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Definition and Facts about Vaginal Infections

  • Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina, often due to vaginal infections that creates discharge, odor, irritation, or itching. It is difficult to diagnose because vaginitis has many causes. Women use a variety of over-the-counter medications to treat the itching, discharge, and discomfort of these conditions.
  • The vagina creates its own environment and maintains a balance among the normal bacteria found there and the hormonal changes in a woman's body. Vaginitis occurs when the vaginal ecosystem has been changed by certain medications such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptive preparations (oral and topical), douches, vaginal medication, sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases, stress, and change in sexual partners.
  • Some vaginal infections are transmitted through sexual contact, but others, such as yeast infections, probably are not. Vaginitis means inflammation and is often caused by infections, but may be due to hormonal changes (especially when a woman is going through menopause) or due to trauma in young girls. Some infections are associated with more serious diseases.
  • Three types of vaginal infections are the most common. Their causes are quite different but, their signs and symptoms are similar, and treatments of the three conditions vary.
  1. Bacterial vaginosis
  2. Vaginal yeast infection
  3. Trichomoniasis
  • Many women often mistakenly think they have a "yeast infection" and treat themselves when, in fact, they have a similar vaginal infection that will not respond to self-treatment with over-the-counter yeast medications. A study by the American Sexual Health Association reported that 62 percent of women mistake bacterial vaginosis for a yeast infection prior to diagnosis.
  • The important thing is not to guess, but to recognize the symptoms if you develop a vaginal infection. If you have any concerns, see your healthcare practitioner for precise testing and to get the most appropriate and effective treatment right away.
Last Reviewed 12/22/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Vaginal Infections:

Vaginal Infections - Experience

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Vaginal Infections - Symptoms

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Vaginal Infection Self-Care - Home Remedies

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Women with vaginosis symptoms

Vaginal Discharge Signs and Symptoms

Vaginal discharge may range in color from clear to gray, yellow, greenish, or milky-white and may have an unpleasant smell. The symptoms and character of vaginal discharge depend upon the specific condition that is the cause of the discharge.

  1. Bacterial vaginosis
  2. Trichomonas
  3. Gonorrhea
  4. Chlamydia
  5. Vaginal yeast infection

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Vaginitis »

Vaginitis (infection of the vagina) is the most common gynecologic condition encountered in the office.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


Medical Dictionary