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It is possible that the main title of the report Vulvovaginitis is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.


  • Bacterial Vaginitis
  • Genital Candidiasis
  • Nonspecific Vaginitis
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Vaginitis
  • Vaginitis, Gardnerella Vaginalis
  • Vaginitis, Haemophilus Vaginalis
  • Yeast Infection, Vaginal

Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion

Vulvovaginitis is a common bacterial infection characterized by the simultaneous inflammation of the external parts of the female genital organs (vulva) and the canal that leads from the uterus to the external opening (vagina). It is one of the most common causes of genital symptoms in women. When only the vagina is inflamed, the disorder is called vaginitis. The symptoms and treatments of vulvovaginitis depend on the specific bacteria that caused the disorder.

The most common types of vulvovaginitis are genital candidiasis (also called yeast infection), trichomoniasis, and nonspecific vaginitis (also called haemophilus vaginalis vaginitis, bacterial vaginitis or gardnerella vaginalis vaginitis). Some types of vulvovaginitis are more rare than others.

Vulvovaginitis occurs when the normal acid/base balance of the vagina is disturbed. Yeast, fungi and other harmful organisms that are normally present in non-symptomatic concentrations may grow in excessive amounts causing infection of the vaginal walls.


The symptoms of genital candidiasis may include moderate to severe itching (pruritus) or burning of the vaginal area, difficult or painful urination (dysuria) and a thick discharge which may resemble cottage cheese. More rarely, there is a thin, watery discharge. Symptoms usually increase during the week before the menstrual period. Approximately 10% of the male sexual partners of infected women may develop symptoms such as abnormal redness and itching of the penis. (For more information, choose "Candidiasis" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Symptoms of trichomoniasis type of vulvovaginitis may include severe itching and a thin, frothy, offensive smelling discharge. There is usually inflammation of the vulva, and painful, difficult urination. Symptoms usually begin or become worse during or immediately after the menstrual period. Some women do not show symptoms for six months after infection has begun. Trichomoniasis bacteria can be isolated in 30% to 70% of the male sexual partners of infected women. Most men show no symptoms, but should be treated to stop transmission to their female sexual partners.

Women with nonspecific vaginitis usually have a light discharge which may contain bubbles and have a "fishy" odor. Initially, there is little inflammation of the vulva and three-quarters of infected women will show no symptoms. Symptoms of nonspecific vaginitis are not related to the stages of the menstrual cycle. Later symptoms may include inflammation of the vulva, itching or burning of the vaginal area, and painful or difficult sexual intercourse (dyspareunia).


Vulvovaginitis may occur as a result of a disturbance in the normal acid to base balance in the vagina. This allows bacteria, yeast or other harmful organisms to grow. Factors which may increase susceptibility to these infections are birth control pills, pregnancy, poor diet, antibiotics, frequent douching with chemical products, deodorant sprays, laundry soaps, fabric softeners and bath water additives. Tight, nonporous, nonabsorbent underclothing which does not provide adequate ventilation to the area, along with poor hygiene, may increase the growth of bacteria and fungi. Sensitivity to spermicides, sexual lubricants or latex on a diaphragm or condom may also cause irritation and disturb the natural balance.

Certain forms of vulvovaginitis may be transmitted sexually. More rarely, vaginal infection may be the result of foreign bodies, a viral infection such as herpes, pinworm or tumors of the reproductive tract.

Genital candidiasis (yeast infection) is caused by the fungus candida. Antibiotics taken for infection elsewhere in the body may reduce the normal bacterial content of the vagina, allowing yeasts to overgrow. Women on oral contraceptives are more susceptible to vaginal infections since hormonal changes may also upset the natural balance between bacteria and yeast in the vagina. Genital candidiasis is rarely transmitted by sexual relations. (For more information on this disorder, choose the term "Candidiasis" for your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Trichomoniasis is caused by the parasitic protozoa Trichomonas vaginalis, and is usually transmitted by sexual intercourse. Occasionally trichomoniasis may be transmitted nonsexually since trichomonas can survive for several hours on wet surfaces. Contact with infected moist objects such as towels, bathing suits, underwear, washcloths, toilet seats and locker room benches may result in this type of vulvovaginitis.

Nonspecific vaginitis can be caused by the bacteria Haemophilus vaginalis or Gardnerella vaginalis. Nonspecific vaginitis is commonly transmitted by sexual intercourse.

Affected Populations

Vulvovaginitis is very common and occurs most often in women during their reproductive years. Genital candidiasis occurs frequently in pregnant and diabetic women. Certain types of vulvovaginitis may be contracted through sexual intercourse and in turn spread to sexual partners.

Standard Therapies


A pelvic examination may reveal red, tender vulvar or vaginal skin. Any lesions or sores will be inspected. A microscopic evaluation of vaginal discharge (wet prep) is usually done to identify a vaginal infection or overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. In some cases, a culture of the vaginal discharge may identify the organism causing the infection.


The cause of the infection determines the appropriate treatment. It may include oral or topical antibiotics and/or antifungal creams, antibacterial creams, or similar medications. A cream containing cortisone may also be used to relieve some of the irritation. If an allergic reaction is involved, an antihistamine may also be prescribed. For women who have irritation and inflammation caused by low levels of estrogen (postmenopausal), a topical estrogen cream might be prescribed.

Improved perineal hygiene is necessary to help healing and to prevent future reinfection for those whose infections are caused by bacteria normally found in stool. Sitz baths may be recommended. It is often helpful to allow more air to reach the genital area. Wearing cotton underwear (rather than nylon) or underwear that has a cotton lining in the crotch area allows greater air flow and decreases the amount of moisture in the area. Removing underwear at bedtime may also help.

If a sexually transmitted disease is diagnosed, it is very important that the partner(s) receive treatment, even if there are no symptoms. Many organisms don't produce noticeable symptoms. Failure of the partner(s) to accept treatment can cause continual reinfection, which may eventually, if not taken care of, lead to more extensive problems, possibly limiting fertility and affecting overall health.

Investigational Therapies

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For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

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