Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(11):2139-2140

What is vaginitis?

Vaginitis (say: vaj-en-eye-tis) is an irritation of the vagina. If a woman has vaginitis, she may have a bad-smelling fluid coming out of her vagina. She also may have itching or burning in her vagina and genital area.

Vaginitis is one of the most common reasons that women see their doctor. It usually is not a bad problem and often is easy to treat.

There are three common types of vaginitis: yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis (say: vaj-en-oh-sis), and trichomoniasis (say: trik-oh-mow-ny-eh-sis).

What is a yeast infection?

A yeast infection is caused by a fungus called Candida (say: can-dih-dah). Many healthy women have some yeast in their vagina. They do not need to be treated unless they have signs of a yeast infection.

Here are some signs that you could have a yeast infection:

  • Itching and redness in your vagina and genital area

  • A thick, white discharge from your vagina

  • A burning feeling when you urinate

How is a yeast infection treated?

A yeast infection almost always gets better when it is treated with a special vaginal cream or vaginal suppository that you can buy at a drugstore. You use the cream or suppository for 3 to 7 nights. A yeast infection also gets better when it is treated with one tablet of a medicine that your doctor can prescribe. Your sex partner does not need to be treated.

Based on symptoms alone, it is hard for a woman to tell if she has a yeast infection. Rather than treating yourself with over-the-counter yeast creams or suppositories, it is best to see your doctor for an exam.

If you have yeast infections often, or your yeast infection does not improve with treatment, your doctor can order special tests to find the reason.

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection. It happens when you have too much normal bacteria in your vagina.

Here are some signs that you could have bacterial vaginosis:

  • An unpleasant “fishy” odor that you may notice more after you have sex

  • A change in your vaginal discharge. The discharge may look white or gray and frothy.

  • Vaginal itching or burning and redness

How is bacterial vaginosis treated?

Your doctor will check you to see if you have bacterial vaginosis. This infection usually is treated with an oral medicine for 7 days or a vaginal cream for 5 days. Your sex partner generally does not need to be treated.

If you are pregnant, it is important to find out if you have bacterial vaginosis. Treatment may keep you from going into labor before it is time for your baby to be born.

What is trichomoniasis?

Trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a tiny organism called Trichomonas vaginalis.

Here are some signs that you could have trichomoniasis:

  • A frothy yellow or green discharge with a bad smell

  • Vaginal itching

  • An urge to urinate more often than usual

How is trichomoniasis treated?

Your doctor must do an exam to find out if you have trichomoniasis. An oral medicine almost always clears up this infection.

Your sex partner also needs to be treated. If your sex partner is not treated, you can become infected again. If you have more than one sex partner, everyone must be treated.

Where can I learn more about vaginitis?

You can learn more about vaginitis from the following groups:

American Social Health Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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