Women's Health

How Is Vaginitis Diagnosed?

How Is Vaginitis Diagnosed?

Key Takeaways

  • A healthy woman’s vagina usually produces a slightly cloudy to a clear discharge. 
  • If the vaginal discharge is accompanied by itchiness, burning sensation, or has an unusual odor, there might be a problem. 
  • Having an accurate diagnosis will help in the effective treatment of vaginal infections.

Vaginitis is a common condition experienced by women. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, and you can easily feel uncomfortable even while relaxing because down there it’s not fine. Maybe there is a bit of a smell, itchiness, or discharge that are unusual and you may want to take action for things to go back to normal.

Vaginitis can be triggered by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Sometimes, when undergarments get in contact with the vaginal area, it creates a reaction or irritation to the vagina. Certain soaps or sprays can also cause vaginitis.

It is hard to tell what is happening. That is why a doctor has to be consulted so you can have the right treatment.   

Types of Vaginitis

Any condition that causes swelling or infection of the woman’s vagina is known as "vaginitis." The most common types are:

Although these conditions might present different symptoms, diagnosis can sometimes be tricky even for experienced doctors. The problem is that you could be infected by multiple infections at once. You can also get an infection but have no symptoms at all.

Diagnosing Vaginitis

To come up with a proper diagnosis, your doctor can do the following:

  • Looking into your medical history – this entails to your vaginal or STI history.
  • Carrying out a pelvic exam – your doctor will use a speculum to help dilate your vagina and look for abnormal discharges and swelling.
  • Collecting a sample for lab testing – the doctor may obtain a vaginal discharge or cervical sample for a laboratory examination to confirm the type of vaginitis you are having.
  • pH testing - Vaginal pH can be examined by the doctor either by applying a pH paper or a pH test stick to the vaginal wall. Bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis can be indicated by a high pH. However, other diagnostic tests should be used for a more accurate diagnosis.

Vaginitis Treatment

Vaginal treatment will be determined according to the cause of infection.

  • Infectious vaginitis - will be treated using antibiotics.
  • Bacterial vaginitis - can either be treated using antibiotic injections, oral antibiotics, or intravaginal antibiotic creams.

Treatment guidelines have to be updated to show if there a resistance to the given antibiotics.

What's Normal?

A healthy woman’s vagina usually produces a slightly cloudy to a clear discharge. Having vaginal discharges is how the vagina naturally cleans itself. A normal discharge has no odor and there is no itchiness experienced. The amount and appearance of your vaginal discharge will depend on your menstrual cycle. A watery or very thin discharge might be experienced in the current month while thicker in the next month.

If the vaginal discharge is accompanied by itchiness, burning sensation, or has an unusual odor, there might be a problem. You might have an irritation during the daytime, and it might irritate more at night. The symptoms might worsen when you have sex.

What Are the Symptoms?

The signs and symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • variation in odor, color, or quantity of vaginal discharge
  • vaginal irritation or itchiness
  • painful sex
  • pain when urinating
  • light vaginal spotting or bleeding

Certain characteristics of your vaginal discharge can indicate the kind of vaginitis you might have, although there are also women who are asymptomatic (don't have symptoms at all). For example:

  • Bacterial vaginosis – in this type of vaginitis, you may sense a foul odor in your vagina along with the production of a grayish-white discharge. The odor most often has a fishy smell, especially after having sex.
  • Yeast infection – the primary symptom of this fungal infection is itching together with a thick whitish discharge that looks like cottage cheese.
  • Trichomoniasis - is a bacterial infection that is characterized by a greenish-yellow, frothy discharge.

When to See a Doctor

Visit a doctor immediately if you have strange vaginal discomforts, specifically if:

  • You have a foul vaginal odor, vaginal itching, or unusual discharge.
  • You have never contracted a vaginal infection before. Visiting your doctor will establish what the root cause is, and will help you understand and recognize the signs and symptoms of your vaginal infection.
  • You have contracted vaginal infections in the past.
  • You have had several sex partners or perhaps a new partner.
  • You may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection. Several sexually transmitted infections show signs and symptoms that are comparable to the ones of bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection.
  • You have completed a dose of over-the-counter anti-yeast drugs and your symptoms still persist.
  • You have pelvic pain, chills, or fever.

The Wait and See Approach

You don’t have to seek medical attention at all times when you have a vaginal discharge or irritation, particularly if:

  • You recently had a vaginal yeast infection diagnosis, and the signs and symptoms look the same as before.
  • You understand the yeast infection’s signs and symptoms and know that you have it.

Causes

The causes of vaginitis depends on which kind of vaginitis you are having:

  • Bacterial vaginosis – is mostly caused by an imbalance of the normal bacteria that exist in the vagina, resulting in the overproduction of several other organisms. Sexual intercourse is thought to be linked with this form of vaginitis often if you indulge in sexual intercourse with several partners or with a new partner. Women who are not sexually active are less likely to be affected.   
  • Yeast infection – often occurs due to the overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans. The moist areas of the body are mostly affected by C. albicans, especially the vagina, nail beds, mouth, and skin folds. A diaper rash can also be caused by a fungus. 
  • Trichomoniasis – is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This parasite can be sexually transmitted from an infected person. Trichomonas vaginalis is microscopic. No symptoms are seen in men, although it normally infects the urinary tract. It infects the vagina in women and can cause symptoms. The chances of getting other sexually transmitted infections are high if you have trichomoniasis.
  • Noninfectious vaginitis – the irritated vaginal tissues and vulva may be caused by perfumed soaps, spermicidal products, douches, vaginal sprays, and scented detergents. Foreign objects such as forgotten tampons and tissue paper in your vagina can cause irritation to the vaginal tissues as well.
  • Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM) – is a term that describes a group of menopausal, sexual, and urinary signs and symptoms. Some of these symptoms include vaginal irritation, burning, and dryness.

Risk Factors

The factors that can increase the development of vaginitis are:

  • hormonal changes that are linked to pregnancy, menopause, and the use of birth control pills
  • contracted STIs
  • steroid and antibiotic treatments 
  • birth control using spermicides
  • sexual activity
  • uncontrolled diabetes
  • use of certain irritants such as vaginal deodorants, bubble baths, and vaginal sprays
  • douching
  • wearing tight fitting clothes
  • usage of an intrauterine device (IUD) to prevent pregnancy

Having an accurate diagnosis will help in the effective treatment of vaginal infections. Know your symptoms and when they occur. Appropriately describe the amount, texture, smell, and color of your vaginal discharge. Avoid douching when visiting the doctor to get tested accurately. Your doctor might ask you to avoid sexual intercourse 24-48 hours before your visit.

Avoid over-the-counter drugs even if you already know your condition. You can treat noninfectious vaginitis if you know its cause. Consider the products that you will use to avoid developing vaginal irritations. The doctor can prescribe estrogen to reduce the symptoms brought about by hormonal changes.

Complications

Bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis cause vaginal inflammation and women are more prone to contracting sexually transmitted infections. Such infections can also result in a low birth weight in newborns and premature deliveries in expectant mothers.

Prognosis

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can result if vaginitis goes untreated. PID can cause an impaired fertility. Vaginitis might recur, which requires another treatment. To avoid having medical complications in expectant mothers and their unborn child, any type of vaginitis should be treated immediately.