Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina that can result in discharge, itching and pain. The cause is usually a change in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria or an infection. Reduced estrogen levels after menopause and some skin disorders can also cause vaginitis.
The most common types of vaginitis are:
Treatment depends on the type of vaginitis you have.
Vaginitis signs and symptoms can include:
If you have vaginal discharge, which many women don't, the characteristics of the discharge might indicate the type of vaginitis you have. Examples include:
See your doctor if you develop unusual vaginal discomfort, especially if:
You probably don't need to see your doctor every time you have vaginal irritation and discharge, particularly if:
The cause depends on what type of vaginitis you have:
Bacterial vaginosis. This most common cause of vaginitis results from a change of the normal bacteria found in your vagina, to overgrowth of one of several other organisms. Usually, bacteria normally found in the vagina (lactobacilli) are outnumbered by other bacteria (anaerobes) in your vagina. If anaerobic bacteria become too numerous, they upset the balance, causing bacterial vaginosis.
This type of vaginitis seems to be linked to sexual intercourse â especially if you have multiple sex partners or a new sex partner â but it also occurs in women who aren't sexually active.
Trichomoniasis. This common sexually transmitted infection is caused by a microscopic, one-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This organism spreads during sexual intercourse with someone who has the infection.
In men, the organism usually infects the urinary tract, but often it causes no symptoms. In women, trichomoniasis typically infects the vagina, and might cause symptoms. It also increases a women's risk of getting other sexually transmitted infections.
To diagnose vaginitis, your doctor is likely to:
Women with trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis are at a greater risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections because of the inflammation caused by these disorders. In pregnant women, symptomatic bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis have been associated with premature deliveries and low birth weight babies.
Good hygiene may prevent some types of vaginitis from recurring and may relieve some symptoms:
Other things you can do that may help prevent vaginitis include:
You'll need prescription medication to treat trichomoniasis, bacterial vaginosis and vaginal atrophy. If you know you have a yeast infection, you can take these steps:
Use an over-the-counter medication specifically for yeast infections. Options include one-day, three-day or seven-day courses of cream or vaginal suppositories. The active ingredient varies, depending on the product: clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin), miconazole (Monistat 1) or tioconazole (Vagistat-1).
Some products also come with an external cream to apply to the labia and opening of the vagina. Follow package directions and complete the entire course of treatment, even if you're feeling better right away.
Factors that increase your risk of developing vaginitis include: