The cervix is located on the lower portion of the uterus, at the top of the vaginal canal. A cervical infection occurs when the cervix becomes infected by bacteria or a virus. Infections of the cervix may be due to a sexually transmitted disease, or may be the result of an irritation to the area. Symptoms and treatment can vary, depending on the cause of the infection. A infection of the cervix can lead to serious medical complications if not properly treated.
A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is a common cause of cervical infection. Uterine and vaginal infections can easily spread to the cervix. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are considered common sexually transmitted causes of infections in the cervix. Genital herpes and human papillomavirus can also leave one vulnerable to infection.
Infections of the cervix are not always the result of sexually transmitted diseases. Cervical infections often occur due to irritation of the cervical skin. When skin becomes irritated, it is generally more vulnerable to infection. For this reason, vaginal yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and allergic reactions to latex or spermicidal creams can lead to infections of the cervix. Douching, using intrauterine devices, or even leaving tampons in place too long can contribute to infection of the cervix.
Mild infections or irritations of the cervix may be asymptomatic. Some sexually transmitted cervical infections, such as chlamydia, may cause severe damage to reproductive organs while still remaining asymptomatic. When symptoms of infection occur, they generally include excessive, foul-smelling vaginal discharge that may be yellow or gray in color. Excessive urination can occur, and both urination and sexual intercourse may be painful. Vaginal bleeding can occur with intercourse, even between menstrual periods or during menopause.
Cervical infections are typically diagnosed with a pelvic exam and Pap smear. The pelvic exam allows a doctor to visually examine the genitalia for changes in appearance. A Pap smear allows the doctor to take a sample of vaginal fluids. These fluids are usually tested in a laboratory for the presence of bacteria or viruses.
Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat cervical infections caused by bacteria, while antiviral drugs are reserved for those caused by viral infection. If the cervical infection has not been the result of a sexually transmitted disease, then a doctor may find that no treatment is necessary. Some common causes of cervical infection, such as vaginal yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, may spontaneously resolve or can be easily treated with over-the-counter medications.