The cervix is located at the end of uterus, reaching into the vagina. When the exterior tissues of the cervix become inflamed, usually through infection, this is called cervicitis. About half of all women will experience one bout or more of this condition in their lifetimes.
Cervicitis has several causes. A common cause is insertion of foreign material, such as a diaphragm, cervical cap, spermicides and tampons into the vagina. Some women develop it in response to latex allergies, where latex is present in either condoms or diaphragms, or through allergy to spermicides.
Some sexually transmitted diseases can also cause cervicitis. Those with genital herpes outbreaks, gonorrhea and chlamydia are all at increased risk for developing this condition. As well, it can be caused by bacterial infection localized in the vagina or yeast infections.
Symptoms of cervicitis include vaginal discharge, which may be odorous, and colored grey, yellow or white. Vaginal bleeding not related to normal menstruation may be noted. Vaginal bleeding after sexual contact, or after menopause are signs of irritation of the cervix. Vaginal pain is usually present and those affected may feel as though their pelvis is under pressure. Sexual intercourse may be painful.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination of the vagina. When cervicitis is present, the cervix will appear red and swollen. Usually a few swabs of the vagina are taken to rule out sexually transmitted diseases and bacterial infection. Vaginal discharge is also evaluated for evidence of disease.
Evidence of cervicitis caused by bacterial infection or by illnesses like gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. Cervicitis caused by yeast infection may be treated with anti-fungal medication. That caused by allergies to latex usually means counseling to change sexual habits and contraception methods.
When this condition persists, surgery to remove part of the irritated cervix may be required. Surgery is most often performed in women who are post-menopausal, since changing the cervix could limit ability to conceive or carry a child to term. Sometimes a portion of the cervix is removed with laser therapy, but as well, cervical tissue may be removed by freezing off a portion of the cervix, called cryosurgery. Surgeons might also use electrocauterization, which kills some cervical tissue with electrical current.
Risk factors for cervicitis include early sexual intercourse, sex with multiple partners, and unsafe sex practices. Using douches or tampons that have fragrance can increase risk. Women who pursue monogamous relationships are less likely to be affected by this condition, though still may find difficulty with barrier methods used to prevent pregnancy.