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What causes vaginitis?

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Vaginitis is often caused by infections. Some vaginal infections are passed through sexual contact. Some infections occur if there is a change in the balance of organisms normally found in the vagina.1

In about 90% of affected women, vaginitis is caused by one of these types of infection2:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (pronounced bak-TEER-ee-uhl va-juh-NOH-sis) (BV) is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age. It occurs when there are too many harmful (bad) bacteria and too few protective (good) bacteria in the vagina.3
  • Candida or "yeast" infection occurs when too much Candida grows in the vagina. Candida is yeast, which is a type of fungus frequently present in the vagina.4
  • Trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis (pronounced trik-uh-muh-NAHY-uh-sis) is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a single-cell parasite.

Vaginitis has other causes, too. For instance, some women are sensitive or allergic to vaginal sprays, douches, spermicides, soaps, detergents, and fabric softeners. These products can cause burning, itching, and discharge, even if there is no infection. Women also can have vaginal irritation caused by the natural lessening in estrogen levels during breast-feeding and after menopause.

A woman may have more than one cause of vaginitis at the same time.1


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Self-study STD module—vaginitis. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from http://www2a.cdc.gov/stdtraining/self-study/vaginitis/default.htm [top]
  2. Sobel, J. D. (1999). Vulvovaginitis in healthy women. Comprehensive Therapy, 25,335–346. [top]
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Bacterial vaginosis—CDC fact sheet. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm [top]
  4. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (2008). Vaginal yeast infection. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/vaginalyeast/pages/default.aspx [top]

Last Updated Date: 11/15/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 05/21/2013
Vision National Institutes of Health Home BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Storz Lab: Section on Environmental Gene Regulation Home Machner Lab: Unit on Microbial Pathogenesis Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research Home Bonifacino Lab: Section on Intracellular Protein Trafficking Home Lilly Lab: Section on Gamete Development Home Lippincott-Schwartz Lab: Section on Organelle Biology