One of the most common gynecological conditions for women often shows no symptoms. Cervicitis is inflammation or irritation of the cervix and can be infectious or noninfectious. Without treatment, some types of cervicitis lead to serious reproductive system complications. Research shows that a majority of cervicitis cases stem from sexually transmitted infections, though allergic reactions and vaginal bacterial infections can also precipitate the condition. Routine gynecological examinations are crucial to catch conditions like cervicitis early and protect reproductive health.
The lower-third section of the uterus is a donut-shaped opening called the cervix. This important part of a woman’s reproductive system connects the vagina with the body of the uterus. Not only does the cervix help sperm pass into the uterus, but it also keeps the female upper reproductive tract sterile, protecting it from bacterial infection. Various infections can produce inflammation in the cervical tissue. If this occurs, the infection may spread to the uterus or other reproductive organs.
Symptoms of Cervicitis
Although many women do not report experiencing symptoms of cervicitis, some exhibit a variety of signs:
- Yellow-green, pus-like discharge
- Vaginal itching
- Irregular vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods
- Vaginal bleeding after sex
- Pain during sex
- Painful or frequent urination
- Redness or irritation around the vaginal opening
If there are no symptoms to prompt medical attention, physicians often diagnose cervicitis during routine pelvic exams.
Acute infection usually appears suddenly and exhibits severe symptoms. Sexually transmitted infections or STIs are the most common cause of this type of cervicitis. However, doctors cannot always identify the reason for the infection. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two of the most common triggers for acute cervicitis, and the absence of symptoms does not mean that the cervicitis infection no longer exists. Acute infections can lead to chronic infections if not medically treated.
There is little research data available about chronic cervicitis. Unlike acute cervicitis, infections do not give rise to the chronic form. Doctors say that chronic cervicitis is likely due to irritation or injury to the cervix. Allergies to products such as douches, tampons, or latex condoms can also be a factor. This type of cervicitis appears slowly and develops over a long period. It may last for several months if there is no medical intervention.
Cervicitis: Sexually Transmitted Infections
Most women develop cervicitis as a result of sexual contact. In addition to gonorrhea and chlamydia, other STIs such as trichomoniasis, herpes simplex virus, gonorrhea, genital warts, and chlamydia can also bring about an infection of the cervix. Sexual activity at a young age and sex with multiple partners can raise the risk of developing cervicitis. Sexual health experts say that limiting the number of partners and using a condom helps prevent this type of infection.
Cervicitis from Allergic Reactions
Some feminine hygiene products, including douches and feminine deodorants, may provoke an allergic reaction and cervicitis. Spermicides can also lead to vaginal irritation. Latex contains proteins known to cause allergic reactions in some people. Doctors warn that frequent douching or spermicide use raises the risk of exposure to irritants that may lead to allergy-caused cervicitis.
Cervicitis and Bacterial Vaginosis
In some cases, bacterial vaginosis — bacterial overgrowth — causes cervicitis. Although bacteria are always present in the vagina, research suggests that a lack of a hydrogen peroxide-producing bacteria called Lactobacillus may contribute to the onset of cervicitis. Introducing staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria into the uterus through a tampon or birth control device can also lead to cervicitis.
To diagnose cervicitis, a physician will likely perform an internal pelvic examination and pap test. Cervicitis often irritates the lining of the cervix, causing redness, swelling, and irritation. Because cervicitis can spread to the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes, the physician will check for tenderness in those areas that could indicate pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious condition that can lead to chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and spontaneous abortion. Women should always report any pain or fever to their physicians.
Cervicitis in Adolescents
Research indicates that health care workers routinely under-screen young women between the ages of 15 and 24, even though they represent about 50% of all new STIs in the U.S. Limited data is available due to the lack of studies. However, a 2011 study found that a majority of the diagnoses and treatments for cervicitis in adolescent females did not follow established guidelines. Yet, medical staff diagnosed half of the young women in the study not only with cervicitis but also with PID. The study also discovered that health care providers felt uncomfortable taking sexual histories from adolescent females.
Treatment of Cervicitis
In sudden-onset, acute infection cases, doctors first prescribe antibiotics to treat the STI, especially if the individual reports risk factors such as not wearing protection during sex. Medications and treatment cannot cure certain STIs, such as the herpes simplex virus, but they can control them. If the physician confirms a cervicitis diagnosis, he or she may adjust the medications. Medical staff will repeat testing in three to six months to ensure the infection has cleared. For chronic, noninfectious cervicitis from trauma or allergic reactions, the doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic and suggest abstaining from sex temporarily to allow the symptoms to improve. Cervicitis usually subsides within a few days after starting an antibiotic.