Vaginal infections are much more common than one would think. Learn the eight most common types of vaginal infections, and their causes, symptoms and health consequences.
A woman’s vaginal discharge contains important information about what’s going on in her body.
If you have an abnormal vaginal discharge, you may be wondering if it’s normal, and if you may have a vaginal infection.
Side Note: To rule out the possibility of the discharge being due to an STD, an at home STD test is a convenient and reliable method of screening. These kits can be ordered online, you collect the sample at home using the swab provided and then send it in to the lab for analysis.
First, What’s Normal Vaginal Discharge?
Most of the time, vaginal discharge is completely normal. In fact, it plays a very important role in the female reproductive system, because it helps carry away dead cells and bacteria to keep the vagina clean and prevent infection.
Normal vaginal discharge is not excessive, and does not have an unusual smell. Its color can range from milky white, to clear, egg white like, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle.
To learn more, read What Does Your Vaginal Discharge Tell You.
The color, amount, texture and odor of vaginal discharge can be different from one woman to another.
So to know what’s normal for you, I encourage you to track your vaginal discharge at various stages of your menstrual cycles with a period tracker for 2-3 cycles.
Next, What Causes Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?
Normally the PH in your vagina is slightly acidic, which helps keep the “bad bacteria” and germs at bay.
However, certain factors can interrupt this balance, causing abnormal vaginal discharge. These factors may include:
- Emotional stress
- Poor diet
- Hormone imbalance
- Medications such as antibiotics & steroids
- Birth control pills
- Chronic illness such as diabetes
- Cervical cancer, and
- Vaginal infections
Now, What Are the Most Common Types of Vaginal Infections?
Vaginal infections are perhaps much more common than one would think.
If you suspect that you have a vaginal infection you should get tested either at your doctor’s office or by using a test kit from a site like STDCheck.com.
For your information, here are the eight most common types of vaginal infections based on the statistics published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
#1. Yeast Infection (Candidiasis)
Yeast infection is perhaps the most common type of vaginal infection. According to the CDC, nearly 75% of all adult women have had at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.
Yeast infection is caused by a type of fungus called Candida. When there is a change in the chemical balance in the vagina, candida fungus can grow too rapidly in the genital areas.
The common symptoms include:
- Extreme itching in the vaginal area
- Soreness and redness in the vaginal area
- White, clumpy vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese
- Painful intercourse
Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses, type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2).
The CDC estimates that around 16% (one out of six) people aged 14 to 49 years have genital HSV-2 infection in the U.S. And it’s more likely for the viruses to be transmitted from an infected male to his female partner. So there is more HVS-2 infection in women than in men.
Most individuals infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 experience either no symptoms or have very mild symptoms that go unnoticed, or are mistaken for another skin condition.
When symptoms do occur, they typically appear as:
- Cracked, raw, or red areas around your genitals without pain, itching, or tingling
- Itching or tingling around your genitals or your anal region
- Small blisters that break open and cause painful sores, on or around vagina, buttocks, thighs, or rectal area
- Pain from urine passing over the sores
- Headaches, backaches
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever, swollen glands, and fatigue
If you suspect you or your partner is infected with herpes, you both should get tested.
#3. Bacteria Vaginosis (BV)
BV is a vaginal infection caused by bacteria due to a chemical imbalance in the vagina.
The CDC estimates that some 21 million (29%) of women aged 14 to 49 years in the U.S. have BV.
Most women found to have BV (84%) reported no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they include:
- Excessive gray, white or yellow vaginal discharge with a fishy smell, which may be worse after sex
- Burning, painful urination
- Itching around outside of the vagina
If you suspect you have BV, you should have it treated. Leaving untreated, BV can make you susceptible to STDs, pelvic inflammatory disease (infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes), infertility, and ectopic pregnancy (life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube which can rupture).
Note that BV is commonly treated with antibiotics. The downside is that taking antibiotics can lead to vaginal yeast infection.
HPV is a common STD caused by a virus called Genital human papillomavirus (also known as HPV).
The CDC estimates that approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. Another 6 million people become newly infected each year.
HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.
Like other STDs, HPV is transmitted through sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral). Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it.
In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years. But, sometimes, HPV infections are not cleared and can cause:
- Genital warts
- Rarely, warts in the throat
- Cervical cancer and other, less common but serious cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat, including the base of tongue and tonsils)
#5. Trichomoniasis (Trich)
Trich is a common STD that is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis.
The CDC estimates that 3.7 million people in the U.S. have the trich infection. About 70% of infected people do not have any signs or symptoms. When trich does cause symptoms, they typically include:
- Greenish-yellow, frothy vaginal discharge with a strong odor
- Painful urination
- Vaginal itching and irritation
- Discomfort during intercourse
- Lower abdominal pain (rare)
Note that the symptoms of trich are similar to those of bacteria vaginosis.
It’s not possible to diagnose trich based on symptoms alone. If you suspect you may be infected with trich, you should get tested.
Chlamydia is another common STD caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis.
The CDC estimates there are around 2.8 million cases of chlamydia infection annually in the U.S.
Chlamydia is most common among young people. It is estimated that 1 in 15 sexually active females aged 14 to 19 years has chlamydia.
Chlamydia is also known as a “silent” infection because most infected people have no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they usually include:
- Mild discomfort similar to menstrual cramps
- Vaginal discharge that may have a bad smell
- Bleeding between periods
- Painful periods
- Pain when having sex
- Itching or burning in or around the vagina
- Pain during urination
If left untreated, chlamydia can damage a woman’s reproductive organs, causing pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and ectopic pregnancy.
If you suspect you may have chlamydia, you should get tested.
Gonorrhea is a STD caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
The CDC estimates that more than 700,000 people in the U.S. get new gonorrhea infections annually.
The common symptoms of gonorrhea include:
- Greenish yellow or whitish vaginal discharge
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- Burning urination
- Conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes)
- Bleeding between periods
- Spotting after intercourse
- Swelling of the vulva (vulvitis)
- Burning in the throat (due to oral sex)
- Swollen glands in the throat (due to oral sex)
Like chlamydia and BV, gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease, internal abscesses, chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy, if left untreated.
So if you suspect you may be infected with gonorrhea, you should get tested.
Syphilis is a highly contagious STD caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum.
According to the CDC, there were about 46,000 new cases of syphilis in 2011.
The symptoms of syphilis include:
- Sores on the genitals or in or around the mouth, resembling large round bug bites that are often hard and painless
- A rosy “copper penny” rash typically on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
- Rashes in other parts of the body
- Moist warts in the groin
- White patches on the inside of the mouth
- Swollen lymph glands
- Weight loss
Left untreated, syphilis can cause long-term complications in the heart, brain, and nerves that can result in paralysis, blindness, dementia, deafness, impotence, and even death.
If you suspect you may be infected with syphilis, you should get tested.
2) The Center for Disease Control
Image source: istockphoto.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are sponsored links that I may receive a compensation for. However, please keep in mind that I link these companies and their products solely because of their quality and the potential benefits to my readers.
vH Essentials Prebiotic Vaginal Suppositories to restore normal vaginal PH balance
14 Day Quick Colon Cleanse to clean up the digestive track
Pearls Probiotic to restore intestinal flora balance
Jarrow Formulas Fem Dophilus to support vaginal and urinary tract health
Source Naturals Wellness Formula to boost immunity and fend off bacterial intrusion
The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book to reduce inflammation (the underlying cause of excessive vaginal discharge and vaginal infections)