Condition Spotlight

Vaginal infections account for nearly 7% of all visits to gynecologists.48 Hormonal vaginitis is primarily a problem of postmenopausal women, as the vaginal tissue becomes thin and susceptible to irritation. There may also be vaginal discharge. Infectious vaginitis may be sexually transmitted or may arise from a disturbance to the delicate ecology of the healthy vagina.

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A variety of causal factors contribute to vaginal infections. Bacterial vaginosis, for example, is caused by harmful bacteria such as Neisseria gonorrhea and Chlamydia trachomatis, while vaginal candidiasis (also called candidal vaginitis) results from an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans. About 90% of vaginitis is caused by such infectious organisms, particularly bacteria, Candida, and the parasitic protozoan Trichomonas vaginalis. Other factors include local irritants (such as tight clothing or nylon pantyhose), hormonal changes, and emotional or psychological issues, among others.

In the past 20 years, yeast infection caused by Candida has increased 21⁄2 times due to several factors, chief among them the increased use of antibiotics. The primary symptoms of candidal vaginitis are vulvar itching, which can be quite severe, and a thick, curdy discharge. If a yeast infection is recurrent, it is important to go to a doctor to be diagnosed. Sometimes there are systemic health problems that cause it—diabetes, for instance—and more worrisome these days is that chronic yeast vaginitis is the primary presenting symptom of women who are HIV-positive. Self-care for this condition includes diet and using suppositories for vaginal itching. One should also test for food, chemical, and environmental sensitivities.