Cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix, the thin end of the uterus that opens into the vagina. The cervix may become inflamed as a result of a sexually transmitted infection, another bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection, or an allergic reaction. Cervicitis is extremely common, affecting approximately half of all women during their lifetimes.

Women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior, including beginning sexual activity at a young age or having many sexual partners, are more likely to develop the condition.

Causes of Cervicitis

Most often, cervicitis results from a sexually transmitted disease (STD). STDs that can cause cervicitis include:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Genital herpes
  • Human papilloma virus (genital warts)
  • Trichomoniasis (a parasitic infection)

When sexually transmitted disease is not the cause of cervicitis, the disorder may result from improper hygiene or allergy relative to the following:

  • Inserted pelvic devices, such as a diaphragm or pessary
  • Spermicides (for birth control)
  • Condoms
  • Feminine hygiene products

Sometimes, the invasive process of sexual intercourse or the insertion of vaginal preparations or pelvic devices can cause bacteria normally found in the vagina to migrate up into the pelvic region, causing cervicitis.

Symptoms of Cervicitis

Some patients do not experience any symptoms of cervicitis, so it is important for women at high risk to be tested regularly for the disorder. When cervicitis does result in symptoms, these symptoms include the following:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after intercourse
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge, typically gray, white or yellow
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal pain
  • Feeling of pressure or heaviness in the pelvic region

When cervicitis becomes severe, the patient may run a fever.

Diagnosis of Cervicitis

In order to diagnose cervicitis, the doctor performs a pelvic examination and takes a Pap smear. During the pelvic examination, the gynecologist looks for:

  • Vaginal swelling and redness
  • Redness of the cervix
  • Discharge from the cervix

If there is a cervical discharge, a smear is taken for microscopic analysis that may indicate bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis (yeast infection), or trichomoniasis (parasitic infection). Other tests that may be performed include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Tests for gonorrhea or chlamydia
  • Colposcopy

In order to confirm the diagnosis and its underlying cause, a biopsy of cervical tissue may also be taken.

Treatment of Cervicitis

When cervicitis is caused by bacterial infection, antibiotics are administered. When the infection is determined to be viral, antiviral medications are prescribed. In postmenopausal women, hormone therapy may be helpful in restoring a normal balance to the vagina.

Rarely, if cervicitis has become chronic or if the usual medications are ineffective in treating the condition, cryotherapy, electocauterization, or laser therapy may be administered.

When cervicitis is caused by an STD, the patient and her sexual partner(s) must be treated for the disease. It is important to treat cervicitis because, left untreated, it can spread to the uterine lining and fallopian tubes, resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can cause infertility.

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