Inflammation of the vulva and vagina, causing itching and soreness

  • Age and lifestyle as risk factors depend on the cause
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Vulvovaginitis is a very common disorder affecting most women at some time during their life. In this condition, the vulva and the vagina become inflamed, itchy, and sore. There may also be pain during sexual intercourse and a discharge from the vagina. The condition can also affect children.

What are the causes?

Most cases of vulvovaginitis are caused by an infection, either with the fungus Candida albicans, which causes vaginal thrush, or with the protozoan Trichomonas vaginalis, which is the cause of the sexually transmitted infection trichomoniasis. Women with diabetes mellitus have an increased risk of fungal vulvovaginitis. Overgrowth of the harmless bacteria that normally live in the vagina (see Bacterial vaginosis) may also lead to vulvovaginitis.

In some cases, the condition may be caused by irritation from perfumed bath products, detergents, deodorants, or contraceptive creams. Following the menopause, the disorder may develop as the vaginal tissues become thinner, drier, and more susceptible to irritation. These changes in the tissues of the vagina occur when levels of oestrogen fall. In rare cases, vulvovaginitis may be the result of cancerous changes in the cells that line the surface of the vulva or the vagina (see Cancer of the vulva and vagina).

In children, the cause of the disorder is often unclear. In some cases, a foreign body in the vagina or sexual abuse may be the cause.

What might be done?

Your doctor will take a swab from the inflamed area to look for an infection and to identify the causative organism. If you have repeated episodes of fungal vulvovaginitis, your urine may also be tested for glucose to exclude diabetes mellitus. If cancerous changes are suspected, a tissue sample will be taken and examined for abnormal cells.

Treatment of vulvovaginitis depends on the cause of the inflammation. If you have bacterial vaginosis, you will be prescribed antibiotics; if necessary, your sexual partner should also be treated to avoid reinfecting you. Hormone replacement therapy or topical creams that contain oestrogen can relieve vulvovaginitis that is caused by low levels of oestrogen following the menopause. If vulvovaginitis is caused by a particular bath product, detergent, deodorant, or contraceptive cream, you should change to another product.

Your doctor will advise you to avoid sexual intercourse until your symptoms have cleared up. Most affected people recover completely after treatment, but the condition may recur.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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