Cervicitis

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Definition

Cervicitis is swelling or inflamed tissue of the end of the uterus (cervix).

Alternative Names

Cervical inflammation; Inflammation - cervix

Causes

Cervicitis is most often caused by an infection that is caught during sexual activity. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can cause cervicitis include:

Other things that can cause cervicitis include:

  • A device inserted into the pelvic area such as a cervical cap, diaphragm, or pessary
  • Allergy to spermicides used for birth control
  • Allergy to latex in condoms
  • Exposure to a chemical

Cervicitis is very common. It affects more than one half of all women at some point during their adult life. Risks include:

  • High-risk sexual behavior
  • History of STIs
  • Many sexual partners
  • Sex (intercourse) at an early age
  • Sexual partners who have engaged in high-risk sexual behavior or have had an STI

Bacteria (such as staphylococcus and streptococcus) and too much growth of normal bacteria in the vagina (bacterial vaginosis) can also cause cervicitis.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • that occurs after intercourse, after , or between periods
  • Unusual vaginal discharge that does not go away: discharge may be gray, white or yellow in color
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the vagina
  • Pressure or heaviness in the pelvis

Note: There may be no symptoms. Women who may be at risk for chlamydia should be tested for this infection, even if they do not have symptoms.

Exams and Tests

A pelvic exam is done to look for:

  • Discharge from the cervix
  • Redness of the cervix
  • Swelling (inflammation) of the walls of the vagina

Tests that may be done include:

Rarely, colposcopy and biopsy of the cervix is necessary.

Treatment

Antibiotics are used to treat chlamydia or gonorrhea. Drugs called antivirals may be used to treat herpes infections.

Hormonal therapy (with estrogen or progesterone) may be used in women who have reached menopause.

When these treatments have not worked or when cervicitis has been present for a long time, treatment may include:

  • Cryosurgery (freezing)
  • A small probe with an electric current running through it is used to burn or destroy the tissue
  • Laser therapy

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of the time, simple cervicitis usually heals with treatment if the cause is found and there is a treatment for that cause.

Possible Complications

Cervicitis may last for months to years. Cervicitis may lead to pain with intercourse (dyspareunia).

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of cervicitis.

Prevention

Things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cervicitis include:

  • Avoid irritants such as douches and deodorant tampons.
  • Make sure that any foreign objects you insert into your vagina (such as tampons) are properly placed. Be sure to follow instructions on how long to leave it inside, how often to change it, or how often to clean it.
  • Make sure your partner is free of any STI. You and your partner should not have sex with any other people.
  • Use a condom every time you have sex to lower your risk of getting an STI. Condoms are available for both men and women, but are most commonly worn by the man. A condom must be used properly every time.

References

Eckert LO, Lentz GM. Infections of the lower genital tract. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 23.

Swygard H, Cohen MS. Approach to the patient with a sexually transmitted infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 285.

Workowski KA, Bolan GA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2015;64(RR-03):1-137. PMID: 26042815 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26042815.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 4/5/2016
  • Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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