Did you know that there are some risks when using menstrual cups? Know the facts before you make the change!
More and more people are talking about menstrual cups as the latest and greatest solution for women who’re menstruating. In fact, according to one study, around 90% of women now using menstrual cups prefer them to other period management products.
The best known benefits of menstrual cups are that, because they’re reusable, they ultimately work out cheaper, and are kinder to the environment. For these and other reasons, more and more women are making the switch.
Wondering whether menstrual cups are right for you? The short answer is probably, but not definitely. There are certain risks involved, although they are rare.
So, before you throw out your tampons or pads, here’s what you need to know about the possible dangers of using menstrual cups, plus some additional safety info.
What Are Menstrual Cups?
A period or menstrual cup is a small, bendable, cup-shaped container that’s inserted much like a tampon into the vaginal canal to collect menstrual fluid. It catches your flow and you can remove it and clean it a few times a day before reinserting it.
Risks Of Using Menstrual Cups & How To Protect Yourself
Although they’re unusual, there are risks when using a menstrual cup and the best way to tackle them is head-on. If you know what the risks are, you can make an informed decision and look after your body.
To ease your mind, we’ve also included some advice on how to lessen the likelihood of such complications developing.
1. Toxic Shock Syndrome
While it is highly unlikely that you will develop toxic shock syndrome (TSS) as a result of using menstrual cups, we put it first on this list because TSS can be deadly. In fact, TSS is something all menstruating women should know about, regardless of their feminine hygiene product of choice.
TSS can occur when the bacteria Staphylococcus or Streptococcus, which exist safely and naturally on your skin or inside your nose or mouth, find their way deeper into your body and cause an infection. While fully curable if discovered and treated early, TSS can be fatal if detected too late.
Fortunately, there have been very few known cases of TSS associated with menstrual cup usage. Nevertheless, using menstrual cups entails inserting a foreign item into your body, which naturally introduces the possibility that TSS may develop. Since TSS begins with a bacterial infection, good menstrual cup hygiene practices go a long way to avoiding it:
- Before handling the menstrual cup, take care to wash your hands thoroughly. Always wash with warm water and a strong yet gentle antibacterial cleanser.
- Wash your cup as indicated by the manufacturer, usually with warm water and mild soap, free of oils or fragrances.
- Use a little bit of water or water-based lubricant to ease cup insertion. This will diminish the likelihood of vaginal irritation, thereby also reducing your chances of developing an infection and, ultimately, TSS.
- Never leave your menstrual cup in for longer than specified by the manufacturer.
2. Vaginal Infection
As we mentioned earlier, toxic shock syndrome starts out as a bacterial infection. Fortunately, infections as a result of menstrual cup usage are quite uncommon and very rarely lead to TSS.
Nevertheless, vaginal infections are extremely unpleasant when they do occur. Symptoms include itching, burning, an excessive need to urinate, and a thick, white vaginal discharge. Again, avoiding vaginal infection primarily involves good hygiene practices. So, remember our tips about how to avoid TSS.
Some extra steps you can take to avoid vaginal infection, whether you use menstrual cups or not, include the following:
- Bath or shower at least once a day, using gentle, fragrance- and oil-free body soap. Most baby soap fits this description.
- Make sure that your diet includes probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that combat bad bacteria to keep you healthy. They occur naturally in certain fermented foods, like yogurt and soft cheeses, or can be obtained via over-the-counter supplements available at your local drug store.
Some women are simply more prone to developing infections than others. Also, infections often linger even after they appear to have cleared up, with symptoms periodically resurfacing. Prevention, as always, is better than cure.
3. Vaginal Irritation
The good news is that the most likely side effect of menstrual cup usage is also the least dangerous. Minor vaginal irritation, while unpleasant, is not a threat to your health. It does, however, increase your risk of developing an infection to some degree.
To avoid both this unpleasantness and any associated risk, follow all of the suggestions already offered for preventing infection and TSS. Pay particular attention to using the correct type and quantity of lubricant to make insertion easier.
You can further minimize discomfort in the following ways:
- Make sure you are using the correct cup size – see manufacturer instructions.
- Be careful to insert your cup correctly – see manufacturer instructions for guidelines.
Another cause of irritation may be an allergy to the lubricant you’re using or the material that your chosen cup is made from, especially if it contains latex. If you think this might be the case, your doctor can help you find alternative products.
Takeaway: When In Doubt, Ask Your Doctor
When it comes to any part of your cycle, from the type of contraceptive pill you choose to your preferred period products, consulting your doctor is always advisable, especially if any of the following applies to you:
- You suffer from vaginismus
- You have uterine fibroids
- You suffer from endometriosis
- The positioning of your uterus is irregular (ask your OB-GYN, if you are unsure).
- You are currently using an intrauterine device (IUD). Studies on menstrual cup usage leading to IUD expulsion are conflicting, so speaking to your doctor is the safest course of action.
You should also see your doctor whether you’re using menstrual cups or not if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- A high temperature
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Vaginal pain or ongoing discomfort
- Burning sensations or other pain during intercourse or urination
- Unpleasant vaginal odor
Remember that no period management product is entirely free of risk. Staying safe is largely a matter of choosing the product that works for you and then using it correctly. Over and above all this, when in doubt, see your doctor!