Vaginitis, the term most commonly used for vaginal infections, is an inflammation of the vagina. This condition is very common, and around one third of all women will develop this condition at least once in their lives.
Different types of vaginitis are listed below. Always make sure to consult your doctor if you notice discomfort in your vaginal area. Such infections could be symptoms of more serious health conditions, such as diabetes.
Trichomoniasis is caused by Trichomonas vaginalis, a microscopic parasite that is spread through sexual activity. Symptoms include a yellow-gray or green vaginal discharge which may smell like fish. Burning, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva could occur as well. Your doctor will prescribe a treatment to cure this infection.
Back to top
Bacterial Vaginosis occurs when there is an overgrowth of the naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina, called Gardnerella vaginalis. Indication of this infection is a more than usual amount of discharge that is dark or gray (sometimes green), and omits a strong fishy odor.
Itching and pain can be less severe than with other infections, but can still be quite bothersome. To treat this infection, antibiotics are available. Two of the most common ones are "metronidazole" and "clindamycin," which can be taken orally or inserted into the vagina.
Back to top
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
PID is an infection of the reproductive organs in a woman. It is caused by different sexually transmitted diseases, usually untreated Chlamydia or gonorrhea.
The untreated infection spreads up from the vagina into the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. In severe cases, the infection can go up into the abdominal cavity and the pelvis.
PID is very serious and can make it impossible for women to have children, or can cause a tubal pregnancy (fetus develops in a fallopian tube instead of in the uterus). This is so because the infection can leave scarring of the normal structures.
PID seems to be more common in women who use an IUD to prevent pregnancy, have many sexual partners, and/or who douche.
Like other STIs, women may have no symptoms at all until the infection has gotten very bad. When there are symptoms, they may include:
- An unusual yellow or white discharge from the vagina
- Bleeding between periods and right after sex
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain during pelvic exams
- Abdominal or pelvic pain not associated with just periods
- Heavy or painful periods (more so than usual)
- Cramps, fever, chills, and nausea
PID is diagnosed after a good history and exam by your medical provider. This will include a pelvic exam and testing for STIs. It may also include an ultrasound of the pelvis to look for the extent of the infection or check for an abscess.
It is best to diagnose the infection at its earliest, most treatable stages. Treatment includes antibiotics – oral or IV if the infection is advanced or extensive. Some very severe infections require hospital treatment.
Also, advanced infection may need to be treated with surgery to remove areas of infection or pus in the belly. This may also include reproductive organs that are badly damaged by infection.
PID is preventable – anything that will help prevent any STIs will prevent this. Make sure you are frequently tested for STIs whenever you change partners or have any concern about symptoms.
Back to top
Written By: Gergana Mishkova,
public health education intern
Reviewed By: Elizabeth W. Lee, MD.
Last Reviewed: August 23, 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), Planned Parenthood.
FAQs: Vaginitis, The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists
For More Information:
See our Yeast Infections article.