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 replacement 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 and take over, 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 disease, using an IUD for birth control, and douching.
  • Trichomoniasis. This is a sexually transmitted disease 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 disease 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

Organizations

American Academy of Family Physicians
P.O. Box 11210
Shawnee Mission, KS  66207-1210
Web Address: www.familydoctor.org
 

The American Academy of Family Physicians produces a variety of health-related educational materials. Its Web site offers a health library and bulletin board, news, and comments sections.


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)
409 12th Street SW
P.O. Box 96920
Washington, DC  20090-6920
Phone: (202) 638-5577
E-mail: resources@acog.org
Web Address: www.acog.org
 

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is a nonprofit organization of professionals who provide health care for women, including teens. The ACOG Resource Center publishes manuals and patient education materials. The Web publications section of the site has patient education pamphlets on many women's health topics, including reproductive health, breast-feeding, violence, and quitting smoking.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
E-mail: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Web Address: www.cdc.gov
 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC works with state and local health officials and the public to achieve better health for all people. The CDC creates the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health—by promoting health, preventing disease, injury, and disability, and being prepared for new health threats.


Planned Parenthood Federation of America
434 West 33rd Street
New York, NY  10001
Phone: 1-800-230-PLAN (1-800-230-7526)
(212) 541-7800
Fax: (212) 245-1845
Web Address: www.ppfa.org
 

The Planned Parenthood Federation of American provides comprehensive reproductive health care and consumer information about family planning, sexual health, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).


References

Other Works Consulted

  • Anderson MR, et al. (2004). Evaluation of vaginal complaints. JAMA, 291(11): 1368–1379.
  • Eckert LO, Lentz GM (2007). Infections of the lower genital tract. In VL Katz et al., eds., Comprehensive Gynecology, 5th ed., pp. 569–606. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
  • Soper DE (2007). Genitourinary infections and sexually transmitted diseases. In JS Berek, ed., Novak's Gynecology, 14th ed., pp. 541–559. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Credits

Author Sandy Jocoy, RN
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Deborah A. Penava, BA, MD, FRCSC, MPH - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Updated October 31, 2008

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.