Your cervix is the narrow passage at the end of your uterus that opens into your vaginal. Cervicitis is inflammation (swelling and irritation) of the cervix. It is often caused by an infection or an allergic reaction.
Cervicitis and vaginitis aren't the same
Cervicitis is often confused with vaginitis, or the inflammation of the vagina. The conditions are different. However, a vaginal infection can sometimes spread from the vagina to the cervix, causing cervicitis.
Types of cervicitis
There are two main categories of cervicitis:
- Acute cervicitis: Cervicitis that comes on suddenly and resolves within a few days or a week. It is usually caused by an infection.
- Chronic cervicitis: Cervicitis that lasts for a long time, usually for weeks or months. It is less likely to be caused by an infection.
Causes of cervicitis
Cervicitis is often caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), bacterial and viral infections passed during unprotected sexual intercourse. Common STIs that can lead to cervicitis include:
- Chlamydia. This bacterial infection is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in the US. It causes vaginal discharge and painful urination, among other symptoms. It may lead to another condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility.
- Gonorrhea. Another common bacterial infection that leads to vaginal discharge and painful or difficult urination. It can also lead to pregnancy complications.
- Genital herpes. A viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. This virus can also cause genital warts that recur (come back) time and again.
- Trichomoniasis (sometimes called “Trich”). This STI is caused by a parasite. In addition to cervicitis, it can cause foul-smelling vaginal discharge, vaginal itching, and increase your risk for preterm birth if you are pregnant.
Causes not STI-related
Cervicitis can also be caused by things other than STIs. These include:
- Allergic reactions to hygiene products, douches, vaginal deodorants, or tampons (especially scented tampons)
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV). This is a common cause of vaginitis as well as cervicitis. It happens when your normal vaginal bacteria grow out of control and cause inflammation. This can happen because of a hormonal imbalance, having sex with a new partner, or using products like douches and deodorants that disrupt your vagina’s natural environment.
- Irritation, injury, or allergic reaction to birth control products like latex condoms, diaphragms, intrauterine devices (IUD), or spermicides.
- The presence of precancerous cells in the cervix (cervical dysplasia). This is often related to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Cancer treatment. In rare cases, radiation therapy for cancers of the uterus or cervix may cause the cells of the cervix to become inflamed.
Symptoms of cervicitis
Not all people who have cervicitis develop symptoms. You may only find out you have cervicitis during a routine gynecological exam.
If you do develop symptoms, however, they may include:
- Increased or abnormal vaginal discharge.
- Vaginal discharge that contains pus (purulent discharge). This is usually gray or yellow.
- Painful, more frequent urination.
- Pain during sex.
- Pelvic pain or abdominal pain.
- Bleeding in between periods or after sex.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should book an appointment with your doctor right away. Cervicitis shares symptoms with many other gynecological conditions and diseases, and getting prompt treatment is the best way to protect yourself from unwanted complications.
How is cervicitis diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of cervicitis, you should call your doctor or gynecologist. Otherwise, cervicitis might be diagnosed during a regular gynecological exam.
To diagnose cervicitis, your doctor will start by asking you about your medical history and symptoms.
They will then perform a pelvic exam. A doctor or nurse will insert two gloved fingers into your vagina while pressing down on your abdomen. They will be able to feel for abnormalities like cysts. Your healthcare provider may also insert a tool called a speculum into your vagina so that they can examine your vaginal walls and cervix for signs of inflammation.
If your healthcare provider suspects an infection, they may test for common STIs. This can both confirm your diagnosis and help you get the proper treatment.
Your healthcare provider may take a sample of your cervical discharge and vaginal fluid. This will be sent off to a lab for further testing.
Treatments for cervicitis
If you are diagnosed with cervicitis, discuss your treatment options with your doctor. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the cervicitis and your medical history.
Cervicitis caused by infections
In most cases, cervicitis is caused by an infection and requires either an antibiotic or antiviral. If you have a sexually transmitted infection, your partner(s) may also need to be treated to prevent the infection from passing back and forth.
- Antibiotics. If you have gonorrhea or chlamydia, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. For a chlamydia infection, you may be prescribed doxycycline or azithromycin. For gonorrhea, you may be prescribed ceftriaxone, which is given as an injection. Antibiotics are also prescribed for bacterial vaginosis, usually in the form of a pill, gel, or cream. You will need to stop having sex during treatment to avoid spreading the infection.
- Antivirals. For cervicitis caused by genital herpes, your doctor may prescribe antivirals. These medications will help eliminate your symptoms more quickly, but they will not cure the herpes virus. Herpes can be sexually transmitted, which means you can pass it to your sexual partners.
Cervicitis caused by an allergic reaction
If your cervicitis is caused by an allergic reaction to a hygiene product, you should avoid that product completely. In general, avoid douching, deodorants, and scented hygiene products.
If your cervicitis is caused by irritation or an allergic reaction to a birth control method, you should talk to your doctor about other methods that are available to you. Usually, you can switch to another form of protection (like a non-latex condom).
Cervicitis, especially chronic cervicitis, is sometimes related to inflammation caused by precancerous cells. In this case, your doctor may recommend freezing the abnormal cells or destroying them with a laser.
Afterward, you will need to go in for more frequent pap smears to make sure that your condition has not progressed.
Can cervicitis lead to complications?
Cervical cysts (Nabothian cyst). Cervical cysts are non-cancerous growth on the cervix. They form when tissue that grows on the outside of the cervix covers the mucus-producing cells on the inside of the cervix. This may happen as a result of your body’s attempt to heal a cervical infection.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can result from any serious infection of the reproductive tract. Cervicitis caused by a sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia or gonorrhea, if left untreated, can allow these infections to spread to other parts of your reproductive system, like your uterus and fallopian tubes. This can lead to inflammation and scarring, which in turn cause chronic pain and infertility.
National Library of Medicine. Cervicitis (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562193/)
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Urethritis and Cervicitis – STI (https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment-guidelines/urethritis-and-cervicitis.htm)