Vaginitis: diagnosis and management

Postgrad Med. 2010 Nov;122(6):117-27. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2010.11.2229.


Vaginitis is one of the most common ambulatory problems to occur in women. It is a disorder responsible for > 10% of visits made to providers of women's health care. Although vaginal infections are the most common cause, other considerations include cervicitis, a normal vaginal discharge, foreign-body vaginitis, contact vaginitis, atrophic vaginitis, and desquamative inflammatory vaginitis. The medical history and examination are an important source of clues to the underlying diagnosis. However, making a definitive diagnosis requires skillful performance of office laboratory procedures, including the vaginal pool wet mount examination, determination of the vaginal pH, and the whiff test. Vaginal and cervical cultures, nucleic acid tests, and point-of-care tests are available and may be required in selected patients. Once a specific diagnosis is made, effective therapy can be prescribed. Candida vaginitis is generally treated with either the vaginal administration of an imidazole or triazole antifungal agent or the prescription of oral fluconazole. Oral nitroimidazole agents, metronidazole or tinidazole, are the only effective treatments for trichomoniasis in the United States. Bacterial vaginosis, which has been linked to important gynecologic and pregnancy complications, can be treated with an available oral or topical agent containing either a nitroimidazole or clindamycin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravaginal
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antifungal Agents / administration & dosage*
  • California
  • Candidiasis, Vulvovaginal / diagnosis
  • Candidiasis, Vulvovaginal / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / microbiology
  • Prognosis
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Trichomonas Vaginitis / diagnosis
  • Trichomonas Vaginitis / drug therapy
  • Vaginitis / diagnosis*
  • Vaginitis / drug therapy*
  • Vaginitis / microbiology
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / diagnosis
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / drug therapy
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antifungal Agents