Vaginal Infections: Types, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Vaginal infections are a fairly common problem in gynecology offices. They produce great physical and psychological discomfort in those who suffer from them, thus affecting various areas of a woman’s life.
It’s important to remember that the vagina has a normal flora made up of different microorganisms that protect it from these diseases. In addition, it has a mucous layer with an acidic pH that will prevent the excessive growth of bacteria and germs.
These types of infections can affect the internal and external parts of the genitals. Also, if they’re not treated in time, they worsen and generate complications. When they’re suffered by pregnant women, they can have serious consequences, so it’s vital to know how to identify them.
Why do vaginal infections occur?
For many years, the appearance of vaginal infections was linked to sexual relations or lack of hygiene. However, there are a large number of factors that are capable of altering the normal flora of the vagina or its pH, thus favoring the appearance of the infection.
In this regard, these conditions don’t have an apparent cause beyond the etiological agent itself. However, a series of predisposing situations intervene in its appearance, among which we can highlight the following.
Lack of hygiene
This is one of the most frequent causes of vaginal infection. Inadequate intimate hygiene will favor the growth of bacteria, which will be the cause of vaginal infections.
It’s worth noting that excessive hygiene isn’t beneficial either. Various products, such as vaginal douches, are capable of altering the pH of the area when used excessively.
Wearing tight underwear
Very tight underwear prevents ventilation of the genital area, favoring humidity. This excess moisture helps the proliferation of fungi and bacteria, which, upon reaching the colonization limit, will cause infection.
Sharing personal hygiene items
The vaginal flora is different in each woman, therefore, a microorganism that for some is harmless can cause havoc in other people. In this regard, by sharing personal hygiene items or underwear, bacteria, fungi, and parasites can remain attached to the surface and enter the body.
The use of antibiotics
Broad-spectrum antibiotics are capable of affecting the vaginal flora, eliminating certain beneficial bacteria. This will favor the excessive multiplication of other microorganisms, altering the usual microenvironment and producing an infection.
Not changing a condom
When having anal and then vaginal intercourse, it’s important to replace the condom in the process. Otherwise, intestinal germs can be carried into the vagina, which can lead to very severe genital tract infections.
Various physiological situations, such as pregnancy or menopause, often cause changes in estrogen levels. This results in an alteration in the normal vaginal pH, which stimulates the growth of pathogenic microorganisms, leading to vaginal infections.
Types of vaginal infections
In order to study the various vaginal infections, we can categorize them according to the causative agent. They’ll all have different characteristics and under no circumstances should they be treated in the same way.
This type of infection is the product of the excessive growth of bacteria, which are usually found to a lesser extent under normal conditions. This is the most frequent form of presentation in women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The etiological agents are very varied. One of the most common is Gardnerella vaginalis, especially in pregnant women, with a frequency of up to 32%. In extreme cases, the infection can affect the baby through the placenta and cause pregnancy complications.
Infections of fungal origin are characterized by a proliferation of fungi, with candidiasis being the most common of all. It’s even estimated that 3 out of 4 women will suffer from vulvovaginal candidiasis at least once in their lives, with Candida albicans being the most common causative agent.
Trichomonas vaginitis appears when there’s the presence of a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This can be found as part of the usual flora, but it is also acquired through sexual contact or by sharing personal hygiene items.
Sexually transmitted infections
Many sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can have the same symptoms as other vaginal infections. In this regard, diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes can cause confusion. However, they must be differentiated quickly and receive timely treatment.
Symptoms of vaginal infections
Generally speaking, all vaginal infections cause vaginitis, that is, inflammation of the vagina. In this regard, the clinical picture will be quite similar in all of them, as both can affect both the internal and external parts of the reproductive system. Among the symptoms presented are the following:
- Irritation, pain, and redness of the genital area.
- Changes in vaginal discharge: Regarding color and quantity.
- Pain: When urinating or during sexual intercourse.
- Pruritus: Vaginal itching.
The secret to identifying the form of presentation of the infection is in the alteration of vaginal discharge, as each type of infection will produce specific changes in its texture, smell, and color. Therefore, it’s important to know the differences:
- Bacterial vaginosis: In this case, the vaginal discharge will have a fluid texture, similar to the usual one. However, it will have a grayish color and an odor that resembles that of fish.
- Fungal infection: When it comes to a yeast infection, the vaginal discharge will be white and thick, similar to cottage cheese. However, it won’t have any odor.
- Trichomoniasis vaginitis: The vaginal discharge will be yellow-green in color with a rather foul odor which, in most cases, is usually frothy.
Treatment of vaginal infections
The treatment of this type of infection will be focused on eliminating the etiological agent. Therefore, it’s essential to go to the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis and indicate the therapy to follow. In this regard, the treatment of vaginal infections can be as follows:
- In the case of bacterial vaginosis, the vaginal use of clindamycin or metronidazole gel or cream is recommended. If the infection is very severe, it can be reinforced with the oral intake of antibiotics.
- When it comes to candidiasis or any fungal infection, clotrimazole should be administered vaginally. In addition, the treatment can be reinforced with the oral administration of fluconazole or itraconazole.
- To treat trichomoniasis vaginitis, metronidazole should be taken orally and constant control should be maintained, as topical antiseptics are usually ineffective.
It’s important to remember that treatment may vary depending on the patient and the severity of the infection. When the symptoms cause a lot of discomfort, a specialist may prescribe various medications in order to reduce their impact. At the same time, they may also prescribe a formulation in order to rebalance the vaginal pH and restore the normal flora.
Preventive measures and immediate attention are important
When it comes to vaginal infections, the best thing to do is prevent them. In most cases, controlling the risk factors suffice and the recurrence of the disease will be greatly reduced.
On the other hand, if you suspect the existence of an infection, you should see a doctor immediately, especially if you’re pregnant. Many infections can get worse quickly and cause serious complications in the fetus.It might interest you...
- Villaseca R, Ovalle A, Amaya F, Labra B, Escalona N, Lizana P et al . Infecciones vaginales en un Centro de Salud Familiar de la Región Metropolitana, Chile. Revista Chilena de Infectología. 2015;32(1):30-36.
- Alemán Mondeja L, Almanza Martínez C, Fernández Limia O. Diagnóstico y prevalencia de infecciones vaginales. Revista Cubana de Obstetricia y Ginecología. 2010;36(2): 62-103.
- Rodriguez Perlaza, Yomaira Yolanda. “Análisis de parte del comité fármaco terapéutico de las reacciones adversas del fluconazol, utilizado en el tratamiento de candidiasis vaginal.” (2016).
- Herrero, Daniel Romero, and Antonia Andreu Domingo. “Vaginosis bacteriana.” Enfermedades infecciosas y microbiología clínica 34 (2016): 14-18.
- Gaitán, Esteban Sánchez. “Manejo de vulvovaginitis en la atención primaria.” Revista Médica Sinergia 3.8 (2018): 13-20.
- Marcelo Pradenas A. Infecciones cérvico vaginales y embarazo. Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes. 2014;25(6):925-935.
- Benedía J, Martín-Aragón S. Tratamiento de las infecciones ginecológicas. Revisión. Farmacia Profesional. 2009;23(1):52-57.
- Personal de Mayo Clinic. Vaginitis – Síntomas y causas [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2019. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/es-es/diseases-conditions/vaginitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354707.
- Goje O. Generalidades sobre la vaginitis – Ginecología y obstetricia [Internet]. Manual MSD versión para profesionales. 2019.