Inflammation and infection of the vagina are common gynecologic complaints, resulting from a variety of pathogens, allergic reactions to vaginal contraceptives or other products, vaginal atrophy, or friction during coitus. The normal vaginal pH is 4.5 or less, and Lactobacillus is the predominant organism. Normal secretions during the middle of the cycle, or during pregnancy, can be confused with vaginitis.
When the patient complains of vaginal irritation, pain, or unusual or malodorous discharge, a history should be taken, noting the onset of the LMP; recent sexual activity; use of contraceptives, tampons, or douches; recent changes in medications or use of antibiotics; and the presence of vaginal burning, pain, pruritus, or unusually profuse or malodorous discharge. The physical examination should include careful inspection of the vulva and speculum examination of the vagina and cervix. A vaginal, cervical, or urine sample can be obtained for detection of gonococcus and Chlamydia, if clinically indicated. A specimen of vaginal discharge is examined under the microscope in a drop of 0.9% saline solution to look for trichomonads or clue cells and in a drop of 10% potassium hydroxide to search for Candida. The vaginal pH should be tested; it is frequently greater than 4.5 in infections due to trichomonads and bacterial vaginosis. A bimanual examination to look for evidence of pelvic infection, namely cervical motion, uterine, or adnexal tenderness, should follow. Point-of-care testing is available for all three main organisms that cause vaginitis and can be used if microscopy is not available or for confirmatory testing of microscopy.
A. Vulvovaginal Candidiasis
Pregnancy, diabetes, and use of broad-spectrum antibiotics or corticosteroids predispose patients to Candida infections. Heat, moisture, and occlusive clothing also contribute to the risk. Pruritus, vulvovaginal erythema, and a white curd-like discharge that is not malodorous are found (Figure 18–2). Microscopic examination with 10% potassium hydroxide reveals hyphae and spores (eFigure 18–16). A swab for cultures with Nickerson medium or for PCR testing may be performed if Candida is suspected but not demonstrated.
KOH preparation showing branched hyphae and budding yeast of Candida albicans. (Reproduced, with permission, from DeCherney AH, Pernoll ML [editors]. Current Obstetrics & Gynecology Diagnosis & Treatment, 8th ed. Originally published by Appleton & Lange. Copyright © 1994 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.)
Cervical candidiasis. (Public Health Image Library, CDC.)
B. Trichomonas vaginalis Vaginitis
This sexually transmitted protozoal flagellate infects the vagina, Skene ducts, and lower urinary tract in women and the lower genitourinary tract in men. Pruritus and a malodorous frothy, yellow-green discharge occur, ...