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Vaginitis (Vaginal Infection or Irritation)

What is vaginitis?

Vaginitis refers to any inflammation or infection of the vagina. This is a common gynecological problem found in women of all ages, with one-third of women having at least one form of vaginitis at some time during their lives. The vagina is the muscular passageway between the uterus and the external genital area. When the walls of the vagina become inflamed, because some irritant has disturbed the balance of the vaginal area, vaginitis can occur.

The most common types of vaginitis are:

  • Candida or "yeast" infection
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Trichomoniasis vaginitis
  • Chlamydia vaginitis
  • Gonococcal vaginitis
  • Viral vaginitis
  • Noninfectious vaginitis

Each of these types of infection has a different cause and can present different symptoms, making diagnosis often complicated. In addition, more than one type of vaginitis may be present at the same time, with or without symptoms being present.

What causes vaginitis?

Bacteria, yeast, viruses, and chemicals in creams, sprays, or even clothing can cause vaginitis. Sometimes, vaginitis occurs from organisms that are passed between sexual partners. In addition, the vaginal environment is influenced by a number of different factors including a woman’s health, her personal hygiene, medications, hormones (particularly estrogen), and the health of her sexual partner. A disturbance in any of these factors can trigger vaginitis.

How is vaginitis distinct from normal, healthy vaginal discharge?

It is normal for all women to have some discharge from the vagina. Depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle, normal discharge is either thick and whitish, or slippery and clear. There is little odor and no itching or burning. However, vaginal discharge changes can signal a vaginal, cervical, or sexually transmitted infection. They include changes in color, quantity, or texture of the fluid; an unpleasant odor; bleeding, spotting, or bloody discoloration; or itching and burning of the vagina or vulva.