What Is the Difference Between Vaginitis and Vaginosis?

Reviewed on 3/24/2021

What are vaginitis and vaginosis?

Vaginitis and vaginosis are often linked and have similar symptoms. This can make it hard to differentiate between the two conditions.
Vaginitis and vaginosis are often linked and have similar symptoms. This can make it hard to differentiate between the two conditions.

Vaginitis and vaginosis are common conditions in women of childbearing age. They can happen when something changes the delicate balance of bacteria and yeast flora in the vagina.

Vaginitis and vaginosis are often linked and have similar symptoms. This can make it hard to differentiate between the two conditions. It’s important to learn the symptoms of vaginitis and vaginosis so you can treat these conditions quickly and avoid complications. 

What is vaginitis?

Vaginitis is an inflammation or infection of the vagina. It’s defined as any condition that causes odor, abnormal vaginal discharge, or inflammation. Vaginitis can be caused by a range of infections. Each infection has its own symptoms and treatments. 

What is vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an imbalance of bacteria in your vagina. Having bacteria in the vagina is normal. BV happens when something alters their balance, and one type of bacteria starts to multiply and take over, causing unpleasant symptoms. 

Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but it may increase your likelihood of contracting an STD {Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).”}. It doesn’t always cause symptoms. You can even have it for months and not know it. Bacterial vaginosis can lead to vaginitis. 

Symptoms and signs of vaginitis and vaginosis

Vaginosis can cause vaginitis. That means the symptoms are similar and sometimes overlap. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of each condition so you can get proper treatment quickly. 

Symptoms of vaginitis

Vaginitis is inflammation of the vaginal area. There may be several symptoms. The doctor will need to determine the cause so they can treat the underlying problem.

Symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • Burning and inflammation
  • Itchiness
  • Visible redness 
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Vaginal soreness 

The symptoms that vaginitis presents can help the doctor identify what’s causing the infection. 

Symptoms of vaginosis

Vaginosis doesn’t always cause symptoms. However, symptoms of vaginosis can include: 

  • A fish-like odor that may intensify after intercourse
  • A thin, gray discharge 
  • Extreme itchiness and irritation on the vulva
  • A burning sensation when you pee

QUESTION

The vagina includes the labia, clitoris, and uterus. See Answer

Causes of vaginitis and vaginosis

As a general rule, you should only use water and unscented soap to clean the exterior of your vagina. The inside of your vagina is self-cleaning. Vaginitis and vaginosis can occur because perfume or other irritants are sprayed in the vagina, changing its bacterial balance. 

Causes of vaginitis 

There are multiple underlying causes for vaginitis: 

Causes of vaginosis

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of vaginosis. They do know it happens when something changes the balance of vaginal bacteria. Changes to bacterial balance in the vagina can be caused by:

  • Having a new sex partner or multiple partners
  • Douching 
  • Using feminine sprays and washes
  • Taking long baths with perfumed oils or soaps 

Diagnosis for vaginitis vs. vaginosis

In order to treat vaginitis, the doctor needs to first find what’s causing it. They will take your medical history and may perform a pelvic exam.

There are many potential causes for vaginitis and your doctor will likely have to examine discharge from your vagina. They may also do a urine test.

Vaginosis is usually diagnosed through lab tests that assess bacterial balance and pH levels in the vaginal fluids.

Treatments for vaginitis vs. vaginosis

Once the doctor has determined what condition you have, they will be able to effectively treat it. 

Treatments are often pills or creams designed to relieve your symptoms quickly. It usually takes one to two weeks to treat vaginal infections, depending on the type.

Treatment for vaginitis

The treatment of vaginitis will depend on the type of vaginitis you have: 

  • Yeast infection: If a yeast infection is causing your vaginitis, an over-the-counter pill inserted into the vagina can usually resolve the infection and relieve your symptoms. A topical cream can also treat yeast infections.
  • Bacterial Vaginosis: If BV is the cause, you will need antibiotics. 
  • Trichomoniasis: This is an STD and is usually treated with a single-dose antibiotic. Unlike most other causes of vaginitis, trichomoniasis is contagious and can spread to men. Your partner will also need treatment. 
  • Allergies: If you used a new product and are experiencing an allergic reaction, use the process of elimination to find out which product you are allergic to. 

Treatment for vaginosis

If you’ve been diagnosed with BV, you will need antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria that’s causing the overgrowth. Antibiotics usually prescribed for BV are: 

If you are pregnant or suspect you may be, tell your healthcare provider. Bacterial vaginosis can cause complications in pregnancy. 


 

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References
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Vaginitis.”

American Family Physician: “Vaginitis: Diagnosis and Treatment.”

American Pregnancy Association: “Bacterial Vaginosis During Pregnancy.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines: Bacterial Vaginosis.”

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “How is vaginitis treated?”

National Health Service: “Bacterial vaginosis.”

Planned Parenthood: “Vaginitis.”

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