Cervicitis

Overview

What is cervicitis?

Cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix (the end of the uterus). The condition is often accompanied by vaginal discharge, bleeding or pain during sex, although some people may not experience any symptoms at all. People can have acute cervicitis (which is usually caused by infection) or chronic cervicitis (which is usually caused by irritation).

Who does cervicitis affect?

People who have multiple partners or who engage in high-risk sexual behavior are at a higher risk for cervicitis. Those with a history of sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs and STIs), or who have partners with a history of STDs and STIs, are also more likely to contract cervicitis. But sexual practices aren’t the only cause of cervicitis. The condition can also be caused by irritation from douches, tampons or diaphragms.

How common is this condition?

Cervicitis is very common. It has been estimated that more than half of all adult women or those AFAB (assigned female at birth) will have cervicitis at some point.

Symptoms and Causes

How do you know if you have cervicitis?

The only surefire way to know if you have cervicitis is to have an evaluation with your healthcare provider. Cervicitis symptoms to watch for include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge that may be yellow, white, or gray and have an unpleasant odor.
  • Unexpected light vaginal bleeding.
  • Painful sexual intercourse.
  • Vulvar or vaginal irritation.

It’s especially important to seek medical care if you notice any of the above symptoms or have had an STD in the past. It should also be noted that some people don’t experience cervicitis symptoms. Therefore, regular gynecological exams are essential so that your healthcare provider can check for any abnormalities.

Can you get cervicitis without an STD?

Yes. Cervicitis isn’t always caused by STDs. Some cases are caused by injuries, allergies or bacterial imbalances.

What is the main cause of cervicitis?

Infection is the main reason why people develop acute cervicitis. Infections can happen when bacteria are introduced into the uterus. Common infectious cervicitis causes include:

Noninfectious cervicitis causes include exposure to chemicals or mechanical irritation. These include:

  • Chemical irritation from spermicides or douches or the latex used in condoms.
  • Reaction to diaphragms, cervical caps, tampons or pessaries inserted.
  • Radiation therapy or systemic inflammatory diseases.

What bacteria causes cervicitis?

Cervicitis can develop if staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria come in contact with the uterus.

Is cervicitis contagious?

Yes. The infection can be passed to your sexual partners. If you’ve been diagnosed with cervicitis, don’t have sex for at least seven days after receiving treatment and being symptom-free.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is cervicitis diagnosed?

Cervicitis can be diagnosed during a full pelvic exam. A Pap smear may also be performed. These tests allow your healthcare provider to analyze your cervical and uterine cells for abnormalities. Your provider will also take a sample of any vaginal discharge to test for infections – such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas and bacterial vaginosis. During your appointment, your healthcare provider will check for:

  • Any redness on your cervix.
  • Discharge.
  • Blood on your vagina or cervix.
  • Inflammation of the vaginal walls.

Management and Treatment

How do you treat cervicitis?

Cervicitis treatment usually includes antibiotics to eliminate any bacterial infections that may be causing the condition. People under age 25 or who engage in high-risk behaviors may be treated with antibiotics even if bacteria are not detected. (Some bacteria can be hard to detect but may still be present.)

Antibiotics successfully treat cervicitis in most cases.

How long does it take for cervicitis to heal?

It can take up to two weeks for cervicitis to clear up. Antibiotics should be taken exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider to ensure the infection is completely gone.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk?

Though you can’t always prevent cervicitis, you can reduce your risk by practicing safe sex. Using condoms every time you have intercourse will drastically reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Anytime you notice unusual symptoms, such as vaginal discharge, irritation or painful sex, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Additionally, be sure you’re scheduling routine exams with your gynecologist. Some people don’t experience cervicitis symptoms, so regular checkups are important.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can endometriosis cause cervicitis?

No. Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue that typically lines the uterus grows outside of the uterus instead. There is no evidence that endometriosis is linked to cervicitis.

Does cervicitis affect your period?

Not usually. However, some people with cervicitis report bleeding between periods.

Can an IUD cause cervicitis?

No, but IUD insertion can cause pelvic inflammatory disease if it is inserted while you have active cervicitis from gonorrhea or chlamydia. This is rare but you should alert your healthcare provider if you are concerned about STD exposure prior to having an IUD inserted.

Does cervicitis affect fertility?

In some cases, yes. Cervicitis caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea may spread to the fallopian tubes and the uterine lining. This can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – a condition that affects the reproductive organs. Left untreated, PID can lead to fertility issues.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you think you may have cervicitis, schedule a consultation with your healthcare provider right away. Left untreated, this condition can be passed to your sexual partners or lead to other, more serious health problems. The good news, however, is that cervicitis can be successfully treated, especially when diagnosed early.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/17/2022.

References

  • Ortiz-de la Tabla V, Gutiérrez F. Cervicitis: Etiology, diagnosis and treatment. Enfermedades Infecciosas Microbiology Clinica (Engl Ed). 2019 Dec;37(10):661-667. English, Spanish. Accessed 7/30/21.
  • Hester EE, Middleman AB. A Clinical Conundrum: Chronic Cervicitis. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. 2019 Jun;32(3):342-344. Accessed 7/30/21.
  • Dionne-Odom J, Marrazzo J. Cervicitis: Balancing the Goals of Empiric Therapy and Antimicrobial Stewardship to Improve Women's Health. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2020 Jun;47(6):387-388. Accessed 7/30/21.
  • Ata B, Yildiz S, Turkgeldi E, Brocal VP, Dinleyici EC, Moya A, Urman B. The Endobiota Study: Comparison of Vaginal, Cervical and Gut Microbiota Between Women with Stage 3/4 Endometriosis and Healthy Controls. Scientific Reports. 2019 Feb 18;9(1):2204. Accessed 7/30/21.

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