Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina resulting from an infection. It can cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
There are different types of vaginitis, depending on the cause. The most common types include:
Bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is a bacterial infection that stems from an overgrowth of healthy vaginal bacteria. This can happen when something changes the vagina’s pH level, such as douching. BV isn’t a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but sex with a new partner or multiple partners can increase someone’s risk for developing it. BV may cause white or gray discharge, but it doesn’t always cause symptoms.
Yeast infection. A vaginal yeast infection happens when there’s an overgrowth of a type of yeast called Candida albicans in the vagina. Vaginal yeast infections are very common. Symptoms may include itching, inflammation, and a thick, white discharge that has the appearance of cottage cheese. Yeast infections can usually be treated using over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medication.
Trichomoniasis. Often referred to as “trich,” trichomoniasis is an STI caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. It often causes a green or yellow discharge with a fishy odor, as well as burning and redness. It’s treated with antibiotics. To avoid reinfection, both partners should be treated.
Vaginismus causes involuntary contractions of the vaginal muscles. The muscle contractions make penetration painful, if not impossible. It often begins when someone first attempts to have intercourse.
There’s no single cause, but it’s often linked to past sexual trauma or emotional factors. For some, the fear of painful sex due to vaginismus can make the muscles contract even more, leading to more pain.
STIs are transmitted through sexual contact and can affect the vagina and cause symptoms ranging from discharge to genital warts or sores. Some STIs don’t cause any symptoms and are only found during routine screening. Common STIs include:
Vaginal atrophy causes the tissues of the vagina to shrink and thin, which can narrow the canal and reduce its elasticity. It’s more common during menopause. During menopause, estrogen production drops, reducing the amount of vaginal fluids and interfering with the vagina’s pH.
Atrophy can also happen earlier in life due to other causes of decreased estrogen, such as breastfeeding, ovary removal, and certain medications. It can cause vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, and irritation.
Vaginal prolapse happens when the vagina stretches or expands, protruding onto other organs. It’s rare that it involves the vagina alone. The tissue that supports the uterus usually stretches as well, causing it to weaken during straining.
Vaginal childbirth, frequent pressure on the abdomen from obesity or strained bowel movements, and menopause can increase risk for prolapse.
There are different types of prolapse that can involve the vagina, including:
cystocele, which involves the front of the vagina and the bladder
rectocele, which involves the back of the vagina and rectum
enterocele, which involves the front of the vaginal wall and small bowel
Vaginal prolapse doesn’t always cause symptoms. But in some cases, it can cause a sense of fullness or heaviness in the pelvis. Others may feel a pulling sensation in the area.
Symptoms usually go away when someone lies down and might get worse when standing, having a bowel movement, or lifting something. Passing urine when sneezing, laughing, or coughing is also possible.
Vaginal cancer is very rareTrusted Source. There are different types of vaginal cancer, but the most common is squamous cell carcinoma that starts in the lining of the vagina. In its early stages, it may not cause any symptoms. But if it spreads, it can cause unusual vaginal bleeding, discharge, or a lump in the vagina.
Two-thirdsTrusted Source of vaginal cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). When found early, vaginal cancer can often be treated.
Symptoms of a vaginal condition
Symptoms of a vaginal condition can range from mild to severe and depend on the underlying cause.
The following are some common symptoms:
a change in the amount, color, or odor of vaginal discharge
irritation in or around the vagina
bleeding during or after sex
bleeding between periods
bleeding after menopause
Vaginal conditions usually respond best to treatment when caught early, so make sure to follow up with a doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.
Tips for vaginal health
While several conditions can affect the vagina, you can reduce your risk for developing many of them.
Follow these tips to lower your risk:
Avoid douching. The vagina naturally cleanses itself. Douching can upset the natural balance of bacteria and fungi, leading to an infection.
Avoid scented soaps and feminine hygiene products. Perfumes in scented hygiene products, such as soaps, pads, and wipes, can irritate the skin and disrupt the pH balance of the vagina. Opt for unscented products instead.
Be sexually responsible. Always use protection with new partners and make sure to follow up with regular STI testing.
Do Kegel exercises. These help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can help reduce your risk for vaginal prolapse and pelvic floor weakness. Learn how to do them.
Get vaccinated. Speak to your doctor about vaccinations to protect against HPV and hepatitis B, which can be transmitted through sex.
Get regular checkups. See your doctor for regular Pap smears and screenings for cervical cancer and HPV. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women ages 21 to 65 have cervical cancer screening with a Pap smear every three years. Women ages 30 to 65 can lengthen the screening interval to five years if they have HPV testing in combination with a Pap smear.