Cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix - the lower part of the uterus that extends about one inch into the vaginal canal.
Cervicitis is probably the most common of all gynecological disorders, affecting half of all women at some point in their lives. Any woman, regardless of age, who has ever had even one sexual encounter and who is experiencing abdominal pain or an unusual vaginal discharge may have it.
Despite the fact that it is so common, cervicitis does not yield to self-diagnosis, because its symptoms - if any - can easily be confused with those of other common ailments, including vaginitis.
Untreated, cervicitis can lead to problems conceiving or delivering a healthy baby. But cervicitis can be readily diagnosed by your doctor and successfully treated with a wide variety of drugs and procedures.
Prolonged cervicitis can make it difficult - if not impossible - to become pregnant. Not only does abnormal mucous production interfere with the sperm's ability to enter the cervical canal, but the infection can also spread to the uterus or the fallopian tubes leading to the ovaries.
A pregnant woman with cervicitis risks miscarriage, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn during delivery which can lead to pneumonia, a severe eye infection, or blindness.
Most commonly, cervicitis is the result of an infection, although it can also be caused by injury or irritation (as a reaction to the chemicals in douches and contraceptives, for example, or a forgotten tampon).
The three most common infectious causes of cervicitis are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas. All three are considered sexually transmitted diseases.
Cervicitis is only one of the many problems that these diseases cause. A number of other organisms, including herpes simplex, streptococcus, staphylococcus, enterococcus, and Gardnerella vaginitis, can also cause cervicitis.
The first symptom of cervicitis is likely to be a vaginal discharge that becomes more pronounced immediately after a menstrual period.
Other signs include bleeding, itching, or irritation of the external genitals; pain during intercourse; a burning sensation during urination; and lower back pain.
In its mildest form, no symptoms may be noticed, but a more severe case of cervicitis can cause a profuse, almost pus-like, discharge with an unpleasant odor, accompanied by intense vaginal itchiness or abdominal pain. If the infection gets into your system, you may also have fever and nausea.
Diagnosis of cervicitis is accomplished through a combination of clinical history and a pelvic examination with direct visualization of the cervix. A pap smear and culture for causative organisms is typically performed.
If the diagnosis is chlamydial cervicitis, your doctor will probably prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Among the most commonly prescribed treatments prescribed are doxycycline and douches that kill bacteria in the vagina and cervix.
If you have prolonged or repeated bouts of cervicitis, your doctor may recommend a procedure designed to destroy the abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix.
The most common of these procedures are cautery (also known as heat cautery), cryosurgery (also known as freezing, or cold cautery), and laser treatment. After therapy, cells from untreated normal tissue naturally grow into and replace the area of destroyed, abnormal tissue.
Cautery, which typically causes mild to moderate pain, is less likely to be recommended than the other two newer techniques, if they are available. Overall success rates are similar for laser and cryosurgery. Laser treatment is preferred when there are large areas of abnormal tissue. Complete healing takes 6 to 8 weeks.