Last updated: September 2, 2022

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Vulvovaginitis refers to a large variety of conditions that result in inflammation of the vulva and vagina. The causes may be infectious (e.g., bacterial vaginosis in most cases) or noninfectious. Physiologically, the normal vaginal flora (mainly lactobacilli) keeps the pH levels of the vaginal fluids low, thus preventing the overgrowth of pathogenic and opportunistic organisms. Disruption of that flora (e.g., due to sexual intercourse) predisposes to infection and inflammation. Diagnosis of infectious vulvovaginitis is based on histology examination of vaginal discharge. Treatment consists of administration of antibiotics or antifungals (depending on the pathogen).

Genitourinary syndrome of menopause is the most common non-infectious cause of vulvovaginitis and frequently affects elderly women after menopause as a result of decreased estrogen levels. The diagnosis is clinical and treatment includes application of vaginal lubricants and topical estrogen cream. Other causes of noninfectious vulvovaginitis include allergic and mechanical.


Differential diagnoses of infectious vulvovaginitis

Features Bacterial vaginosis Trichomoniasis Vaginal yeast infection Gonorrhea Chlamydia infections
  • Gray/milky
  • Fishy odor
  • Frothy, yellow-green
  • Foul-smelling
  • White, crumbly, and thick (cottage cheese-like)
  • Odorless
  • May be malodorous
Special features

Partner therapy is recommended in most cases of STDs, particularly chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and gonorrhea. Bacterial vaginosis and vaginal yeast infection do not require treatment of the partner(s).

ABCDEFG: Amsel criteria, Bacterial vaginosis, Clue cells, Discharge (gray or milky), Electrons (pH of vaginal secretions is alkaline), Fishy odor of discharge, and Gestation (increased risk for miscarriage) are the most important features of bacterial vaginosis.

“After sex, Burn the Foul, Green Tree:” burning sensation and foul-smelling, yellow-green discharge are the features of trichomoniasis.

Differential diagnoses of noninfectious vulvovaginitis
Features Genitourinary syndrome of menopause Aerobic vaginitis Allergic vulvovaginitis Mechanical vulvovaginitis
  • Noninfectious microbiome disturbance (lower concentrations of Lactobacillus species in the vaginal flora)
  • Secondary bacterial overgrowth with gram-negative (e.g., Escherichia coli) and gram-positive (e.g., Streptococcus agalactiae) bacteria
  • Vaginal immune reaction
Clinical features
  • Decreasing labial fat pad
  • Vaginal soreness, dryness
  • Dyspareunia
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Receding pubic hair
  • Dermatological and/or rheumatological workup
  • Moisturizers and lubricants
  • Local or systemic estrogen therapy
  • Avoid irritants
  • Moisturizers and cooling
  • Cortisone creams
  • Cause-specific
  • Moisturizers and cooling
  • Epidemiology: may affect all age groups, but are especially common in prepubescent girls
  • Etiology: allergies to laundry or cleaning detergents, textile fibers, sanitary napkins, etc.
  • Clinical features: pruritus, redness, swelling, burning sensation
  • Diagnostics: Special allergy diagnostics (e.g., prick/puncture, intradermal test) may be indicated if symptoms persist despite treatment.
  • Treatment
    • Avoid irritants
    • Soothing lotions, ice packs, and sitz baths (e.g., containing chamomile)
    • Cortisone creams if needed

Vulvovaginitis in pediatric patients

  • Epidemiology: most common gynecological disorder in prepubertal children
  • Etiology
    • Poor hygiene (most common cause)
    • Foreign body in the genitourinary tract [14]
    • Use of perfumed soaps and bubble baths
    • Localized skin disorders
    • In some cases, sexual abuse
  • Pathophysiology: Estrogen levels are lower in prepubescent girls, making the vulvar skin and vaginal mucosa very thin. This makes them more susceptible to vulvovaginitis of any cause.
  • Clinical features
  • Diagnostics
  • Treatment

Infectious vulvovaginitis in pregnant patients

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