Causes of Vaginitis

In many cases, vaginitis is caused by an infection due to organisms like yeast, viruses, or bacteria. Chemical irritation (resulting from perfumed soaps, laundry detergents, or other products) can also lead to vaginitis. Other causes include hormonal changes, such as those that occur during menopause or after surgery to remove the ovaries.

Vaginitis -- What Causes It?

The six most common causes of vaginitis are:
Although each of these causes of vaginitis can have different symptoms, it is not always easy for a patient to figure out which type of vaginitis she has. In fact, diagnosis can even be tricky for an experienced healthcare provider. This is due to the fact more than one type of vaginitis can be present at the same time. Also, vaginitis can be present without any symptoms at all.

Candida or "Yeast" Infections

Yeast infections of the vagina are what most women think of when they hear the term "vaginitis." They are caused by one of the many species of fungus called Candida. Candida is normally present in small numbers in the vagina, as well as in the mouth and digestive tract of both men and women.
Yeast infections produce a thick, white vaginal discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese. Although the discharge can be somewhat watery, it is odorless. Yeast infections usually cause the vagina and the vulva to be itchy and red.
Since yeast is normal in a woman's vagina, what makes it cause an infection? Usually, this happens when a change occurs in the delicate balance of a woman's system. For example, a woman may take an antibiotic to treat a urinary tract infection and the antibiotic kills the "friendly" bacteria in the vagina that normally keep the yeast in balance. As a result, the yeast overgrows and causes the infection.
Other factors that can upset the delicate balance include:
  • Pregnancy, which changes hormone levels
  • Diabetes, which allows too much sugar to be present in the urine and vagina.
Risk Factors for Vaginal Candida Infections
Some of the factors that put a woman at risk for Candida infections include:
  • A recent course of antibiotics
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • High-estrogen contraceptives
  • Immunosuppression (weakened immune system)
  • Thyroid or endocrine disorders
  • Corticosteroid therapy.
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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