Find information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written in everyday language.

* This is the Consumer Version. *

Overview of Vaginal Infections

by David E. Soper, MD

  • Vaginal infections are caused by microorganisms, but women can take precautions, such as wearing loose, absorbent underwear, to reduce their risk of getting infections.

  • Infections usually cause a discharge with itching, redness, and sometimes burning and soreness.

  • Doctors examine a sample of fluids from the vagina or cervix to check for microorganisms that can cause infections.

  • Treatment depends on the cause, but a sitz bath and antihistamines taken by mouth can help relieve itching.

In the United States, vaginal infections are one of the most common reasons women see their doctor, accounting for more than 10 million visits each year. Vaginal infections can cause discomfort, discharge, and vaginal odor. However, these symptoms do not necessarily indicate an infection. Instead, they may result from irritation of the vagina by chemicals or other materials such as hygiene products, bubble bath, laundry detergents, contraceptive foams and jellies, and synthetic underwear. The inflammation that results is called noninfectious vaginitis.

A vaginal discharge may be caused by a disorder that affects other reproductive organs, rather than the vagina. For example, a discharge can result from certain sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydial infection (see Chlamydial and Other Infections) or gonorrhea ( Gonorrhea). These diseases can affect the uterus, including the cervix (the lower, narrow part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). Genital herpes (see Herpes Simplex Virus Infections), which can cause blisters on the vulva (the area around the opening of the vagina), in the vagina, and on the cervix, can also cause a vaginal discharge.

Resources In This Article

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

  • Generic Name
    Select Brand Names