Vaginal swelling quiz
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A swollen vagina is often accompanied by other conditions, such pain, discharge, or itching, and can be caused by inflammation, obstruction, or trauma. Read more below to learn about vaginal swelling, including 6 possible causes, treatment, FAQ, and more.
13 most common causes
Symptoms of vaginal swelling
When fluid accumulates in the tissues of the body, swelling occurs. Swelling can be restricted to a specific part of the body (localized) or spread throughout the body (generalized).
The localized form of swelling is usually easier to identify because the affected body part will become larger than its counterparts. However, in the case of vaginal swelling, the swelling itself may be difficult to perceive making this a frequently missed problem. Despite this, there may be other associated signs and symptoms that can clue you in on the presence of vaginal swelling.
Common accompanying symptoms of vaginal swelling
Associated vaginal swelling symptoms may include:
- Vaginal pain
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal irritation and itching
- Increased frequency of urination
- Burning with urination
- Lump or mass in the vaginal area
- Pain or bleeding with sexual activity
Vaginal swelling symptoms may happen intermittently and go away without intervention. However, vaginal swelling can also be a sign of an underlying medical problem. As a result, making an appointment with your doctor is important. Prompt medical care will allow you to receive a diagnosis and secure appropriate treatment in order to quickly resolve your vaginal swelling symptoms.
Causes of vaginal swelling
Anatomy of the vagina
The vagina is composed of five main parts:
- The labia: This is the folds of skin around the vaginal opening. This includes the labia majora (the outer folds) that are immediately visible and covered with pubic hair, and the labia minora (the inner folds). The labia protect the vagina and clitoris from irritation and injury
- Clitoris: A gland located at the top of the vagina where the inner folds meet composed of various nerve endings.
- Urethral opening: This is the opening where urine is expelled.
- Vaginal opening: Located right below the urethral opening, the vagina is the orifice in that connects the uterus to the outside world.
- Mons pubis: This is a mound of flesh above the vaginal opening that is covered with pubic hair and protects the pubic bone.
See this image for a visual representation. Vaginal swelling can refer to enlargement of any of these components of the vagina.
Vaginal swelling may be due to inflammation from the following.
Infection: Bacteria and fungi that normally inhabit the vagina can overgrow and cause infection that can cause vaginal swelling symptoms and burning of the entire vaginal area, especially the labia. Furthermore, many sexually transmitted bacteria such as trichomoniasis and chlamydia can cause similar symptoms. Viral infections such as herpes can also cause similar symptoms and result in clusters of small, painful blisters that can swell and dispel fluid.
Irritation: Certain scented sprays, soaps and detergents as well as hygiene practices, such as douching can disrupt the vaginal fluid balance, cause irritation and result in swelling of the vaginal components.
The vagina also has ducts and glands within its walls that are not directly visible to the eye. These structures are responsible for producing natural fluid and lubrication to the vagina, but when these glands become infected they can form fluid filled cysts or pus-filled abscesses that cause blockages and resultant swelling. Sometimes these blocked glands can become very large and painful and the infection can spread to the labia and mons pubis causing more swelling, pain and tenderness.
Sexual assault is a serious, traumatic event that can cause severe damage to the components of the vagina. The resultant trauma can not only lead to swelling but also bleeding and tearing.
Keep in mind, trauma to the vagina is not limited to sexual assault. Rough sex or sex without lubrication can also lead to trauma that results in bleeding and swelling of the vaginal components.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
A vaginal yeast infection, also called genital/vulvovaginal candidiasis, is actually caused by the fungus Candida albicans and is very common. The organism is a normal inhabitant of the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina.
Antibiotics can kill off the healthy bacteria in the vagina, allowing overgrowth of the fungus. Women who are pregnant, on the birth control pill, or diabetic are more prone to yeast infections, as are those who have weakened immune systems. It can also be transmitted through sex or through mouth-to-genital contact.
Symptoms include itching, burning, pain, and soreness inside the vagina and on the external tissues (the vulva,) and a thick, white vaginal discharge.
If not treated, the yeast infection can become "complicated," severe, and difficult to cure.
Most yeast infections are diagnosed simply through the patient's description of symptoms. Recurrent infections may be diagnosed through pelvic examination and vaginal swab.
Treatment often is just an over-the-counter cream, though oral anti-fungal medications are sometimes prescribed.
Nephrotic syndrome is a symptom of damage from other disease, not a disease in itself. This damage prevents proper filtering of the blood. Protein which should remain in the blood plasma instead leaks out into the urine.
The loss of normal protein in the blood causes swelling, especially in the legs and around the eyes, and it may spread to other parts of the body. Urine may appear foamy. There may be weight gain due to retained fluid.
Most susceptible are those with diabetes, lupus, heart failure, or another form of kidney or liver disease.
Nephrotic syndrome can lead to increased risk of infections and blood clots, as well as to further kidney damage and possible kidney failure.
Diagnosis involves finding the underlying disease that is causing the nephrotic syndrome, and begins with urine tests and blood tests. Sometimes kidney biopsy is done.
Treatment depends upon the underlying illness, and so will be different for different patients. Most cases are additionally treated with blood pressure control, diuretics, and improved diet.
Irritant contact dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.
Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure.
Contact dermatitis is not contagious.
Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.
Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.
A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.
Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.
Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes
Gonococcal cervicitis is an inflammation of the cervix – the passageway at the lower end of the uterus – caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, or gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and spreads through unprotected sexual contact.
Symptoms include abnormal vaginal discharge, pain or discomfort during sex, and vaginal bleeding after sex. However, some women have few or no symptoms.
If not treated, gonococcal cervicitis can lead to further infection of the reproductive tract and to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause sterility.
Diagnosis is made after a cervical swab is taken and tested.
Treatment is through a course of oral antibiotics. Women diagnosed with gonococcal cervicitis should be further tested for other common STDs such as chlamydia and trichomoniasis, as they are often found at the same time.
The best prevention for gonorrhea is the use of a condom during sex, as well as testing of all sex partners so that they can be treated and not re-infect anyone.
Cervicitis in general can be prevented by not exposing the cervix to douching or other irritants.
Top Symptoms: vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding, painful sex, yellow pus vaginal discharge, heavy menstrual flow
Symptoms that never occur with gonococcal cervicitis: improving vaginal discharge
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection that is spread through unprotected sex. Each year, over 1 million Americans are diagnosed with this STD.
You should visit a physician to confirm the diagnosis where an antibiotic will be prescribed.
Bartholin duct abscess
The Bartholin gland sits in the outer part of the vagina and produces fluid that lubricates it. A Bartholin duct abscess is caused by a blockage in the gland and a bacterial infection within the fluid that builds up.
You should see your doctor tomorrow for a visit, where you can conduct an exam and perform a drainage, if appropriate.
Top Symptoms: vaginal pain, painful sex, bump on the outer part of the vagina, painful vagina lump, small vagina lump
Symptoms that always occur with bartholin duct abscess: bump on the outer part of the vagina, vaginal pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
The Bartholin gland sits in the outer part of the vagina and produces fluid that lubricates it. A Bartholin cyst is caused by a blockage in the gland and the build up of fluid behind the blockage.
For small Bartholin cysts that are not bothering you, treatment is not required.
Vaginal swelling treatments and relief
Vaginal swelling symptoms and associated symptoms can be very uncomfortable, but thankfully there are strategies you can take to alleviate some symptoms as well as lifestyle changes you can use to prevent future occurrences.
At-home treatments for vaginal swelling
You can try the following remedies at home to try to relieve some of your symptoms.
- Ice or cool compresses: Use a cool compress or ice pack and apply to the pelvic area for 15 minutes at a time to reduce vaginal swelling symptoms.
- Over-the-counter pain medications: These are a quick solution to the pain that is often associated with vaginal swelling.
- Over-the-counter antifungal cream: For suspected fungal infections, you can buy an over-the-counter antifungal cream.
- Sitz baths: This is simply warm water with salt added. These baths are usually helpful in alleviating pain and discomfort. The kits can be bought at your local pharmacy and you can sit in the bath several times per day for a week.
When to see a doctor for vaginal swelling
If your vaginal swelling symptoms persist, make an appointment with your doctor. Antibiotics are available for many sexually transmitted infections and bacteria. It is important that you take the antibiotics consistently and according to your doctors prescribed orders.
After treatment of your vaginal swelling symptoms, there are many lifestyle changes you can employ in order to prevent future incidents.
- Use gentle products: Limit douching and use of scented soaps in order to restore balance to your vaginal secretions and prevent conditions that can cause irritation.
- Practice safe sex: Use a condom during sexual intercourse to prevent sexually transmitted infections. Use lubricant to reduce friction and prevent irritation and trauma.
- Wear loose, breathable clothing: Limit use of tight clothing or undergarments as they can generate heat and allow conditions for bacteria and fungi to grow.
When vaginal swelling is an emergency
If you develop a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher, experience severe pains, or begin bleeding heavily, seek emergency medical treatment. This could be signs of a life-threatening infection.
Questions your doctor may ask about vaginal swelling
- Have you ever had a yeast infection?
- Do you feel pain when you urinate?
- Have you ever taken a course of antibiotics in your life?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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