Don't Let Your Cervicitis Go Untreated
Cervicitis is the inflammation of the cervix, which can be acute or chronic, lasting for several months or years. It's estimated that half of all adult women will experience cervicitis at some point in their lives, and in many cases, there are no symptoms present.
This condition is often diagnosed through routine pelvic exams, which demonstrates the importance of attending checkups and speaking up about any sudden changes in discharge and vaginal bleeding.
What are the causes?
Cervicitis has a few different causes, but it's primarily caused by a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, explained Kecia Gaither, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., double board-certified OB-GYN and Maternal-Fetal Medicine. You are at a slightly higher risk of developing cervicitis if you have unprotected sex with multiple partners, or if you've had a previous sexually transmitted infection (STI).
However, STIs aren't the only cause of cervicitis. It can develop due to an allergy to latex or spermicide, douching or a sensitivity to feminine hygiene products.
"Your vagina naturally produces bacteria to help keep it healthy. Sometimes, these bacteria can overgrow, leading to a condition called bacterial vaginosis, which can then develop into cervicitis," said Samantha Wild, D.R.C.O.G., Women's Health Clinical Lead and Primary Care Physician at Bupa Health Clinics.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina, which leads to an infection that can be passed on to another woman during sex. The use of perfumed soaps as well as douching can increase your risk of getting the infection.
A study published in 2006 showed a link between BV and cervicitis. Of the 424 women who had BV, 63 had cervicitis and only 8 tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection.
Symptoms to look out for
In many cases, there are no signs or symptoms of cervicitis, which can make an early diagnosis very difficult. You may not know you have it until a pelvic exam is performed for a different reason.
If you do have symptoms, they may include the following:
- Discolored discharge
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Lower abdominal pain
- Bleeding in between periods
- Bleeding after sex
- Burning during urination or increased frequency
These symptoms can come on suddenly or they can increase over a period of time, which is why it's necessary to keep a symptom diary. Keeping a diary will allow you to see when the symptoms started and how long you've been experiencing them—which can be helpful when you see the doctor.
"If the infection is not treated, the bacteria can move up into the womb and infect other pelvic organs, like fallopian tubes and the rest of the uterus. This can lead to a more serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease," said Ravina Bhanot, M.B.B.S., D.R.C.O.G., founder of Zonas Fertility.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the reproductive organs that has long-term complications, including scarring, which can lead to chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. Some women may experience severe abdominal pain and vomiting.
"Untreated cervicitis can potentially cause infertility if left untreated," Gaither warned. Even if your symptoms are mild, you must inform your doctor, so they can refer you for any necessary tests. The earlier it's treated, the less risk there is to your pelvic organs. Many women who are treated for cervicitis early will be able to get pregnant without intervention.
If you're experiencing cervicitis symptoms, your doctor will perform a full gynecological examination and assessment, according to Bhanot.
"A vaginal examination, speculum examination and swabs may be done," Bhanot said. "Antibiotics can be given depending on the bacteria that was found on the swab. For each sexually transmitted infection, a specific antibiotic can be given. Antibiotics are given as tablets and can be given for between one to two weeks, and longer if necessary."
As there are various causes of cervicitis, the treatment that's offered will vary. If it's believed to be caused by latex allergy or feminine hygiene products, your doctor will discuss alternatives.
Ditching perfumed soaps and known irritants is one of the most effective ways to prevent future infections and promote better vaginal health. As the vagina is self-cleaning, water is the best and safest way to ensure that it's clean. In some cases, a mild, unscented soap can be used, but you should discuss this with your doctor first.
If your infection is caused by an IUD, an antibiotic will be prescribed to treat the infection. Removal of the IUD may not be necessary once the infection clears up. However, if you have any concerns or you would like to have it removed, you can speak to your doctor about alternative birth control.
Natural remedies, such as eating Greek yogurt and taking a daily probiotic, can be used alongside antibiotics to help support your cervical health. After treatment, you should ensure that you wear well-fitted cotton underwear, avoid fragranced bubble baths and soap, and use male or female condoms to protect against STIs.