What is cervicitis?
Cervicitis is an inflammatory condition of the cervix (neck of the womb). The inflammation can be infectious – caused by bacteria or viruses – or non-infectious – caused by physical or chemical irritation, injury to the cervix or allergies.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia and gonorrhea, are the most common cause of cervicitis. Some women don't experience any symptoms as a result of cervicitis at all, while others may experience symptoms such as vaginal discharge, lower abdominal (stomach) pain or pain and bleeding after sex. Antibiotics or antiviral medications may be necessary to treat infectious cervicitis, however most people recover fully from the condition.
Causes of cervicitis
Cervicitis is most commonly caused by infection. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are the most common type of infection that cause the condition. STIs that may cause cervicitis include:
- Genital herpes
Less commonly, cervicitis may be caused by factors such as:
- An allergy to the chemicals found in condoms, spermicides or douches
- Injury or irritation caused by things such as diaphragms, tampons or pessaries
- Bacterial vaginosis (an imbalance of normal bacteria in the vagina)
- A hormonal imbalance
- Cancer or cancer treatment
Symptoms of cervicitis
Cervicitis may cause no symptoms at all, or symptoms such as:
- Grayish or yellowish vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting (either after intercourse or between periods)
- Pain during sex
- A burning sensation when urinating (usually the result of the condition spreading to the urethra)
If cervicitis spreads to the uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries, this is a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). People with PID may experience symptoms such as abdominal pain and fever.
Women displaying the symptoms of cervicitis should see a doctor for diagnosis. Doctors will be able to identify the condition, as well as any other conditions that involve similar symptoms.
Diagnosing cervicitis will usually involve tests including:
- A speculum exam, where a device called a speculum is inserted into the vagina. The speculum is gently opened to widen the vagina so that the vagina and cervix can be seen. The doctor will be looking for signs of redness, discharge and inflammation of the vaginal walls.
- A pap smear, also known as a pap test, which involves swabbing cells from the vagina and cervix and testing these cells for abnormalities. This can be performed during the speculum exam.
- A bimanual pelvic exam, which involves the doctor inserting a gloved finger into the vagina to palpate for abnormalities.
- Tests for STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes.
There is no specific treatment for cervicitis. Instead, a doctor will recommend a treatment method based on the root cause of the condition, as well as the individual’s symptoms, age, overall health and medical history.
In cases where cervicitis is caused by an infection, antibiotics will generally be prescribed. If the condition is a result of irritation from condoms or tampons, for example, treatment may involve ceasing to use these products to allow for healing.
Prevention of cervicitis
Using condoms during sexual intercourse can help prevent bacterial and viral infections of the cervix. Condoms, however, cannot guarantee full protection. Avoiding causes of non-infectious cervicitis (such as things which cause allergies) may help prevent some episodes of cervicitis.
If cervicitis is caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea and it spreads to the uterus or fallopian tubes, this can result in a condition known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Symptoms of PID include abdominal pain and fever, and can in some cases lead to fertility problems. PID can typically be treated using antibiotics.