Vaginal inflammation

Vaginal inflammation (vaginitis) is caused by various pathogens.

Overview

Vaginal inflammation (vaginitis) is caused by various pathogens. The typical vaginal discharge varies depending on the pathogen, and can smell quite foul. Symptoms include topical redness, itching and burning. Preventive measures include using a condom and protecting the natural vaginal flora (e.g. by avoiding excessive vaginal hygiene).

Symptoms

  • Discharge: looks different, depending on the pathogen
    • Bacterial infections: thin fluid, whitish grey
    • Fungal infections: thick, cheesy, crumbly, sometimes greyish white coating
    • Trichomoniasis (single-cell parasite): yellowish, foamy
    • Smell of discharge: can be unusual, unpleasant, sometimes fishy
    • Bloody discharge: untypical for vaginitis
  • Redness (vulva and vagina)
  • Vaginal itching and burning, sometimes burning during urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Indication of cancer of the reproductive organs (uterine cancer)
    • Contact bleeding during intercourse
    • Bleeding after menopause
Complication
Vaginosis
  • Symptoms can't always be distinguished from vaginitis
  • Bacterial population is either too big or too small
  • Usually chronic, no pain
  • Unpleasant: increased discharge, fishy smell

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • Invasion and multiplication of bacteria, fungi, more rarely viruses (herpes) or protozoa (single-celled organisms)
  • Transmission:
    • Contagion during unprotected intercourse
    • Bath water (also in swimming pools) or sharing of towels
  • Promoting factors:
    • Changes to normal vaginal flora (e.g. hormone deficiency or fluctuations, vaginal dryness, immunodeficiency)
    • Contraceptive pill, menopause
    • Chemical or mechanical irritants (e.g. excessive intimate hygiene, excessive intercourse, tampons left inside the vagina too long)

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Gynaecological examination
  • Swab to identify the pathogen, if necessary
Possible therapies
  • Depends on the pathogen (e.g. antibiotics for bacteria, antimycotics for fungi))
  • Can make sense to also treat the partner in order to prevent mutual reinfection (“ping-pong effect”)
  • For very dry vagina: hormone ointments

What can I do myself?

  • Follow the safer sex rules:
    • Always use a condom or femidom during sexual intercourse
    • Don't get sperm or blood (including menstrual blood) in your mouth, and don’t swallow
  • Best preventive measure: maintaining the natural acidic pH level of the vagina and its flora
  • Avoid:
    • Excessive hygiene (vaginal douches)
    • Leaving tampons and other foreign objects in the vagina too long
    • Frequent use of vaginal deodorants
    • Habitual use of contraceptive foam, gel or suppositories (ineffective methods)

When to see a doctor?

  • Unusual or foul-smelling discharge
  • Appearance or consistency of discharge changes (independent of menstrual cycle)
  • Bloody discharge unconnected to period
  • Vaginal itching and burning
  • Pain and/or contact bleeding during intercourse

Synonyms

vaginal inflammation, vaginitis, colpitis and vaginosis, vaginosis, inflammation of the vagina, vulvovaginitis

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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