Vaginitis

What is Vaginitis?

Vaginitis is an umbrella term that actually encompasses two separate, but very similar conditions. The term “vaginitis” simply refers to an inflammation of the vagina. The condition can affect women of any age, and is very common. It may be caused by a transmittable infection, or by factors relating to the woman’s own body chemistry.

While some women may be asymptomatic, most will notice an array of symptoms including an itching or burning sensation, discharge, and possibly a foul odor in the area. Pain or irritation may become worse when attempting sexual intercourse. There will usually be some noticeable signs of irritation, such as redness or swelling of the labia or perineum.

Causes of Vaginitis

The most common cause of vaginitis is Candida infection, or what most women refer to as a yeast infection. Yeast infections are rarely caused by simply coming into contact with yeast. The underlying cause relates to the patient’s body chemistry and even their diet. One common cause of yeast infections is douching, which many women ironically do to feel clean. Douching removes the “good” bacteria, which are supposed to be present in the vagina to control the growth of Candida, and then yeast is able to multiply uncontrolled. When using antibiotics to control bacterial infections, sometimes the bacteria levels in the vagina decline as well, and a yeast infection can result.

Yeast infections are also related to diet, such as consuming too much processed sugar and a lack of probiotics in the intestinal tract. Occasionally, women with diabetes may suffer repeated yeast infections due to the imbalance of sugars in the body. Treatments for a yeast infection can range from prescription medications and topical creams, to a more holistic natural remedy which is more effective in the long term.

The other main type of vaginitis results from bacterial infection. The most common cause of bacterial vaginal infection is a bacteria called Gardnerella. Other bacterial culprits may be gonnorhea, chlamydia, Trichomonas, Mycoplasma, or Campylobacter. Some of these bacteria may be introduced to the vagina through sexual contact, while others result from poor personal hygiene habits. The vagina can also become vulnerable to infection when the woman’s own hormones are imbalanced. This usually seen in women who are postmenopausal, recently gave birth, or are prepubescent, and is caused by low levels of estrogen. When a bacterial infection is present, treatment typically includes a course of antibiotics.

Symptoms

The symptoms of both bacterial and yeast infections in the vagina may seem quite similar. They both include itching, burning, pain, and possible redness. However, the two types of infection will produce a noticeably different discharge in the patient. Yeast infections will cause a watery, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. This type of discharge is the classic sign of a vaginal yeast infection. Bacterial infection symptoms differ depending upon the type of bacteria that is present. This type of infection may produce discharge, or cause very dry conditions within the vagina. The odor associated with bacterial infections is a distinct, fish-like odor that most physicians recognize almost immediately upon examination.

Prevention

As with many other health conditions, vaginitis can often be prevented by knowing risk factors for the condition and avoiding or correcting them when possible. Vaginitis can be prevented by exercising caution with sexual partners (using condoms) and by maintaining good personal hygiene habits, such as wiping from front to back when using the bathroom. This prevents bacteria around the rectum from entering the vagina. Refraining from douching will also ensure that levels of helpful bacteria remain where they are supposed to be, and the pH of the vagina will be more stable and healthy.

Women should also refrain from wearing overly tight clothing. Since some women notice an irritation of the vagina during menstruation, switching to organic cotton tampons which are chemical-free is often recommended. Spermicide, some soaps and perfumes, colored tissues paper and latex condoms are other common irritants which upset the pH of the vagina and lead to infection. Avoiding the use of hot tubs is also recommended.

When a woman’s own body chemistry is a suspected cause of repeated vaginal infections, hormone replacement therapy may be necessary. Others may need to become aware of how their dietary choices impact their bodily chemistry and lead to infection, especially when yeast has been a persistent problem. Persistent and repeated yeast infections may be an indication that a blood sugar test should be done to rule out undiagnosed diabetes.

Complications

Most episodes of vaginitis are easily remedied by treating either the underlying yeast or bacterial infection. However, repeated yeast infections which are often treated by prescription medications, may lead to a persistent infection with drug-resistant yeast. Yeast can spread throughout the body and cause a wide variety of symptoms and health problems aside from vaginitis. This is why the natural remedy is the preferred method of dealing with a yeast infection, rather than using a prescription medication and risking the downward cycle of drug-resistance and worsening infection.

Untreated bacterial infections can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which infects the entire reproductive system. This can cause harm such as premature delivery during future pregnancies, and even fertility. Some studies have even linked chronic bacterial vaginitis with an increased risk of HIV. Since the risk of complications can be quite serious, seeking an accurate diagnosis from a physician is imperative before attempting to treat any type of vaginal infection.

More information on vaginitis can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaginitis