of stress

Stress hormones can also cause an increase in the amount of vaginal discharge. This may be a foul-smelling discharge if a woman has caught an infection.

5. In fact, your sex life might have to take the hit

“As cortisol rises due to stress, testosterone (essential for your libido) will dip. This may lead to vaginal dryness and discomfort during sexual intercourse. This can eventually impact your sexual relationship with your partner further compounding the stress,” Dr Vaidyanathanwarns.A healthy level of the hormone estrogen is needed to maintain a balance of protective bacteria in the vagina such as lactobacilli. Additionally, the acidity of the vaginal secretions(pH balance) is also essential to prevent the growth of infectious organisms in the vagina, which again is maintained by estrogen.