Vaginitis

Vaginitis is diagnosed and treated by Premier Medical Group.

What is vaginitis?

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Vaginitis, known also as vulvitis and vulvovaginitis, is an agitation of the vulva and/or vagina, usually in the form of inflammation or an infection. Vaginitis is a catch-all term for various vaginal disorders, which can be caused by organisms, like yeast and bacteria, or chemicals from products. In some cases, vaginitis is the result of bacteria passed between sexual partners, so the condition can be sexually transmitted. The most common forms of vaginitis are bacterial vaginosis, which can result from a change in vaginal bacteria, yeast infections, which are caused by a naturally occurring fungus, and trichomoniasis, which is caused by an often sexually transmitted parasite.

Vaginitis can also affect people with female sex organs later in life. Reduced estrogen levels after menopause, as well as some skin disorders, can cause the condition.

What causes vaginitis?

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Vaginitis is caused by anything that can change the bacterial, chemical, or physical composition of the vagina or vulva. This can include a naturally occurring organism, such as yeast, or something external, like a chemical used in a product. Below is a partial list of vaginitis causes, as well as some factors that may increase your risk of developing the condition.

  • Sexual activity
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Spermicide
  • Antibiotics or steroids
  • Yeast
  • A parasite, like trichomoniasis
  • Hormonal changes, like those associated with pregnancy
  • Birth control pills
  • Menopause

What are the symptoms of vaginitis?

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Because vaginitis is a catch-all term for various conditions, its symptoms can vary depending on their cause. However, a few symptoms of vaginitis are more common than most, regardless of the type of vaginosis you may have. These include:

  • Itching
  • Irritation of the genital area
  • Inflammation around the labia and perineal area
  • Discomfort while urinating
  • Discolored and/or odorous vaginal discharge
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Light vaginal bleeding or spotting

If you suspect you may have vaginitis, pay close attention to your vaginal discharge. Its characteristics, and whether they change, might indicate the type of vaginitis you have, allowing you to more quickly secure a diagnosis and treatment. If you have grayish-white, fishy smelling discharge, you may have bacterial vaginosis. Yeast infections usually cause thick, white discharge that resembles cottage cheese. Trichomoniasis, by contrast, can cause a greenish-yellow, sometimes frothy discharge.

How is vaginitis diagnosed?

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If you have never experienced vaginitis, or if your symptoms are different from a previous experience, a doctor is necessary to provide a diagnosis. During this visit, the doctor will review your medical history and ask about previous sexually transmitted infections. They will also perform a pelvic exam with a speculum to look inside of the vagina for inflammation and abnormal discharge.

During the pelvic exam, the doctor will likely collect a sample for lab testing. This sample could include cervical cells, such as those obtained in a Pap test, or a sample of vaginal discharge. This is an important step in confirming what type of vaginitis you have.

A doctor may also perform a pH test, as an elevated pH can indicate either bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. During this test, they will test the vaginal pH by applying a pH test stick to the wall of the vagina. pH testing alone is not a reliable diagnostic test, though, and it is often performed in conjunction with another testing method.

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Because vaginitis can have a wide range of causes, treatment will depend on the type of vaginitis you have. For example, bacterial vaginosis, one of the most common forms of the condition, is treated with antibiotics. The type of treatment that works best for you will depend on what is causing the inflammation, how bad the symptoms are, and whether you’re pregnant.

If you are diagnosed with a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis, a doctor will provide a prescription for creams, suppositories, vaginal tablets, or pills. Similarly, if the vaginitis is caused by hormonal changes or low estrogen levels, a doctor may give you a prescription for a treatment that releases estrogen into your body. If the vaginitis is caused by an allergy or irritation, the symptoms will usually go away when you stop using whatever is causing the problem.

Regardless of your vaginitis’s cause and treatment, it is important to use all of your medicine. Infections can return if treatment is not seen all the way through. Additionally, schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor to ensure the treatment worked.

When to see a doctor for vaginitis?

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You may not need to see a doctor every time you experience vaginal irritation. This is especially true if you’ve had a previous diagnosis and your symptoms align with that previous experience. Over-the-counter medication, such as an anti-yeast treatment, can be effective in milder cases. However, you should see a doctor for severe and/or unfamiliar vaginal discomfort, especially if you experience one or more of the following:

  • You have never had a vaginal infection before. Seeing a doctor will help you better understand the cause.
  • You have had a vaginal infection before, but it felt different. Having a previous infection may increase your chances of developing vaginitis again.
  • You have a new sex partner. This could indicate a sexually transmitted infection.
  • You have a fever, chills, or pelvic pain accompanying the discomfort.
  • You completed a course of over-the-counter anti-yeast medication, but your symptoms persist.

People with trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. If you suspect you have vaginitis and have any of the above experiences, a trip to the doctor is the best way to diagnose, treat, and prevent further issues.