Vulvovaginal infections affect primarily the moist walls of the vagina and, to a lesser degree the vulva. Specific symptoms differ with the cause of the condition. For example:
- Yeast infections cause itching and a white discharge that looks like cottage cheese.
- Trichomonas vaginitis exhibits no symptoms at all for about half the women who have the organism. The other half may experience a heavy vaginal discharge (frothy, yellowish green and alkaline) with a fishy odor. Other symptoms include pain when emptying the bladder (urinating) and when having sex. The walls of the vagina may be swollen and, in serious cases, strawberry colored.
- Herpes simplex virus (HSV) has a five-to seven-day growing period before symptoms appear. This makes it easy to spread between sexual partners. When a woman first is infected, her symptoms may include feeling unwell, swollen lymph nodes in the groin and a fever that usually goes away in a week. Painful ulcers develop on the genitals and heal in about 21 days. The virus comes back from time to time. When it returns, a sense of numbness or tingling may be felt where the ulcer is developing. Recurrences tend to be milder and in one place. Ulcers heal in about 10 days. A person can infect others for about four days after the symptoms have gone away.
- A watery discharge, especially if bloody, may indicate a malignancy. Other causes of bleeding include cervical polyps and vaginal atropy, shrinking or wasting of the vagina walls. These usually happen after menopause.
- Bacterial vaginosis causes a fishy smelling discharge. Itching and irritation are also common.
Causes and Risk Factors
Vaginal infections have a variety of causes, and risk factors vary with the specific cause of the infection. For example:
- Using an intrauterine device may put a woman at greater risk of getting bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection.
- Having multiple sex partners or having sex with a person who has certain bacteria, viruses or other organisms adds to the risk of vaginal problems, including bacterial vaginosis, herpes simplex, trichomonas vaginitis or genital warts.
- Women who are pregnant, diabetic, have recently used an antibiotic, regularly use corticosteroids, have AIDS or who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of getting a yeast infection.