Most women experience a vaginal problem at some point in their life. Many assume the itching or vaginal discharge is caused by a yeast infection and then use an over-the-counter medicine. However, two-thirds of women who self-diagnose actually misdiagnose a vaginal infection.
Vaginitis is the general term for the various conditions that cause vaginal infections. Different types of vaginitis have different causes and the necessary treatment is specific to the type. A physical examination and laboratory tests are typically required for a correct diagnosis.
There are several common vaginal infections:
Vaginal yeast infection is a common cause of vaginal irritation. Yeast infections are caused by one of the many species of fungus called candida. It’s normal for small numbers of candida to live in the vagina. The symptoms include cottage-cheese like vaginal discharge, pain during sexual intercourse, redness, itching, burning, soreness, swelling, and general vaginal irritation.
Another common vaginal infection is bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV reflects a change in the vaginal ecosystem. This occurs when abnormal bacteria outnumber the normal ones. The most common symptom is a fish-like vaginal odor, as well as an abnormal vaginal discharge that is gray or white and can be foamy or watery. There may be burning during urination or itching around the vagina. Up to 50 percent of women with BV don’t have any symptoms.
Trichomoniasis vaginitis is another vaginal infection. Sometimes referred to as “trich,” it’s a sexually transmitted infection (STI). While some women don't experience any symptoms, trich can cause a frothy, greenish-yellow discharge with a foul smell, itching and soreness of the vagina and vulva, as well as burning during urination. There can also be discomfort in the lower abdomen and pain during intercourse.
Chlamydia is another sexually transmitted form of vaginitis. Unfortunately, most women with chlamydia infection don’t have symptoms. Vaginal discharge is sometimes present. More often, women experience light bleeding, especially after intercourse, and have pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis. A doctor should screen for chlamydia during an annual checkup.
Viral vaginitis is another type of vaginal infection. Several sexually transmitted viruses cause vaginitis, including the herpes simplex virus and the human papilloma virus (HPV). A doctor can look for these during a gynecologic exam and by doing a Pap test.
Although each of these vaginal infections can have different symptoms, it isn’t easy to determine the exact cause. Don’t rely on self-diagnosis when it comes to a vaginal infection. Call your doctor with any changes in vaginal discharge, itching, burning, swelling or soreness around the vagina.
www.idph.state.il.us – Illinois Department of Public Health
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