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Vaginal Infections

Last updated Jan. 8, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH


Vaginal Infections are infections caused by bacteria or yeast in the vagina of women, who are in their active reproductive or child-bearing phase.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Colpitis
  • Vaginal Yeast Infections
  • Vaginitis 

What is Vaginal Infections? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Vaginal Infections are infections caused by bacteria or yeast in the vagina of women, who are in their active reproductive or child-bearing phase
  • Foul-smelling, watery, milk white vaginal discharge, with itching and burning sensation around the vaginal region, are a few of the symptoms. These are caused, when there is an imbalance within the vagina
  • Many factors are said to contribute to Vaginal Infections, such as having multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, elevated blood sugar, douching, etc.
  • Antibiotic treatment is the therapy of choice for the condition, which can result in a complete cure

There are 3 main kinds of Vaginal Infections and these include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Vaginal candidiasis

Who gets Vaginal Infections? (Age and Sex Distribution)

Vaginal Infections are very common infections that mostly occur during the active reproductive years of a woman. 

What are the Risk Factors for Vaginal Infections? (Predisposing Factors)

All factors that are responsible for upsetting the natural balance of bacteria (that exist between the good and bad bacteria) in the vaginal tract are potential risk factors for Vaginal Infections. These include:

  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Use of intrauterine devices
  • Excessive vaginal douching
  • Pregnancy
  • Antibiotic use
  • Presence of high blood sugar
  • HIV infection

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider. 

What are the Causes of Vaginal Infections? (Etiology)

  • There exists a normal balance between the various microorganisms within the reproductive tract, which helps maintain a certain pH value
  • Any factor that causes an imbalance between them creates conditions for Vaginal Infections. This imbalance is responsible for disturbing the natural pH balance in the vagina
  • Such factors may include the use of chemicals, sprays, douching, etc. that causes an irritation around the genital area
  • Antibiotic usage can also change the normal protective acidic environment of the vagina, leading to development of infections
  • Vaginal Infections can also be passed on from one sexual partner to another 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Infections?

Women may experience the following signs and symptoms, due to Vaginal Infections:

  • Increased amount of vaginal discharge
  • Changes in the color of vaginal discharge, like yellow, curdy white, gray, green, etc.
  • Abnormal fishy odor of vaginal discharge
  • Itching around the genital area
  • Frothy vaginal discharge
  • Redness and swelling of the genital area
  • Burning sensation while passing urine
  • Pain after sex
  • There may be an infection around the vaginal or urogenital area

How are Vaginal Infections Diagnosed?

Vaginal Infections can be diagnosed by examination of the genital area, thorough medical history, and also by the following tests:

  • A physical examination of the vagina, vaginal membrane lining, cervix
  • Vaginal pH: In case of Vaginal Infections, vaginal PH is generally increased
  • Vaginal swab and culture: Swabs are taken from the vagina and a culture is done, to find out the microorganism causing the condition
  • Pap smear: This is a test performed to rule-out any associated infections of the cervix (which is the mouth of the uterus)
  • KOH preparation and microscopy: In this test, the organisms and the specific cells are identified, under a microscopic examination

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Vaginal Infections?

Due to a lack of treatment of the condition, or due to Vaginal Infections affecting pregnant women, there could be certain serious complications. These include:

  • Premature delivery, miscarriages in pregnant women
  • The need for caesarian section
  • Also, Vaginal Infections can spread into the uterine cavity (pelvic inflammatory disease), which can later on lead to infertility, or even abnormal pregnancy (ectopic pregnancy)
  • Increased susceptibility to other (yeast and bacteria) infections
  • Women with such infections have a higher risk of post-surgical infection; after any gynecological surgery is performed 

How are Vaginal Infections Treated?

There are many causal factors for Vaginal Infections. Hence, it is advisable to consult the physician and get an evaluation of the symptoms presented, before attempting any treatment methods, including any self-care measures. The physician-recommended specific treatments could include:

  • For vaginal candidiasis: Fluconazole by mouth or vaginal azole creams are used
  • For trichomoniasis: Oral metronidazole can cure this infection; sexual partners are also required to be treated
  • For bacterial vaginosis: Oral metronidazole is used in treating this condition
  • Application of vaginal creams and gels (such as clindamycin), to bring relief from the symptoms and to provide a measure of comfort
  • Pregnant women and women, who are scheduled to have any surgical procedures performed on their vagina or other reproductive organs, should be treated, in order to prevent the development of any future complications 

There are many home remedies and alternative medicines available for Vaginal Infections. However, it is best to consult the healthcare provider, before planning to employ such measures.

How can Vaginal Infections be Prevented?

Vaginal Infections may not be preventable, but some of the risk factors may be avoided or controlled. The following measures may be helpful:

  • Practice safe sex, use condoms, avoid multiple sex partners
  • Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics
  • Intake of probiotic supplement
  • After bowel movement, clean or wipe from front to back and avoid spread of pathogens from the rectum to vagina
  • Ensure good genital hygiene
  • Avoid tightfitting dress that trap moisture between the legs

What is the Prognosis of Vaginal Infections? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Vaginal Infections can be completely cured. The outcome is usually good, if the infection is diagnosed and treatment is provided to both the affected individual and also to their sexual partner(s)
  • Pregnant women and those in the high-risk group should seek suitable and prompt treatment, to avoid any serious complications
  • It is recommended that sexually-active women undergo periodic tests, to assess their sexual health; especially, if they fall in the high-risk group 

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Vaginal Infections:

  • Vaginal Infections are common health conditions; but, they are not caused by toilet seats, community swimming pools, sharing items (clothes, bed), etc.
  • Bacterial vaginosis is harmless and self-limiting in most cases; however, it has the potential to increase an individual’s susceptibility to other sex-related disorders and cause medical complications

The following article link will help you understand bacterial vaginosis:


What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 22, 2014
Last updated: Jan. 8, 2019