Causes of Vaginitis

Bacterial Vaginosis

Although a yeast infection is the type of vaginitis most women recognize by name, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is actually the most common vaginal infection in women of reproductive age. Bacterial vaginosis will often cause a vaginal discharge. The discharge is usually thin and milky, and is described as having a fish-like odor. This odor may become more noticeable after intercourse.
Redness and itching of the vagina are not common symptoms of bacterial vaginosis. It is important to note that many women with BV have no symptoms at all, and the vaginitis is only discovered during a routine gynecologic exam.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by a combination of several bacteria. These bacteria seem to overgrow much the same way as Candida does when the vaginal balance is upset. The exact reason for this overgrowth is not known.
Since BV is caused by bacteria, not by yeast, it is easy to see that different methods are needed to treat the different infections. A medicine that is appropriate for yeast is not effective against the bacteria that cause bacterial vaginosis.

Trichomoniasis, Chlamydia, and Viral Vaginitis

Other common causes of vaginitis include trichomoniasis, chlamydia, and viral vaginitis.
Trichomoniasis, commonly called "trich" (pronounced "trick"), is caused by a tiny single-celled organism known as a protozoan. When this organism infects the vagina, it can cause a frothy, greenish-yellow discharge. This discharge often has a foul smell.
Women with trichomonal vaginitis may complain of itching and soreness of the vagina and vulva, as well as burning during urination. In addition, there can be discomfort in the lower abdomen and vaginal pain with intercourse. These symptoms may be worse after the menstrual period.
Many women, however, do not develop any symptoms. It is important to understand that this type of vaginitis can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. For treatment to be effective, the sexual partner must be treated at the same time as the patient.
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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