Lisa Savage, MD


Article: Vaganitis: Causes and Treatments

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Vaginitis is an inflammation of a woman's vagina. As many as one third of women will have symptoms of vaginitis sometime during their lives. Vaginitis affects women of all ages but is most common during the reproductive years.

The Vagina

It is normal for a small amount of clear or cloudy white fluid to pass from a woman's vagina. This keeps the tissue moist and healthy. The vagina holds organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, in balance so it can function normally.


To diagnose vaginitis, your doctor will take a sample of the discharge from your vagina and look at it under a microscope. Your doctor also may suggest other tests. To ensure the results of the test are accurate, do not douche or use any vaginal medications or spermicide before you see your doctor.


Treatment will depend on the cause of the vaginitis. Treatment may be either with a pill or a cream or gel that is applied to the vagina.

Types of Vaginitis

Yeast Infection

Yeast infection also is known as candidiasis. It is one of the most common types of vaginal infection.

Yeast infection is caused by a fungus called Candida. It is found in small numbers in the normal vagina. However, when the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina is altered, the yeast may overgrow and cause symptoms.

The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are itching and burning of the area outside the vagina called the vulva. The burning may be worse with urination or sex. The vaginal discharge usually is white, lumpy, and has no odor.

Yeast infections can be treated either by placing medication into the vagina or by taking a pill. In most cases, treatment of male sex partners is not necessary.

Bacterial Vaginosis

The bacteria that cause bacterial vaginosis occur naturally in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is caused by overgrowth of these bacteria.

The main symptom is increased discharge with a strong fishy odor. The odor may be stronger during your menstrual period or after sex. The discharge usually is thin and dark or dull gray, but may have a greenish color.

Several different antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial vaginosis, but there are two that are most commonly used: metronidazole and clindamycin. They can be taken by mouth or inserted into the vagina as a cream or gel.


Trichomoniasis is a condition caused by the microscopic parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. It is spread through sex. Women who have trichomoniasis are at an increased risk of infection with other STDs.

Signs of trichomoniasis may include a yellow-gray or green vaginal discharge. The discharge may have a fishy odor. There may be burning, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva. Sometimes there is pain during urination.

Trichomoniasis usually is treated with a single dose of metronidazole by mouth. Do not drink alcohol for 24 hours after taking this drug because it causes nausea and vomiting. Sexual partners must be treated to prevent the infection from recurring.

Atrophic Vaginitis

This condition is not caused by an infection but can cause a discharge and vaginal irritation. It may occur any time when female hormone levels are low such as during breastfeeding and after menopause. Symp-toms include dryness and burning. Atrophic vaginitis is treated with estrogen, which can be applied as a vaginal cream, ring, or tablet. A water-soluble lubricant also may be helpful during intercourse.


At the first sign of any abnormal discharge or symptoms of vaginitis, such as burning or itching, contact your doctor. Although vaginitis can cause discomfort, it almost always can be treated once the cause has been found.

This excerpt from ACOG's Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

To ensure the information is current and accurate, ACOG titles are reviewed every 18 months.

Copyright © Dr. Lisa Savage, MD. All rights reserved.