The Most Dangerous Vaginal Infections: Everything You Need to Know

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  • A lot of women tend to treat symptoms of a vaginal infection with over-the-counter medicine, which doesn’t work if what they have is not actually a vaginal yeast infection,
  • There are several bacteria species that naturally inhabit the vaginal area and may overgrow.
  • You should always confirm the type of infection you have with your doctor and find out what caused it to ensure proper treatment.

In and of themselves, vaginal infections are mostly benign. However, they can lead to complications in some (thankfully rare) cases, about which you should know more. Read on to learn about vaginal infections and how to prevent and treat them. Vaginitis can cause inflammation or infection of the vagina. When you have vulva and vaginal inflammation, that’s called vulvovaginitis. Sometimes vaginal infections have no symptoms at all. If they do, these are usually one or more of the following:

  • Vaginal itching
  • A change in discharge color
  • A change in the amount of discharge
  • Burning or pain during urination or sex
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
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Vaginitis is the disruption of the healthy vaginal microbiota. The vaginal microbiota consists of those organisms which generally do not cause symptoms, infections, and results in good pregnancy outcomes, and is dominated mainly by Lactobacillus species.

Vaginal infections symptoms also vary depending on the reason for the infection. Typically, bacterial infections cause yellow or grayish-white discharge which may smell like fish. In most cases, yeast infections cause itching. If there is discharge, it may be white and thick and look like cottage cheese.

Yet another infection that can be dangerous is trichomoniasis. This also produces odor and vaginal itching. There is frothy, yellowish-green discharge from this infection.

Yeast Infections

As noted, vaginal infections are usually not dangerous, but you should seek medical attention in some cases. These include:

  • Developing a fever
  • Never having had a vaginal infection in the past
  • Having symptoms come back after treatment
  • Having new or different sexual partners
  • Having new symptoms of a vaginal infection

Also, see a doctor if you are or think you may be pregnant. Keep in mind the likelihood of vaginal infections increases during pregnancy due to altering estrogen levels.

The infections mentioned here can be symptomatic of a more serious, underlying condition or lead to certain complications if not treated properly. A lot of women tend to treat symptoms of a vaginal infection with over-the-counter medicine, which doesn’t work if what they have is not actually a vaginal yeast infection, for example. In this case, symptoms do not improve and the condition can even become exacerbated. A study by the American Social Health Association found that almost three-quarters of women use OTC drugs designed to treat yeast infections before seeking medical attention. When you self-medicate a vaginal yeast infection, your symptoms can be connected to other conditions, such as bacterial infections. One of these is bacterial vaginosis. Other causes of symptoms that liken those to a yeast infection include chemical irritation from deodorant, powder, soap, or perfume, local irritation from tampons or intercourse, or an allergic reaction. With regard to the first, always choose reliable and proven products.

Finally, recurring yeast infections can signal a number of graver conditions like leukemia, diabetes, and other immune system disorders. In a fraction of all cases, yeast infections can lead to systemic Candida disease. The outcome for three-quarters of the people who develop this complication is fatal. Systemic Candida disease occurs when the infection spreads via the bloodstream throughout the body. People with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to this condition.

Bacterial Vaginosis 

Also known as non-specific vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal condition that causes discharge and results from excess of some types of bacteria in the vagina. There are several bacteria species that naturally inhabit the vaginal area and may overgrow. In this sense, bacterial vaginosis is not a “real” infection with foreign bacteria, such as those typical of most sexually transmitted infections. One of the bacteria that cause this infection is Gardnerella, but it’s not the only one. The other kinds that may play a role include Bacteroides, Lactobacillus, Peptostreptococcus, Eubacterium, Fusobacterium, and a few others. Women can experience a foul-smelling vaginal discharge when the balance of these multiple species of bacteria is disrupted.

Doctors don’t fully understand the role of bacteria transmission in bacterial vaginosis, although it is not considered to be contagious. Spread of bacteria between people can predispose to development of the condition because women with multiple or new sexual partners are more vulnerable to the risk of developing bacterial vaginosis. However, this is definitely not the only factor at play because bacterial vaginosis also occurs in monogamous and even celibate women.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

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Other less common infections are caused by gonorrhea, chlamydia, Mycoplasma, herpes, Campylobacter, improper hygiene, and some parasites, notably Trichomonas vaginalis. Women who have diabetes develop infectious vaginitis more often than women who do not.

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a bacteria group that comes and goes in our bodies, but it’s most often found in the rectum and vagina. Normally, they do not cause an infection or even any symptoms for that matter. Yet, they can be very dangerous in pregnant women. Expectant mothers who have GBS in their bodies can pass it to their babies when they give birth. According to the Centers of Disease Control, it is passed down to babies 1 to 2 percent of the time, and GBS can be fatal in a newborn, although fatalities are not common. Late pregnancy stage testing, which is normally part of prenatal care, can help detect GBS. Treatment with IV antibiotics (through a needle in a vein) can minimize the risk of passing GBS to babies.

Uterine Infections during Pregnancy

Uterine infections during pregnancy can be very dangerous for many reasons. They can lead to premature labor, harm the developing baby, affect the placenta, or cause birth abnormalities. Uterine infections can also make labor harder and more dangerous. Some women experience life-threatening complications like organ failure.

Uterine infections frequently develop when bacteria travel from the vagina to the uterus. This is why a vaginal infection that goes untreated is an exacerbating uterine infection factor. A woman is more vulnerable to uterine infections if her membranes rupture in the course of prolonged labor.

Final Tips  

You should always confirm the type of infection you have with your doctor and find out what caused it to ensure proper treatment even though most vaginal infections are benign and can be treated with over-the-counter medication. Other illnesses may produce symptoms that resemble those of a vaginal yeast infection, for example, and some infections can have a more grave condition as an underlying cause. You should ask for professional help if you suffer from recurring vaginal yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. One cause may be VVC or recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, defined as more than three vaginal yeast infection episodes per year.

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