How to Manage Your Period and Maintain Your Vaginal Health

Dr. Pulluru headshot

An expert describes lesser-known feminine hygiene products and why it’s so important to have a trusted relationship with your doctor 

The feminine hygiene aisle of the store can be intimidating: It’s tough to figure out what to buy when staring down shelves of brightly colored tampons, pads, and lesser-known options like period panties. And with UTIs, yeast infections, and PMS, menstruation isn’t the only vaginal health issue that women regularly wrestle with. Below, Dr. Chinni Pulluru from the Walmart Health team describes how to navigate all the feminine hygiene options and offers advice for dealing with common vaginal infections. 

KCM: Many women make the choice between tampons and pads during their periods. What are some lesser-known feminine hygiene products women should know about? 

Dr. Pulluru: One alternative women may consider is a menstrual cup, which is a reusable feminine hygiene product. It’s a small, flexible, funnel-shaped cup made of rubber or silicone that you insert into your vagina to catch and collect period fluid. Cups can often hold more blood than other feminine hygiene products, leading many women to use them as an eco-friendly alternative to tampons. And depending on your flow, you can wear a cup for up to 12 hours. 

Period panties are another reusable option. The absorbable underwear is often made with material designed to keep the skin-facing layer dry while absorbing menstrual blood. It is important to pick a panty that is comfortable and designed to accommodate the level of flow a woman has. 

For women who decide to stick with tampons, is there anything they should take into account when choosing between one box or another? 

A very important tampon consideration is the absorbency, which is determined by FDA rules. A woman needs to choose between light, regular, super, super plus, and ultra depending on menstrual blood flow. 

Another thing to keep in mind is material. Most tampons are made of synthetic material like rayon or super absorbent polymers. These materials are often bleached with chlorine to give them that pristine white look. If you prefer a natural product, try organic cotton tampons or pads. Look on the box to be aware of all the materials listed. 

How do you recommend women manage their PMS symptoms? Do you have any product recommendations to help them deal with pesky cramps, headaches, or fatigue?

Premenstrual syndrome can come with a wide range of symptoms, including mood swings, food cravings, irritability, headaches, and fatigue. A small number of women have debilitating symptoms and should consult their doctor for medical management. 

There are several ways to mitigate the symptoms of PMS, including getting regular exercise, sleeping well, hydrating, and eating healthy foods. Avoiding salt, caffeine, and alcohol in the two weeks prior to a period can also reduce symptoms. 

Some women find vitamins like folic acid, calcium and vitamin D can help with symptoms. Before using any supplements, check with your medical provider to ensure they are safe to take.  Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen taken during menses or a few days before the onset of your period can help with cramping, but make sure to follow dosing instructions exactly as stated on the label. 

What are the most common early signs of a UTI or yeast infection? How can women manage them before they get worse?

Early signs of a urinary tract infection include a strong, persistent urge to urinate and pain when urinating. Abdominal pain and cloudy, foul-smelling, or bloody urine can also be signs of a UTI. Drinking lots of water can help, and women often report improved symptoms from drinking cranberry juice, though there has never been research to prove it reduces infections. Urinary tract infections can progress quickly and can cause widespread infections, so if your symptoms are getting worse or you’re experiencing fevers or chills, contact your doctor for further care.  

Signs of a vaginal yeast infection include itching and burning in the vagina and vulva area; the burning can be especially prevalent during intercourse or while urinating. Other signs include redness, swelling, soreness, or pain in the vulva area and thick, white, odor-free discharge resembling cottage cheese. Cleaning the area with warm water and avoiding irritants like feminine hygiene products is crucial. Because treatment is usually based on the severity of symptoms and it is important to rule out other potential infections, I recommend you contact your medical provider for treatment. 

Why is it important for women to have an annual wellness visit? What are doctors checking for and what can women expect when they go in for their appointments?

Women need to have an annual wellness visit with their family doctor, internist, or gynecologist to assess their health and receive preventive care. Depending on a woman’s age, their physician might do a pap smear to screen for cervical cancer, recommend a mammogram to check for breast cancer, or do lab work to screen for diseases such as diabetes and thyroid dysfunction. A physical exam also looks for masses and other abnormalities of skin that are signs of serious disease. 

It is also important for a woman to have a trusted relationship with a medical professional to discuss nutrition, sleep, stress, and other factors important to health. Having an annual check-up with your primary care physician or gynecologist is an opportunity for the physician to evaluate your mental well-being. These visits help doctors assess patients for underlying anxiety, depression, or any risk factors for substance abuse that can affect their health in the future.