My Vagina Felt Like It Was on Fire for a Year
My Vagina Felt Like It Was on Fire for a Year—but Doctors Kept Telling Me It Was Just a Yeast Infection
A gut feeling told Ashley Collins, 27, that the pelvic pain and burning that took over her daily life and made sex hurt was caused by something other than what her many doctors believed.
This article is part of Health’s new series, Misdiagnosed, featuring stories from real women who have had their medical symptoms dismissed or wrongly diagnosed.
If my life had a theme song, it would be the one where Alicia Keys belts, “This girl is on fire!” But I wasn’t on fire—my vagina was.
For most of last year, that song played in my head as I visited countless doctors searching for a diagnosis that would explain the chronic burning and irritating pain that took over my pelvic area. Month after month, I found myself in another dull, brightly lit room with my back against the cold medical exam table, my feet locked in stirrups.
I knew the drill. The gynecologist would examine me and tell me whether or not I had an infection. And depending on the answer, they’d either prescribe me a cocktail of medications or simply shrug their shoulders and wish me the best. Neither helped.
I started experiencing these symptoms in February 2018. They were similar to the signs of a urinary tract infection—except it wasn’t a UTI. Instead, nearly every doctor I’d seen that year diagnosed me with a yeast or bacterial infection. Yet no antibiotic or antifungal prescription made me feel better, even after doctors would eventually tell me the infection was gone. With each round of meds, the fire only grew stronger.
It took a year of doctor visits, sleepless nights, the breakup of a promising relationship, and my own dogged persistence to find out why I was in constant pain below the belt. But getting the right diagnosis took way longer than it had to. In that fiery year, my work, personal life, and most importantly, my quality of life were all in jeopardy as I struggled for answers.
The burning and irritation begins
Everything was pretty great before my symptoms began. I was a busy reporter and cat mom in my mid-20s living in South Florida. I enjoyed travel, yoga, and time spent with family and friends. I took good care of my health, eating right and exercising (okay, sometimes). In November 2017, I started dating a nice guy who soon became my boyfriend. We fell in love. He was my first. I wanted to ride this high forever—but life, of course, had other plans.
Early that February, I paid a visit to the gyno after I’d started feeling a persistent burning sensation inside and around my vagina. The pain was raw and intense, and I could feel it from deep in my abdomen all the way to my vulva. In my early 20s, I’d experienced irritation and pain in my vagina, which a doctor told me was caused by tight pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that support the bladder, uterus, rectum, and vagina). But this pain was just so much worse, especially when I had sex with my boyfriend.
The gyno diagnosed me with bacterial vaginosis. It’s a common vaginal infection, and the remedy was simple, my doctor said. All I had to do was take an antibiotic for several days, and I’d be cured.
And I was cured—for a short while, at least. The pain and burning came back soon after I had an IUD inserted inside my uterus. A week later, I went back to my doctor with the same symptoms. She prescribed me another round of antibiotics for another bacterial infection. I still felt the burn. I had the IUD taken out after a month. I thought that would help, but I was still on fire. Another round of meds later, I developed a yeast infection—a not uncommon side effect of antibiotics.
With no cure or even an explanation as to why I was having these recurrent infections, I stopped seeing my doctor. She couldn’t help me, and I felt so helpless. Being the inquisitive reporter I am, I took to Google to seek help. But nearly every symptom led to cancer. Gulp. I knew I needed a second opinion.