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When organisms normally present in the vagina grow too much, vaginal odor may occur. If foreign invaders get into the vagina and start to grow, causing an infection, it can also occur. There are several different causes of vaginal discharge. It is important for women to be aware of them because several of them are quite common.
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This is a bacterial infection of the vagina. The odor is usually fishy. Other symptoms may include light or heavy, clear or colored discharge. Metronidazole is the most common treatment.
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Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that about four million Americans contract each year. In the early stage, there usually are no symptoms. As it progresses, they include vaginal odor, vaginal discharge, painful urination, pain with intercourse and lower abdominal pain. Antibiotics are a common and usually effective treatment.
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Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection most often transmitted sexually. Women may experience vaginal odor, vaginal discharge, abdominal pain, pelvic pain, painful urination and vaginal bleeding. Antibiotics are generally effective and are the most common type of treatment. If a patient contracts a strain of drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhea, they will usually be prescribed a type of medication known as cephalosporins.
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Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
This infection affects the female reproductive tract. It is usually caused by a sexually transmitted bacteria making its way to the upper genital tract. As one of the causes of vaginal odor, this condition may cause more serious complications as well, such as infertility. Other symptoms may include pelvic pain, irregular menstrual bleeding, lower back pain, trouble urinating, heavy vaginal discharge, painful intercourse, painful urination, diarrhea or vomiting, fatigue or fever. Antibiotics are the standard treatment.
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Vaginal Yeast Infection
This is a fungal infection that is relatively common. Symptoms may include painful intercourse, painful urination, vulva swelling and redness, vaginal odor, vaginal burning and itching and vaginal discharge that ranges from cottage cheese consistency to watery. Medications, such as miconazole, clotrimazole, butoconazole and tioconazole are often effective. Fluconazole can be prescribed.
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Cervical cancer is common and begins in the cervix. Vaginal bleeding, odor and discharge are the most common symptoms. Women may also experience pelvic pain and painful intercourse. Noninvasive treatments include cone biopsy, laser surgery, cryosurgery, loop electrosurgical excision procedure and hysterectomy. More invasive cancers may be treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
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Other Possible Causes
In addition to the above causes, there are a few other causes of vaginal odor. Poor hygiene can lead to vaginal odor. It is important to practice good hygiene and keep up with all preventative care. Vaginal cancer and rectovaginal fistula may also cause this symptom.
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Mayo Clinic. (2009). Vaginal Odor. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vaginal-odor/MY00555
WebMD. (2009). Vaginal Problems – Topic Overview. Retrieved on April 14, 2011 from WebMD: http://women.webmd.com/tc/vaginal-problems-topic-overview
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Cervical Cancer Ribbon: Wikimedia Commons - Yucakoba