Vaginitis is an inflammation of a woman's vagina. It can be caused by bacteria, fungus, viruses, parasites, hormonal changes, or chemicals.
A healthy vagina has a balance of many bacteria and fungi. Normal vaginal discharge is clear, cloudy, or whitish. But the balance in the vaginal environment can be thrown off by many factors. Following are some of the common factors affecting the balance:
Candida albicans,\ \Candida tropicalis,\ \Candida glabrata,\ and \Candida parapsilosis.\ ',CAPTION,'Vaginal Yeast Infection');" onmouseout="return nd();">Vaginal yeast infections are a common cause of vaginitis. They are usually caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans. This type of infection often produces an itchy, whitish vaginal discharge that may look like cottage cheese. Yeast infections are often seen after the woman has taken antibiotics for another infection. The antibiotics interfere with the normal balance of organisms in the vagina.
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when several types of harmful bacteria that live in the vagina grow too fast. No one knows what causes the overgrowth of these bacteria. The harmful bacteria can replace protective bacteria. This makes the vagina less acidic. Half of the time, vaginosis causes no symptoms. Some women may have a grayish-white or yellowish-white discharge.
Trichomonas vaginalis.\ ',CAPTION,'Trichomoniasis');" onmouseout="return nd();">Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite. It spreads during sexual intercourse. There is a large amount of frothy vaginal discharge. The discharge is usually yellow-gray or green and has an unpleasant odor.
Atrophic vaginitis is associated with low levels of estrogen. The vagina becomes less acidic. This allows harmful bacteria to nudge out healthy bacteria. The vagina is more susceptible to injury and infection. Some women with this condition have no symptoms. Others have vaginal dryness and burning. Usually this condition occurs after menopause. Sometimes it affects nursing mothers or girls before they reach puberty.
Many factors can irritate the vagina or change its acidity, such as the following:
Other factors that increase a woman's risk for vaginitis include the following:
Many women have vaginitis without symptoms. Often, though, a woman will notice some of these symptoms:
The diagnosis of vaginitis begins with a medical history and physical exam. The healthcare provider will do a pelvic exam. The provider may also take the following steps.
Vaginitis cannot always be prevented. Following these recommendations can lower a woman's risk for vaginitis.
If an infection is treated, long-term problems usually do not arise. Sometimes the cause of vaginitis cannot be cured. Severe STDs may cause chronic pain and infertility.
If the vaginitis is caused by an STD, a woman can transmit the infection to a sexual partner.
Treatment options depend upon the cause of vaginitis. Therapy may include the following:
Antibiotics and antifungal medicines may cause rash, stomach upset, or allergic reactions.
Vaginitis may take a few days or more to disappear, depending on how long an infection has been present and the cause of the inflammation. If an STD has been diagnosed, the sexual partner or partners should be tested.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Eva Martin, MD
Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN