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What is cervicitis?

Cervicitis is inflammation of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Babies develop in the uterus, and menstrual blood comes from the uterus, through the cervix.

How does it occur?

Infections by bacteria or viruses are common causes of cervicitis. Usually the infections are transmitted by sexual contact. Examples of such infections are trichomonas, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

Sexual intercourse, injury during childbirth, or surgery may cause the cervix to become inflamed or infected.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of cervicitis may include:

  • a vaginal discharge with an odor or a discharge that is a different color from what is normal for you
  • discomfort or pain in the lower abdomen, especially during sexual intercourse
  • bleeding or spotting from the vagina after intercourse
  • bleeding or spotting from the vagina between menstrual periods
  • itching, burning, or painful urination

Cervicitis often has no symptoms. You may not know you have cervicitis until you have a pelvic exam. During the exam your healthcare provider may see redness or swelling, a discharge from the cervix, or other signs of cervicitis.

How is it diagnosed?

  • If you think you may have cervicitis, see your healthcare provider.
  • Do not use a tampon or diaphragm. When you see your provider, you will be asked about your symptoms. You will have a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. Your provider may use swabs to get a sample of discharge and cells from your cervix for lab tests. Your provider may look at some of your discharge with a microscope to try to see what could be causing the infection.

Your provider may also recommend the following tests:

  • Pap test
  • biopsy of the cervix (cutting tiny pieces of tissue from the cervix for lab tests)
  • blood tests to check for hepatitis B virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

A biopsy may be done as part of an exam called a colposcopy. This is an exam in which your healthcare provider uses a magnifying instrument to look at the cervix. A colposcopy may also be done if a Pap test or biopsied tissue is abnormal.

How is it treated?

Cervicitis is usually caused by bacteria or a virus, and is treated with antibiotics or antiviral medicines. Rarely medicines may not cure the cervicitis. Then the tissue in the inflamed area may be destroyed or removed with cryotherapy (freezing). This procedure is done as an outpatient with few complications or side effects.

Treatment is important to help prevent the spread of the infection to other organs and to your sex partner. If a sexually transmitted disease caused the cervicitis, your partner must also take medicine.

How long will the effects last?

Mild cervicitis usually is gone by the time you have taken all the medicine. The symptoms of more severe cervicitis may last a month or two, even with treatment.

Rarely, the infection may spread to the lining of the uterus or to the fallopian tubes. These infections could cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or infertility. They usually result from infections of gonorrhea or chlamydia.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Take all of your prescribed medicine, even if you have no symptoms. Cervicitis can become a more severe, long-term problem if it is not treated long enough to heal completely.
  • Keep your genital area clean and do not douche unless your healthcare provider says you should.
  • Do not have intercourse until your provider tells you it is OK.
  • Use sanitary pads instead of tampons when you have menstrual periods during your treatment.
  • Keep your follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider.

What can be done to help prevent cervicitis?

  • Have just 1 sexual partner who is not sexually active with anyone else.
  • Always use a latex or polyurethane condom during vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse, especially if you or your partner has sex with others.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File wome5215.htm Release 13/2010

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