What is Cervicitis?
Cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix, the lowest part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Symptoms may include bleeding in between periods, painful intercourse, pain during a pelvic exam, and atypical vaginal discharge. Although symptoms can occur, others may experience no symptoms at all. Cervicitis is a common condition that is often caused by sexually transmitted infections but may also be caused by non-infectious issues. Treatment is based on the underlying cause of the infection.
While some people do not experience any symptoms with cervicitis, others may experience a range of symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- Bleeding in between periods
- Painful intercourse
- Bleeding after intercourse, when not connected to menstrual period
- Pain during a pelvic exam
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Frequent and painful urination
Symptoms that you may want to see a doctor for include:
- Consistent pain during intercourse
- Frequent abnormal discharge
- Non-menstrual vaginal bleeding
Cervicitis is often caused by sexually transmitted infections but can also be caused by non-infectious issues. Common causes include:
- Sexually transmitted infections. Cervicitis often develops from bacterial or viral infections that are transmitted through sexual contact. The types of sexually transmitted infections that sometimes cause cervicitis include gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and genital herpes.
- Allergic reactions. Allergic reactions to latex condoms or contraceptive spermicides may cause cervicitis. Some feminine hygiene products (douches or feminine deodorant) may also cause cervicitis.
- Bacterial overgrowth. An overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina (bacterial vaginosis) may lead to the development of cervicitis.
A person is at a greater risk for developing cervicitis if they:
- Engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, such as having unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, sex with partners who also engage in high-risk sexual behaviors
- History of sexually transmitted infections
- Started having sexual intercourse at a young age
There are several complications that may arise from cervicitis. The cervix acts as a protective barrier for the uterus and prevents bacteria and viruses from entering the uterus. However, having cervicitis breaks down the protective barrier, putting the uterus at a greater risk of developing bacterial or viral infections.
Additionally, there is a greater risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if cervicitis has been caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia. PID happens when an infection spreads to the uterine lining and fallopian tubes. This can cause issues with fertility if left untreated.
Cervicitis may also create a greater risk of developing HIV from an infected sexual partner.
The best way to prevent cervicitis is to use condoms consistently and effectively. Condom usage prevents sexually transmitted infections from occurring, specifically gonorrhea and chlamydia, which can cause cervicitis. Additionally, having an uninfected sexual partner, in which both partners are committed to having sex with each other exclusively, can reduce the risk of developing cervicitis.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination, including a pelvic exam and specimen collection to make a diagnosis of cervicitis. For the pelvic exam, your doctor will check the pelvic organs for swelling and tenderness and may use a speculum to view all the walls of the vagina and cervix. Your doctor will also want to take a specimen sample to be sent to a lab for analysis. The doctor will use a cotton swab to collect a sample of cervical and vaginal fluid. Lab tests may also be conducted on a urine sample.
The typical form of treatment for cervicitis is antibiotics unless it was not caused by a bacterial infection (when cervicitis is due to an allergic reaction). The antibiotics work to kill the bacteria, specifically the bacteria that causes sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, a doctor may prescribe an antiviral for people who contract genital herpes, which helps reduce the number of times you experience symptoms but will not cure the chronic condition. You can still pass genital herpes onto sexual partners at any time. It is also important that your sexual partner be treated for the infection.
Antibiotics should clear up cervicitis in about two weeks. Make sure to finish all the antibiotics that were prescribed, even if symptoms clear up before the end of the two weeks. It is recommended that if you have a bacterial infection, to wait until all symptoms have cleared before having sex with your partner.
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