The cervix is the tight canal of tissue that closes off the uterus from the vagina, and it is possible for the cervix to become inflamed or irritated – a condition called cervicitis. It is often misdiagnosed as other conditions because the symptoms of cervicitis are often very mild or nonspecific.
Definition & Facts
Cervicitis happens when the cervix becomes inflamed, and it can be caused by many different issues, including infections, allergies, or injury. Inflammation is defined as any type of capillary dilation, redness, pain, swelling, loss of function, and increase of white blood cells in the affected area.
Over half of all women have a case of cervicitis during their lifetime, but not everyone is diagnosed with the condition. Though cervicitis may be very mild, it can cause or indicate major issues, including infertility and cancer, if left untreated. Therefore, it is very important for women to have regular gynecological checkups.
Symptoms & Complaints
The first noticeable symptom tends to be unusually large amounts of vaginal discharge. This abnormal discharge is often yellow, green, or brown and strange smelling, and it increases in frequency right after menstruation.
Cervicitis can also cause abnormal vaginal bleeding at random times or right after sexual intercourse. Intercourse may be painful, and women may experience vaginal pain, burning sensations, and pain in the stomach and lower back pain. This pain is often so severe that the condition is misdiagnosed as vaginismus.
Urination may cause pain, and some women tend to urinate more often during a bout of cervicitis. Occasionally, the inflammation may spread through the rest of the area, cause irritation and inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis) and vulva.
If the cervicitis is caused by an infection, the infection may spread to other nearby organs. This can result in more abdominal pain, a fever, and nausea. If cervicitis becomes extremely severe, a woman may end up with fertility problems and ectopic pregnancies, and the cellular damage makes cervical cancer more likely.
There are many different reasons that the cervix may become inflamed, but the most common cause of cervicitis is infections. Roughly 40 percent of all cases of cervicitis are caused by a chlamydia infection. Other sexually transmitted infections that may cause cervicitis include gonorrhea, genital herpes, HIV, genital warts and trichomoniasis.
However, not all types of cervicitis are caused by an infection. An allergic reaction to latex condoms, douches, or spermicides may trigger a bout of cervicitis. The cervix can also become inflamed if it is accidentally damaged by a tampon, pessary, diaphragm, or sex toy. Certain medications needed for cancer treatments can also cause cervicitis.
In rare cases, there may be no external cause of cervicitis. Instead, it may happen spontaneously due to a bacterial, chemical, or hormonal imbalance in the vagina. Anything that causes unusual hormone levels, changes in the microflora of the vagina, or changes in vaginal pH may irritate and inflame the cervix.
Diagnosis & Tests
A medical history and sexual history can help a doctor to determine if a patient is at risk for having cervicitis. A simple list of symptoms is normally not enough to diagnose cervicitis because vague symptoms like discharge and pain are common in many other types of infections and health conditions. Therefore, cervicitis is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
A pelvic examination is necessary to diagnose a case of cervicitis, so many women are diagnosed with the condition during a routine physical examination at a gynecologist's office. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will view a patient's cervix and look for signs of swelling and inflammation.
A specimen collection can be used to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible conditions. This type of test will require the doctor to use a cotton swab to remove fluid from the cervix. It can then be examined in a lab, where any infectious bacteria will be evident. The presence of anything that causes cervicitis can be used to confirm the diagnosis and set up a treatment plan.
Treatment & Therapy
Treatment methods for cervicitis will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. In cases of noninfectious cervicitis, there is normally no way of curing it. Instead, a doctor will normally just suggest methods of soothing symptoms. Warm baths, over-the-counter pain relievers, and getting plenty of fluids and rest is recommended for a patient trying to recover from cervicitis.
For patients who have an infection, it is necessary to cure the infection in order to cure the cervicitis. Many infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can be healed with prescription antibiotics. Other infections, like genital herpes, are viral infections, so acyclovir or other antiviral drugs must be used.
Patients are advised to inform any sexual partners and avoid having intercourse until everyone is treated to avoid passing the infection back and forth. In very rare cases where the cervicitis does not heal after the condition is treated, surgery to remove the inflamed area with laser therapy or cryotherapy may be needed. However, this type of cervical surgery is very rare.
Prevention & Prophylaxis
Anything that can upset the natural balance of the vaginal canal, such as chemical douching or scented tampons, should be avoided. Women with diabetes mellitus should try to avoid high blood sugar spikes, which can cause cervicitis. Regular gynecological exams can help to catch cervicitis before it becomes severe