What Is Vaginitis? What Causes Vaginitis?

Vaginitis means inflammation of the vagina. In most cases it is due to a fungal infection. The patient typically has a discharge, itching, burning, and possibly pain. It is frequently linked to an irritation or infection of the vulva. Vaginitis is a very common condition. It is especially common in women with diabetes.

The vagina is the muscular canal from the cervix to the outside of the body. It has an average length of about six to seven inches. The walls of the vagina are lined with mucus membrane.

People frequently refer to the vagina when really they mean the vulva or female genitals generally - strictly speaking the vagina is a specific internal structure. The only part of the vagina that can be normally viewed from the outside (without any instruments or carrying out a pelvic examination) is the vaginal opening.The rest of the area are parts of the vulva, which include the labia majora, mons pubis, labia minora, clitoris, bulb of the vestibule, vestibule of the vagina, etc.

According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary:

Vaginitis is Inflammation of the vagina.

There are several types of vaginitis. The most common are:
  • Atrophic vaginitis (or senile vaginitis) - the endothelium, the lining of the vagina, gets thinner when estrogen levels go down during the menopause. This makes the lining more susceptible to irritation and inflammation.
  • Bacterial vaginosis - caused by overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina. Patients usually have less of the normal vaginal bacteria called lactobacilli.
  • Trichomoniasis - sometimes referred to as trich. It is a sexually transmitted single-celled protozoan parasite Trichonomas vaginalis. It may infect other parts of the urogenital tract, including the urethra (where urine comes out of) as well as the vagina.
  • Candida albicans - this yeast-like fungal organism is what causes thrush. It exists in small amounts in the gut and is normally kept in check by bacteria.

What are the symptoms of vaginitis?

A symptom is something the patient feels and reports, while a sign is something other people, such as the doctor detect. For example, pain may be a symptom while a rash may be a sign.

The hallmark symptoms of vaginitis include itching, burning and a discharge.
  • Irritation of the genital area
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Inflammation - redness, swelling of the labia majora, labia minora and perineal area; mainly because of the presence of extra immune cells.
  • Dysuria - pain or discomfort when urinating
  • Dyspareunia - painful sexual intercourse
  • Foul vaginal odor

What causes vaginitis?

Vulvovaginitis - inflammation of the vagina and vulva - can affect all women of all ages from every socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
Infectious vaginitis makes up 90% of all cases in post-pubescent females. Infectious vaginitis includes candidiasis, bacterial vaginosis and trichmonisasis. Less commonly vaginitis may also be caused by gonnrrhea, Chlamydia, mycoplasma, herpes, campylobacter, some parasites and poor hygiene.

Young girls, before they reach puberty, may also develop vaginitis, but the cause is often different from those for older females. While streptococcus spp causes bacterial vaginosis in pre-pubescent girls, for post-pubescent females it is Gardnerella (both are types of bacteria). Improper hygiene in pre-pubescent girls can transfer bacteria and/or other irritants to the vaginal area from the anal region. Pre-pubescent girls do not usually get yeast infection because their pH balance is different from older women's.

An allergic reaction can cause vaginitis. For example, some women may be allergic to condoms, spermicides, certain soaps and perfumes, douches, topical medications, lubricants, and even semen. Irritation from a tampon can cause vaginitis in some women.

How is vaginitis diagnosed?

The doctor, usually a GP (general practitioner, primary care physician) will carry out a physical examination and ask the patient questions regarding her medical history. A sample of discharge may be taken to try to determine the cause of the inflammation.

Vaginitis is diagnosed by checking vaginal fluid appearance, vaginal pH levels, the presence of volatile amines (the gas that causes a bad smell) and the microscopic detection of specific cells.

What is the treatment for vaginitis?

The type of treatment recommended depends on the cause of the infection, and may include topical (applied onto the skin) or oral antibiotics, antifungals, or antibacterial creams.

Cortisone cream may be prescribed if irritation symptoms are severe.

An antihistamine may be given if the doctor determines that the inflammation has been caused by an allergic reaction.

If the vaginitis was caused by low estrogen levels, a topical estrogen cream may be recommended.

Sometimes treatment is needed to restore vaginal flora balance, which may have been altered after treatment for an infection. Vaginal flora refers to a balance of bacteria in the vagina that has significant implications for a woman's overall health.

How can vaginitis be prevented?

Good hygiene - keep vaginal area clean. Use a mild soap (without irritants).

Avoid douching and irritating agents - many are present in hygiene sprays, soaps, and other feminine products.

Avoid wiping from your bottom to your vagina (do it the other way round).

Wear loose clothing.


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