Vaginal Inflammation (Vaginitis)
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What is vaginitis?
Vaginitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the vagina. It is sometimes called vulvovaginitis when it affects the vulva. This is the external part of a woman’s genitalia.
Vaginitis is common in women. There are different types. Each has a different cause, symptoms, and treatment.
What are the symptoms of vaginitis?
Symptoms vary, depending on the type you have. Common symptoms that occur in many cases include:
- Vaginal itching
Other symptoms may include foul-smelling discharge, colored discharge, redness, or burning when urinating.
What causes vaginitis?
There are many causes of vaginitis. The most common include:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV) – This is usually a mild infection. It occurs when there are not enough “good” bacteria and too many “bad” bacteria in the vagina. It is not fully understood why this occurs. But some activities put her at higher risk. These include:
- Vaginal douching
- Having a new sexual partner.
- Having multiple sexual partners.
- Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control.
- Taking antibiotics.
Common symptoms of BV include a thin white or gray discharge and a fishy odor. Some women with BV do not have any symptoms.
- Mycosis (thrush) – Thrush happens when the natural acid in your vagina decreases. This allows fungus (candida) to grow and cause an infection. The acid imbalance of the vagina can be changed by:
- Contraceptive pills
A common symptom of fungal infections is a thick, white discharge. Sometimes it can resemble cottage cheese. Sometimes it’s watery. It often doesn’t smell. Also, the vulva and vagina are often red and itchy.
- Trichomoniasis – This is a common sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by a parasite that is passed between sexual partners.
Common symptoms of trichomoniasis include itching, burning, and pain in the vagina and vulva. You may feel burning when you urinate. Some women have a gray-green discharge that can smell bad.
- Allergies – You could have an allergic reaction to a product you use, such as douches, soaps, fabric softeners, or spermicides.
- Hormonal changes- Your hormones change when you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or after menopause. This can cause vaginal irritation that could lead to infection.
You could have more than one cause of vaginitis causing symptoms at the same time.
How is vaginitis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may ask about your health history. You may have a pelvic exam. Your healthcare provider may examine the vulva, vagina, and cervix. They will look for abnormal discharge from the vagina. They might do additional tests for specific causes, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Can vaginitis be prevented or avoided?
Vaginitis is very common and can be difficult to prevent. But there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting it:
- Avoid clothing that retains heat and moisture. This includes tight pants and non-cotton undergarments.
- Don’t douche. These introduce a foreign substance into your vagina. It could upset the natural balance of bacteria or fungi and cause infection.
- Limit the number of sexual partners. This can reduce exposure to new sources of germs that can cause vaginitis.
- Use condoms. When you have sex, use condoms. They can reduce the amount of new bacteria or other germs that can enter your vagina.
- Keep sex toys clean. Clean any sex toy immediately after use. Never share sex toys with other people.
Your treatment will depend on what is causing the vaginitis.
- Bacterial vaginosis: can be treated with antibiotics. These can be in pill form that you take by mouth. Or it could be a cream or gel that you insert directly into your vagina.
- Fungal infection: This is usually treated with a cream that is inserted into the vagina. It is available over the counter. Sometimes fungal infections are treated with pills that you have to take.
- Trichomoniasis: This is usually treated with an antibiotic. Since it is an STI, your partner should also be treated.
- Allergies: After determining which product you are allergic to, discontinue use.
- Hormones: Your healthcare provider may give you estrogen cream to help relieve symptoms.
Living with vaginitis
Vaginitis is very common. Most women will have it at some point in their lives. It is usually a minor problem that can be easily treated and cured. If left untreated, it could cause complications:
- Having BV or trichomoniasis can increase your risk of getting an STI.
- If you are pregnant, BV or trichomoniasis can increase your risk of preterm labour or delivery.
- Untreated BV can cause more serious infections that spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes.
Some women experience recurrent infections. Talk to your healthcare provider if your problem becomes chronic. They can suggest lifestyle changes that may help you.