Common Female Infections
Protecting Yourself from Infections
A vaginal infection is the most common gynecological condition that brings a woman to her doctor's office. It is diagnosed based on the presence of various signs and symptoms like abnormal discharge, vulva irritation, and vaginal discomfort. Under normal circumstances, vaginal discharge (clear, milky, and non-odorous) exists as the body's way of maintaining a healthy, normal environment. Changes in quantity, color, and smell, can be caused by an imbalance in the healthy vaginal bacteria resulting in an inflammation (vaginitis). In women who are symptomatic, annual statistics indicate that the most common cause of vaginitis is bacterial vaginosis (40 to 45 percent) followed by vaginal yeast infection or candidiasis (20 to 25 percent). However, a striking 45 percent of women suffering from vaginitis go undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated. Vulvitis, inflammation of the vulva (external genitalia), is not a condition or disease but a symptom, which is caused by infections, allergies, injuries, or other external irritants.
Overview of Vaginal Inflammation and Common Infections
There are many common female infections that affect fertility and reproductive system health. Among these are vaginitis, vulvitis, bacterial vaginosis, and candidiasis. Vaginitis is inflammation and/or infection of the vagina, whereas vulvitis is inflammation and/or infection of the vulva. Bacterial vaginosis is a common form of vaginitis that is caused by an imbalance of the vaginal bacterial flora. Candidiasis is caused by yeast organisms called Candida albicans.
Vaginitis, an inflammation of the vagina, is often caused by factors such as changes in the normal balance of the vaginal bacteria, bacteria, yeast, or reduced estrogen levels that occur after menopause. This condition can result in vaginal discharge, genital itching, and perineal pain.
Types of Vagnitis
Two of the most common types of vaginitis include:
- Bacterial vaginosis: Resulting from overgrowth of one of the many, normal vaginal organisms.
- Candidiasis: Also known as a yeast infection, this is caused by a natural fungus, known as Candida albicans.
Symptoms of Vaginitis
Vaginitis symptoms may include:
- Abnormal changes in odor, color, and/or quantity of vaginal discharge.
- Vaginal or vulvar irritation and itching.
- Painful urination.
- Painful intercourse.
- Light spotting or irregular bleeding from the vagina.
Vulvitis, an inflammation of the vulva (external genitalia), is not a condition or disease per se. Rather, it is a symptom resulting from various causes, such as infections, allergies, injuries, and external irritants. For example, vaginitis or genital herpes are often associated with vulvitis, a common symptom.
Risk Factors for Vulvitis
Risk factors for vulvitis include:
- Oral sex.
- Bacterial and/or fungal infections.
- Swimming pools/hot tubs.
- Horseback/bicycle riding.
- Allergic reactions to scented soaps, shampoos, bubble baths, deodorants, powders, sanitary napkins, douches, synthetic panties, pantyhose, and topical medications.
- Diabetes (elevates infection susceptibility).
- Perimenopause/menopause (vulva is thinner, drier, and/or less elastic due to reduced estrogen levels).
- Pre-puberty (inadequate hormonal levels).
- Allergy sufferer.
- Sensitive skin.
Symptoms of Vulvitis
Common symptoms of vulvitis include:
- Clear, fluid filled blisters.
- Thick and/or white patches.
Treatments for Vulvitis
Treatments vary according to cause. Several methods are available, including prescription medications and home remedies:
- Prescription hydrocortisone creams.
- Anti-fungal creams.
- Topical estrogen (post-menopausal women).
- Soothing Aveeno lotion and/or tea baths.
- Keep area clean and dry.
- Hot boric acid compresses.
- Cold compresses.
- Calamine lotion.
- Stop any product(s) that may be contributing to the symptom(s).
- Use sterile lubricants during sexual intercourse.
- Reduce stress.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Adequate sleep.
Bacterial vaginosis, a mild bacterial vaginal infection, occurs when normal vaginal bacterial balances are adversely affected. There are not sufficient amounts of good bacteria. Instead, there are too much bad bacteria present. This condition is typically mild in nature, clearing up within a few days with no treatment needed. However, it can develop into more serious problems. So, getting treatment is recommended.
Risk Factors for Bacterial Vaginosis
Most common in sexually active women, bacterial vaginosis is not considered to be contagious. It is not really known why the vaginal bacteria get out of balance. There are certain risk factors including:
- New sex partner and/or multiple sex partners.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
Approximately 50 percent of women do not notice any signs or symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, but the most common symptom is a smelly vaginal discharge that:
- May appear gray, white, or yellow.
- May smell "fishy" (worsens after intercourse)
Treatment for Bacterial Vaginosis
Treatment generally includes antibiotics available in oral pill, topical cream, or vaginal ovules formats. This infection usually gets better within two to three days, but treatment continues for seven days. Antibiotics have few side effects, but taking them may result in a vaginal yeast infection. Common antibiotics used for this condition include:
Candidiasis is defined as an infection caused by excessive growth of yeast organisms (Candida albicans) within the vagina. While yeast infections are more common in childbearing aged women, they can develop in all ages.
Risk Factors for Candidiasis
Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of contracting candidiasis, including:
- Certain medications: Antibiotics, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, or corticosteroids.
- Wearing tight clothing.
- Immune system issues.
Symptoms of Candidiasis
Common symptoms include:
- Pain during urination or intercourse.
- Thick, white vaginal discharge.
While the above symptoms are bothersome and uncomfortable, yeast infections rarely lead to other more serious health problems. Vaginal yeast infections often go away with no treatment, but persistent cases are treated with antifungal creams, ointments, tablets, or suppositories, as a single application or for a period of one to three days.
Commonly used medications include:
- eMedicine (2013). Vaginitis. Retrieved from: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/257141-overview
- WebMD (2013). Bacterial vagninosis. Retrieved from:http://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/tc/bacterial-vaginosis-topic-overview
- WebMD (2013). Vaginal yeast infection. Retrieved from:http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/vaginal-yeast-infection
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