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Women's Health

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Vaginal Infections and Vaginitis

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Most women have been there. You're distracted and squirming in your chair because it doesn't feel right down there. Perhaps there's a smell that's a little, well, funkier, than usual. You want to do something to make it stop, now.

Although it can be darned uncomfortable, it's not the end of the world. You could have an infection caused by bacteria, yeast, or viruses. Chemicals in soaps, sprays, or even clothing that come in contact with this area could be irritating the delicate skin and tissues.

It's not always easy to figure out what's going on, though. You'll probably need your doctor's help to sort it out and choose the right treatment.

Types of Vaginitis

Doctors refer to the various conditions that cause an infection or inflammation of the vagina as "vaginitis." The most common kinds are:

Although they may have different symptoms, a diagnosis can be tricky even for an experienced doctor. Part of the problem is that you could have more than one at the same time.

You could also have an infection without any symptoms.

What's Normal? What Symptoms Aren't?

A woman's vagina makes discharge that's usually clear or slightly cloudy. In part, it's how the vagina cleans itself.

It doesn't really have a smell or make you itch. How much of it and exactly what it looks and feels like can vary during your menstrual cycle. At one point, you may have only a small amount of a very thin or watery discharge, and at another time of the month, it's thicker and there's more of it. That's all normal.

When discharge has a very noticeable odor, or burns or itches, that's likely a problem. You might feel an irritation any time of the day, but it's most often bothersome at night. Having sex can make some symptoms worse.

You should call your doctor when:

  • Your vaginal discharge changes color, is heavier, or smells different.
  • You notice itching, burning, swelling, or soreness around or outside of your vagina.
  • It burns when you pee.
  • Sex is uncomfortable.
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