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Vaginal Infections

"Vaginitis" is a medical term used to describe various conditions that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. Vulvovaginitis refers to inflammation of both the vagina and vulva (the external female genitals). These conditions can result from a vaginal infection caused by organisms such as bacteria, yeast, or viruses, as well as by irritations from chemicals in creams, sprays, or even clothing that is in contact with this area. In some cases, vaginitis results from organisms that are passed between sexual partners.

What Are the Symptoms of a Vaginal Infection?

The symptoms of a vaginal infection can vary depending on what is causing it. Some women have no symptoms at all. Some of the more common symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor.
  • Burning during urination.
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina.
  • Discomfort during intercourse.

Is Vaginal Discharge Normal?

A woman's vagina normally produces a discharge that usually is described as clear or slightly cloudy, non-irritating, and odor-free. During the normal menstrual cycle, the amount and consistency of discharge can vary. At one time of the month there may be a small amount of a very thin or watery discharge; and at another time, a more extensive thicker discharge may appear. All of these descriptions could be considered normal.

A vaginal discharge that has an odor or that is irritating usually is considered an abnormal discharge. The irritation might be itching or burning, or both. The itching may be present at any time of the day, but it often is most bothersome at night. These symptoms often are made worse by sexual intercourse. It is important to see your doctor if there has been a change in the amount, color, or smell of the discharge.

What Are the Most Common Types of Vaginal Infections?

The six most common types of vaginal infections are:

Although each of these vaginal infections can have different symptoms, it is not always easy for a woman to figure out which type she has. In fact, diagnosis can even be tricky for an experienced doctor. Part of the problem is that sometimes more than one type of infection can be present at the same time. And, an infection may even be present without any symptoms at all.

To help you better understand these six major causes of vaginitis, let's look briefly at each one of them and how they are treated.

What Is Candida or a Vaginal "Yeast" Infection?

Yeast infections of the vagina are what most women think of when they hear the term "vaginitis." Vaginal yeast infections are caused by one of the many species of fungus called Candida. Candida normally live in small numbers in the vagina, as well as in the mouth and digestive tract, of both men and women.

Yeast infections can produce a thick, white vaginal discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese although vaginal discharge may not always be present. Yeast infections usually cause the vagina and the vulva to be very itchy and red.

WebMD Medical Reference

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