Vaginitis is a medical term that is used to refer to any infection or inflammation of the vagina. The symptoms of vaginitis are common and most women will have at least one form of vaginitis in their lifetime. Even though vaginitis is so common, many women know little about it. The term "yeast infection" is what most women think of when they hear the word vaginitis. However, a yeast infection is only one kind of vaginal infection. Vaginitis can be caused by several different organisms, sometimes at the same time, as well as by hormonal changes, allergies, or irritations.

Because vaginitis can have many causes, it is important to see your doctor or other health care professional so that the proper cause can be identified and the correct treatment can be prescribed. Once started, the medication should be used exactly according to your doctor's instructions in order to cure the vaginitis. The symptoms may go away before you finish the medication. Even so, you should complete the therapy to help ensure a cure. Vaginitis can sometimes be a sign of other health problems. Knowing more about the signs and symptoms of this common condition will help you and your health care provider make a proper diagnosis.

What is vaginitis?

"Vaginitis" is a word that is used to describe disorders that cause infection or inflammation ("itis" means inflammation) of the vagina. Vulvovaginitis refers to inflammation of both the vagina and vulva (the external female genitals). These conditions can result from an infection caused by organisms such as bacteria, yeast, or viruses, as well as by irritations from chemicals in creams, sprays, or even clothing that are in contact with this area. In some cases, vaginitis results from organisms that are passed between sexual partners.

How do I know if I have vaginitis?

The common symptoms of vaginitis are itching, burning, and vaginal discharge that is different from your normal secretions. The itching and burning can be inside the vagina or on the skin or vulva just outside the vagina. Discomfort during urination or sexual intercourse may also occur. If everyone with vaginitis had these symptoms, then the diagnosis would be fairly simple. However, it is important to realize that as many as 4 out of every 10 women with vaginitis may not have these typical symptoms. Frequently, a routine gynecologic exam will confirm vaginitis even if symptoms are not present. This is one reason why it is important to have a gynecologic exam at least every 2 years

Is vaginal discharge normal?

A women's vagina normally produces a discharge that is usually described as clear or slightly cloudy, non-irritating, and odor-free. During the normal menstrual cycle the amount and consistency of discharge vary. At one time of the month there may be a small amount of a very thin or watery discharge and at another time, a more extensive thicker discharge may appear. All of these descriptions could be considered normal.

A vaginal discharge that has an odor or that is irritating is usually an abnormal discharge. The irritation might be itching or burning or both. The burning could feel like a bladder infection. The itching may be present at any time of the day but it is often most bothersome at night. Both of these symptoms are usually made worse by sexual intercourse. It is important to see a doctor or clinician if there has been a change in the amount, appearance, or smell of the discharge.