Easy Guide To: Vaginal Inflammation, Itching and Discharge

Vaginitis Guide




What Is Vaginitis?
Common Symptoms
What Causes It?
What Types Are There?
How Is Vaginitis Diagnosed?
What Is The Treatment?
Can It Be Prevented?

In This Section:

Types of Vaginitis

Related Guides

Yeast Infection Guide
Urinary Tract Infections
Female Reproductive System

What Is Vaginitis?

Vaginitis literally means inflammation of the vagina (image). Most doctors use the term to specifically describe an inflammation that causes burning and itching of the vulva (the loose skin around the vagina) which is often accompanied by a strong smelling vaginal discharge. It is usually caused by an infection or a poor diet. While it is normal for healthy women to produce some vaginal discharge (which varies in consistency and quantity depending on the time of the menstrual cycle), a healthy discharge does not smell or cause itching and irritation.

Healthy non-vaginitis discharge also typically increases towards ovulation where it becomes clearer and egg-white. It may also increase during pregnancy, stress or after birth control pills have been discontinued. This is all quite normal and not necessarily an indication of infection. Vaginitis effects women of all ages and is very common. It is also known as vulvovaginitis.

Common Symptoms

Different types of vaginitis produce different symptoms, but the following is a list of the most common signs:

1. Foul fishy smelling vaginal discharge.
2. Or a sweet breadlike smelling discharge.
3. Frothy green or gray colored discharge.
4. Or clumpy white cottage-cheese looking discharge.
5. Itchy, burning vulva and vagina skin.
6. Pain on urination or during sexual intercourse.

What Causes It?

Vaginitis Causes: Vaginitis occurs when something happens to upset the balance of microorganisms in the vagina. This could be caused by an infection or eating too many sugary foods. The vagina houses a delicate ecosystem of helpful bacteria called lactobacilli which keep the growth of any harmful microorganisms down. In turn this keeps the pH levels of the vagina balanced and inhospitable to fungus, bacteria and protozoa (one-celled organisms). Mostly this delicate balance is upset when foreign bacteria or parasites find their way into the vagina. This reduces the vagina's defenses and allows the 'bad' microorganisms to grow out of control. But other factors can disturb the balance and these include: bad diet, the overuse of antibiotics, taking oral contraceptives or medications used to decrease estrogen levels, douching, pregnancy and the body being run down after an illness. See also causes of yeast infections.

Other causes of vaginitis include:

1. Allergic reaction to many substances including perfumed soaps, tampons or synthetic fabrics.
2. Allergic reaction to partner's seminal fluid.
3. Intercourse with an infected partner.
4. Hormone changes related to menopause.
5. Cuts and abrasions which occur due to surgery, childbirth or intercourse becoming infected.
6. Skin changes due to psoriasis.
7. Forgetting to take out a diaphragm contraceptive or tampon.
8. Stress and lack of sleep can lower the body's resistance to infection

What Types Are There?

Below is a list of the most common types of vaginitis. It is important to note that more than one infection can occur at the same time.

Bacterial Vaginosis
This is the most common type of vaginitis in America (image). It is caused by a variety of different bacteria which produce similar symptoms: a gray/white or yellow, fish-smelling discharge that can worsen after intercourse or washing with soap. There may or may not be irritation or itchiness.

Yeast Infections
The second most common type is vaginitis is a yeast infection (images). There are a few types of yeast infections but the one most likely to cause vaginitis symptoms is caused by Candida overgrowth (specifically candida albicans). Symptoms include a white-thick discharge which may smell yeasty like bread. This is usually accompanied by itching and burning. The vulva may also appear red and swollen.

Also called trichomoniasis, this is third most common type of vaginitis and is cause by a one-celled parasite called trichomonas vaginalis. It is transmitted sexually making it a form of STD. Symptoms include: a white/greenish discharge as well as itching.

Cytolytic Vaginosis
A specific organism has not been identified for causing this type of vaginitis, but it may simply result for an overgrowth of lactobacilli. Symptoms include itching, skin irritation around the vulva and a thick white discharge. Symptoms may worsen during the second half of the menstruation cycle.

Atrophic Vaginitis
Postmenopause women experience a decline in the hormone estrogen which can cause the lining of the vaginal wall to thin (known as vaginal atrophy or senile vaginitis). This can make the vaginal area more susceptible to infections. Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include a watery greenish yellow discharge and itching.

How Is Vaginitis Diagnosed?

Vaginitis diagnosis: As symptoms are very similar, it can be difficult to differentiate between the types of vaginitis. One problem is that the 3 most common types have over-lapping symptoms. To further confuse matters, some women have unusual symptoms while others experience none at all. Vaginitis can cause serious distress, particularly if it is persistent or recurring. Unfortunately doctors are prone to treating the condition as relatively trivial. This can lead to a quick diagnosis as soon a woman mentions vaginal discharge and itching. This can be frustrating, because a yeast infection for example requires different treatment to a bacterial infection. Symptoms will persist or worsen if incorrectly treated. A doctor can easily obtain a correct diagnosis by carrying out a few simple clinical tests.

What is Recurrent Vaginitis?
If you have four or more occurrences of vaginitis a year, this is medically diagnosed as recurrent vaginitis.

How Is It Treated?

Vaginitis treatment: Depending on the type of vaginitis diagnosed there are specific medications available. Sometimes it is necessary for a partner to also receive treatment. Some women choose to self-treat initially using over the counter remedies, including Betadine douches (ready-mixed douching liquids available in most pharmacies) and sitz baths. Some find quick relief with acidifying gels like Aci-Jel and non-prescription creams with corticosteroid. See also our article on yeast infections natural remedies.

Can It Be Prevented?

Vaginitis prevention: Some basic health routines can certainly help prevent vaginitis and vulva irritation. These include:

• Eating a nutritious diet
• Having plenty of sleep and exercise
• Keeping the vulva area as dry and clean as possible
• Avoiding wearing tight fitting jeans and pants
• Avoiding perfumed soaps, tampons and sanitary towels
• Use all-cotton underpants to allow better 'breathing' in the vaginal area
• After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back (image)

  Other Useful Guides

Recommended Health Screenings For Women: List for all ages.
Female Body: How it works, systems, organs and what can go wrong.
Urinary System: How urine is made and expelled from the body.
Female Health Questions: Hundreds of Q&As on popular topics.
Reproductive System Disorders: Other causes of vaginal discharge listed.

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