Vaginitis

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Vaginitis is a name for swelling, itching, burning or infection in the vagina that can be caused my several different germs. The most common kinds of vaginitis are bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast, a fungus. Sometimes trichomoniasis (trich, pronounced "trick") is called vaginitis too. Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasitic protozoa called Trichomonas vaginalis. Read more about trichomoniasis here.

Vaginitis is very common. Most women will have some kind of vaginitis at least once in their lives. Vaginitis is not always caused by a sexually transmitted infection. Women who are not sexually active may develop BV or yeast infections. Most of the time these infections are caused by an upset in the balance of bacteria that is normal in the vagina. Trichomoniasis on the other hand is sexually transmitted and it will be important for sex partners to be treated so it is not passed back and forth.


The healthy vagina has a balance of many different kinds of bacteria. "Good" bacteria help keep the vagina a little-bit acidic. This keeps "bad" bacteria from growing too fast. A healthy vagina makes a mucus-like discharge that may look clear or a little milky, depending on the time of a woman's monthly cycle. When the balance between the "good" bacteria and the "bad" bacteria is upset, "bad" bacteria grow too fast and cause infections. Discharge may have a funny color or a bad smell. Sometimes these "bad" bacteria and other germs that cause vaginitis can be spread through sex. Other things that can upset the balance of the vagina are:


If you have symptoms of vaginitis, see your healthcare provider for a correct diagnosis. To help your provider find out what you have:

There are steps you can take to prevent vaginitis:

Vaginitis is rarely dangerous. In most women, it is easy to treat. But if you are pregnant, an infection may cause special problems for you and your baby. Talking with your healthcare provider is a good way to find out more information and to stay healthy.

FAQs about BV

What are the symptoms?

Some cases of BV are so mild that women don't know they have it. If a woman does have symptoms, they may include:
  • a strong fishy smell, especially after sex
  • white or grey discharge
  • watery or foamy discharge

How is BV diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of vaginitis, see your healthcare provider for a correct diagnosis. To help your provider find out what you have:

  • Schedule the exam when you're not having your monthly period.
  • Don't douche 24 hours before your exam.
  • Don't use vaginal sprays 24 hours before your exam.
  • If you have sex less than 24 hours before the exam, use condoms.

Any three of the following may be used to diagnose BV. Other tests may also be available, ask your healthcare provider for more information.

  • Visual exam by healthcare provider
  • Fishy odor of discharge before or after the addition of potassium hydroxide (KOH) for "whiff" test
  • Health care provider looks at sample of discharge under microscope looking for "clue cells"
  • Elevated pH of vaginal fluid
  • Gram stain to examine vaginal flora

How is BV treated?

BV is treated with prescription medication, usually antibiotics, depending on the organism causing the infection is used to treat and/or cure BV. Treatments may include:
  • Metronidazole (Flagyl)
  • Clindamycin
In most cases male sex partners do not need to be treated.

What if I am pregnant?

BV may cause babies to be born early or with low birth weight. It can also cause infections in the mother's womb or fallopian tubes. If you think you might be pregnant, talk with your health care provider. Women in the first three months of pregnancy should not take some medicines for BV because they might hurt the baby. Your health care provider can give you another medicine instead.

FAQs about Yeast Infections

What are the symptoms?


  • Thick, white "cottage cheese" discharge
  • Pain, itching, burning, or redness around the vagina
  • A smell like baking bread

How is a yeast infection diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of vaginitis, including a yeast infection, see your healthcare provider for a correct diagnosis. To help your provider find out what you have:

  • Schedule the exam when you're not having your monthly period.
  • Don't douche 24 hours before your exam.
  • Don't use vaginal sprays 24 hours before your exam.
  • If you have sex less than 24 hours before the exam, use condoms.

The healthcare provider can use a procedure called a wet mount where a sample of discharge is put on a slide with saline solution and looked at under a microscope.


What is the treatment for a yeast infection?

Yeast infections can be treated with antifungal medications such as:

  • Butoconazole
  • Clotrimazole
  • Miconazole
  • Tioconazole
  • Terconazole

WARNING: Some yeast medicines make latex condoms and diaphragms weak and more likely to break. If you use a condom or diaphragm, ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider which medicine you should use.


What if I am pregnant?

Yeast infections are common in pregnant women. Yeast infections do not hurt the baby. Most yeast medicines sold in drug stores are safe to use during pregnancy. Talk to your healthcare provider about them.