Last Updated: May 11, 2018

Vaginitis

Overview

Vaginitis is a general term for inflammation of the vagina. Vaginitis is a common condition often caused by infections, which may be sexually transmitted but not always. There are various noninfectious types of vaginitis as well.

Different types of vaginitis are difficult to distinguish based on symptoms alone. Physicians diagnose vaginitis by performing laboratory tests of vaginal fluid and prescribe treatments based on the patient’s type of vaginitis.

Vaginitis most commonly results from one of the following conditions:

Vagina and uterus (cross-section)

Most cases of vaginitis are curable, and complications are usually avoided when patients receive timely treatment.

Causes

Causes of Infectious Vaginitis

Causes of Noninfectious Vaginitis

Symptoms

Normal vaginal fluid is white and odorless. Patients with vaginitis may develop abnormal vaginal discharge, irritation, itching, and odor. Although various types of vaginitis cannot be distinguished based on symptoms alone, there are classic characteristics associated with each form.

Patients with bacterial vaginosis may experience a thin, white or gray vaginal discharge with a foul fishy odor. Vaginal itching and irritation are rare and some women have no symptoms at all.

Most women and men with trichomoniasis (70%) experience no symptoms at all. Such individuals are unaware of their infection, but they still may infect others through sexual activity. Symptomatic women experience mild to severe inflammation, itching, burning, vaginal odor, and a profuse greenish yellow vaginal discharge. Men may notice irritation of the penis, burning with urination, or penile discharge.

Yeast infections often cause severe vaginal itching, burning, irritation, painful urination, and pain with sexual intercourse. Sometimes, there is a thick white vaginal discharge resembling cottage cheese.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Microscopic view of Trichomonas vaginalis

The types of vaginitis are difficult to distinguish on the basis of symptoms, so patient should undergo a pelvic examination by a health care provider. A pelvic examination consists of an inspection of the vagina and cervix and sampling of vaginal secretions for examination under a microscope.

Complications

Prevention

The use of latex condoms reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections; therefore, women can reduce their risk of vaginitis by using latex condoms for sexual intercourse and having only one sex partner at a time.

The risk of vaginitis is also decreased when women avoid douches, irritants, or tight clothing.

Sources

Additional Resources

Home Health Testing Guides

Testing Company Reviews

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Carla Hightower, MD

Dr. Hightower is an experienced physician who studied medicine at Northwestern University, where she also earned an MBA. As the founder of Living Health Works, she offers health coaching to individuals, private groups and corporations.