Vaginitis

Topic Overview

What is vaginitis?

Vaginitis is infection or inflammation of the vagina. It can cause itching and burning, a change in vaginal discharge, and sometimes pain during sex.

What causes vaginitis?

Vaginitis may be caused by bacteria, yeast, or other organisms. Bath products, douches, and spermicides also can irritate the vagina and cause itching and discomfort.

The three most common types of vaginitis and their causes are:

  • Yeast infection. A healthy vagina normally contains a small number of yeast cells, along with a certain number of bacteria. Normally there aren't enough of the yeast cells to cause problems. But sometimes something happens to the vagina that lets the yeast cells multiply quickly and take over, causing symptoms. Taking antibiotics sometimes causes this. Being pregnant, taking birth control pills that contain estrogen, or having hormone therapy can also cause it. So can some health problems, like diabetes or HIV infection.
  • Bacterial vaginosis. This happens when some of the bacteria normally found in the vagina are able to multiply quickly, causing symptoms. Experts are not sure what causes this. But certain things make it more likely to happen. These include having more than one sex partner, having a female sex partner, having a sexually transmitted infection, using an IUD for birth control, and douching.
  • Trichomoniasis. This is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite. You get it by having sex with someone who has it. It is commonly called trich (say "trick").

Another type of vaginitis is atrophic vaginitis. This is an irritation of the vagina caused by thinning tissues and less moisture in the vaginal walls. This often occurs with menopause as a result of the decrease in the hormone estrogen. Surgery to remove the ovaries can have the same effect.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of vaginitis may include:

  • A change in your normal vaginal discharge, including gray, green, or yellow discharge.
  • Vaginal redness, swelling, itching, or pain.
  • Vaginal odor.
  • Burning when you urinate.
  • Pain or bleeding when you have sex.

How is vaginitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will check your vagina for redness and swelling and will take a sample of vaginal discharge. The sample can be tested in a lab to see what is causing the problem.

How is it treated?

If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor if you have any symptoms. Some problems can affect your pregnancy, so it is important to talk with your doctor and get the right treatment.

  • Yeast infection: If you have had a yeast infection before and can recognize the symptoms, and you aren't pregnant, you can treat yourself at home with medicines you can buy without a prescription. You can use an antifungal cream or suppository that you put into your vagina. Or your doctor may prescribe antifungal tablets that you swallow.
  • Bacterial vaginosis: Doctors usually use antibiotics to treat this problem. It is usually a mild problem. But it can lead to more serious problems, so it's a good idea to see your doctor and get treatment.
  • Trichomoniasis: This infection is also treated with antibiotics. Both you and your sex partner need treatment.
  • Atrophic vaginitis: This usually is treated with estrogen creams or tablets.

How can you prevent vaginitis?

  • Do not take antibiotics unless you really need to.
  • Do not douche.
  • Do not use feminine deodorant sprays or other perfumed products in or around your vagina.
  • During your period, change tampons at least 3 times a day, or switch between tampons and pads. Don't leave tampons in for more than 8 hours. And be sure to remove the last tampon you use.
  • Use a condom during sex. Limit your number of sex partners.

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
Web Address: www.acog.org

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Eckert LO, Lentz GM (2012). Infections of the lower and upper genital tracts: Vulva, vagina, cervix, toxic shock syndromes, endometriosis, and salpingitis. In GM Lentz et al., eds., Comprehensive Gynecology, 6th ed., pp. 519–559. Philadelphia: Mosby.
  • Soper DE (2012). Genitourinary infections and sexually transmitted diseases. In JS Berek, ed., Berek and Novak's Gynecology, 15th ed., pp. 557–573. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Deborah A. Penava, BA, MD, FRCSC, MPH - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of March 12, 2014

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