Vaginitis is a common condition where the vagina becomes inflamed and irritated, and often includes symptoms such as an itching sensation and abnormal discharge. Various factors can cause the inflammation, including a bacterial imbalance in the vagina, or an infection. Sometimes, a pre-existing skin condition can cause vaginitis. There are several types of this condition, which have different symptoms and treatments. Certain people are more at risk of contracting the condition than others.
The symptoms of can vary. Usually, there will be an abnormal discharge that may smell unpleasant. The amount of discharge may be greater than usual and a different color. Pain or itching of the skin inside and around the vagina often occurs, and urination may be painful. If the vagina is very irritated, there may also be some bleeding.
Often, the condition is caused a yeast infection called thrush. Affected individuals will notice a thick, white discharge and itching. Alternatively, a bacterial infection may be the cause, and in this case, the condition is called bacterial vaginosis. This version often causes discharge with a distinctive, fish-like smell. It can also be caused by sexually transmitted diseases such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. Washing the skin around the vagina with harsh or highly scented products, and vaginal douching can also cause vaginitis.
Some people are more prone than others. Women who are pregnant or going through the menopause may develop vaginitis more frequently due to hormonal changes. Some medications make developing the condition more likely, including certain antibiotics. Women with diabetes are also at a higher risk. Other risk factors include contraception such as spermicides and IUD devices.
When diagnosing vaginitis, a doctor will ask for a description of the symptoms and review the woman's medical history. He or she may perform a vaginal exam to look for visual signs of vaginitis such as inflammation or discharge. Where discharge is present, the doctor may collect a sample for laboratory testing. Testing the pH level of the fluid inside the vagina can also assist the diagnosis by identifying the type and correct treatment option.
Often, the condition clears up on its own, but sometimes medications can speed recovery. For example, doctors may prescribe anti-fungal medications for a yeast infection. Medications often come in the form of pessaries or creams to be applied inside and around the vagina. If the condition is due to hormonal changes associated with menopause, a doctor may prescribe supplementary estrogen to help prevent future issues.
Some types of vaginitis require medication, but yeast infections can often be treated at home if the woman is already familiar with the symptoms and is confident that this is the cause. Creams and pessaries can be purchased from a pharmacy without a prescription and applied at home. Women with yeast infections may also find relief from cool compresses, which can reduce irritation and itching.
Several simple measures can help prevent vaginitis in the first place. Highly scented body washes or sanitary products can irritate. Women should avoid douching, as this can lead to bacterial imbalances. After using the toilet, wiping from front to back can help prevent bacteria entering the vagina. Wearing underwear made from a breathable material such as cotton can also lower the risk of developing the condition.
Fortunately, most episodes of vaginitis clear up without any complications. However, the condition can make it easier to contract a sexually transmitted infection because of irritation to the skin around the vagina. Pregnant women with bacterial vaginosis run the risk of premature delivery and, in rare cases, lower birth weight in the baby.
Vaginitis can make contracting a sexually transmitted disease more likely. As such, women with the condition should take particular care to use a barrier method of contraception such as condoms to protect against STIs. Vaginitis can make sex uncomfortable, and many women prefer to avoid intercourse until the condition clears up. Lubricants can make sex more comfortable and reduce irritation.
Women who have never had vaginitis before should see a doctor before trying to treat it themselves, to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other causes. Any strong-smelling or fishy odor also needs to be assessed by a doctor. Women should also see a doctor if they believe their symptoms are due to a sexually transmitted infection. If the condition does not improve despite medication, it may require further medical investigation.
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