Gynecological Disorders

The NICHD (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) funds and conducts research on many disorders that affect the organs in a woman's abdominal and pelvic areas. In general, most of these disorders don't directly affect a woman's changes of getting pregnant naturally. Some of these conditions include:

  • Vulvodynia
  • Vaginitis
  • Pelvic Floor Disorders
  • Pelvic Pain


Vulvodynia (vul-voh-DINN-nee-uh) is the term used to describe chronic discomfort or pain of the vulva, especially burning, stinging, irritation, or rawness of the area. Health care providers don't agree on the exact definition of vulvodynia. Currently, the term is used to describe a variety of conditions.

The NICHD is also supporting other research on vulvodynia.


Vaginitis (va-jinn-EYE-tiss) is a term used to describe any disorder that causes swelling or infection of both the vulva and the vagina. Vaginitis is different from vulvodynia because it affects the vagina, which is inside the woman's body; vulvodyina only affects the vulva, which is outside the woman's body.

The most common types of vaginitis include:

  • "Yeast" infections--Infections caused by the fungus Candida. The most apparent symptom of a yeast infection is a thick, white vaginal discharge; some women also experience a red, itchy vulva. There are many over-the-counter and prescription treatments for yeast infections. If you think you have a yeast infection, talk to your health care provider about how to treat it.
  • Bacterial vaginosis--Caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that are normally present in the vagina. This type of vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection for women of reproductive age. The most common symptom is a vaginal discharge, which is usually thin and milky; it may also have a "fishy" odor. Your health care provider can recommend medications to treat bacterial vaginosis.
  • Sexually transmitted forms of vaginitis--These types of vaginitis are most often spread through sexual contact (vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse or intimate contact), and are also called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some types of sexually transmitted vaginitis include:

  • Trichomoniasis--Is a curable infection. Many women with this condition don't have any symptoms; but some women do. Common symptoms include: vaginal discharge that is bubbly, greenish-yellow, and has an odor; itching and soreness of the vulva and the vagina; and burning when you urinate. Most health care providers will prescribe an antibiotic to treat and cure trichomoniasis; however, for treatment to work properly, sexual partners should be treated at the same time.
  • Chlamydia--Is a curable infection. Because chlamydia does not make most people sick, you can have the infection and not even know it. Symptoms of chlamydia include a mucus-like or pus-like vaginal discharge or pain when you urinate. But these symptoms can be mild. The bacteria can also infect your throat, if you've had oral physical contact with an infected partner. A pregnant woman infected with chlamydia can transmit the infection to her infant during delivery. In the infant, the infection can cause the lining of the eye to become swollen and red (often called pink eye). If left untreated, chlamydia can move inside the body and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can be serious. Health care providers will prescribe an antibiotic to treat and cure chlamydia; however, penicillin, an antibiotic used to treat other infections, won't cure chlamydia.
  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV)--Also called "genital herpes," is caused by a virus. Genital herpes can be controlled, but not cured. Most women with genital herpes will have sores or lesions on the vulva, or on the outside of the vagina; sometimes these sores are found within the vagina, and can only be seen during a gynecological exam. The sores are often the source of pain for women infected with genital herpes. Your health care provider can recommend ways to control the symptoms of genital herpes.
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV)--Is caused by a virus. It can be controlled, but not cured. Some women with HPV don't have any symptoms; they don't find out they have the virus until they get the results of their annual pap smear. Other women with HPV have genital warts, usually gray, white, or purple, that grow in their vagina or rectum, or on their vulva or groin. Genital warts can be painful. Some types of HPV are known to lead to certain types of cervical cancer and other cervical problems. Efforts are now underway to develop a vaccine to protect women from HPV, which could also prevent certain types of cervical cancer.
  • Noninfectious vaginitis--Is typically the result of an allergic reaction or an irritation to vaginal sprays, creams, and spermacides, or to soaps, detergents, and fabric softeners. Once you stop using the product that caused the reaction, your symptoms should go away. But, your health care provider may suggest a medicated cream to reduce the symptoms until the reaction goes away.

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