What can cause vaginal swelling?

Vaginal swelling can be concerning and uncomfortable, but it rarely indicates severe illness. People with vaginal swelling often assume that they have a yeast infection, but this is just one of many possibilities. Vaginal swelling can be caused by allergies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cysts, or rough intercourse. Treatment will depend on the cause.

Anyone who experiences vaginal swelling should look for signs of infection and consult a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

Causes

Here are 14 possible causes of vaginal swelling, along with possible treatment options.

1. Allergy

Woman outside covering her crotch with her hands because of vaginal swelling.

An allergic reaction to certain substances may cause the vagina to swell.

An allergic reaction may cause the vagina to swell. The vagina is a sensitive part of the body and may react to any number of ingredients found in personal care products such as:

  • soaps
  • lubricants
  • vaginal washes and douches
  • tampons and pads
  • vaginal contraceptives
  • body lotions and creams
  • latex condoms

Swelling may appear in response to a new product, but a product the body is familiar with can also cause an allergic reaction. If a person suspects that they are allergic to a particular product, it may be a good idea to stop using it and consult a dermatologist.

2. Irritation

Even if an allergy is not present, the body may react adversely when it comes into contact with specific products. Even the most popular and most widely used chemical ingredients may cause vaginal swelling.

Chemical fragrances are often to blame. They can be found in many products that come into contact with the vagina, including:

  • laundry detergent
  • perfumes
  • toilet paper
  • body washes
  • bath bombs and soaps

Some types of cloth may also cause vaginal irritation and swelling. Lace or polyester underwear, in particular, may irritate the skin.

Sometimes, the cut of underwear is responsible for the swelling. Thin thongs or G-strings may not cover the labia entirely, which may cause unnecessary friction in the area throughout the day that can lead to swelling.

It is important to identify and avoid irritants. If a person stops using a specific product and the swelling goes down, they may have found the culprit.

Anyone unable to identify the cause of vaginal swelling should visit a doctor or dermatologist.

3. Rough intercourse

Sexual intercourse can cause the vagina to swell. If the vagina is not sufficiently lubricated, added friction may lead to discomfort or pain during sex, and swelling of the vagina after sex.

Rough intercourse can also tear vaginal tissues, putting a person at higher risk of infection.

If a person suspects that rough intercourse has caused vaginal swelling, they may want to spend more time engaging in foreplay or use a lubricant to reduce friction.

An over-the-counter pain reliever or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may help if the swelling is causing pain.

4. Gartner’s duct cysts

A duct that forms in fetuses when the urinary and sexual organs are developing usually disappears after birth. If part of this duct remains, it is known as a Gartner’s duct. The remaining tissue may attach to the vaginal wall and develop into a cyst.

Gartner’s duct cysts tend to be harmless, but they can become problematic when they grow. A Gartner’s duct cyst may become infected or cause pain and swelling in the vagina.

In some cases, the cyst will appear as a growth on the outside of the vagina.

Surgery is often necessary to remove a troublesome Gartner’s duct cyst. Once the cyst is gone, symptoms should diminish.

5. Bartholin’s cysts

The Bartholin glands are on either side of the vaginal opening. They secrete moisture and help to provide lubrication.

A cyst on one of these glands may go unnoticed until it becomes infected, at which point an abscess may form. Also, the skin around the vagina may become inflamed and painful. In some cases, there may be a burning sensation or bleeding.

If the cyst or abscess is small, it may drain on its own. A warm, shallow bath may help to ease the pain, and over-the-counter medications can reduce pain and swelling.

In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend antibiotics, surgical drainage, or removal of the cyst.

6. Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the inner layers of the skin that may cause the skin to become swollen, red, and tender. A person can develop cellulitis when the bacteria enter a cut, such as one sustained when shaving the pubic area.

Cleaning a cut regularly may help to combat infection. In some cases, a doctor will recommend antibiotics.

7. Bacterial vaginosis

Female doctor behind desk smiling and talking to patient in foreground.

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat bacterial vaginosis.

An overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the vagina may lead to vaginosis. Symptoms may include swelling and a grayish discharge with a foul smell.

Many cases resolve on their own, but a doctor may recommend antibiotics to speed up recovery.

Cleaning the vaginal area regularly and avoiding potential irritants can help to prevent bacterial vaginosis.

It may also be a good idea to avoid products such as douches, which disrupt the bacterial balance in the vagina.

8. Yeast infection

A yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of the Candida fungal species. It can cause vaginal swelling, and other symptoms may include:

  • burning
  • pain during sex and urination
  • redness
  • thick, chunky discharge
  • irritated skin

Yeast infections are treated with antifungal medications. However, it is a good idea to see a doctor for a diagnosis because other conditions have similar symptoms.

9. STIs and cervicitis

Some of these infections can cause inflammation of the cervix, which is called cervicitis. Symptoms of cervicitis can include pain during intercourse, bleeding between periods, and abnormal discharge.

Below are some STIs that can cause vaginal swelling.

  • Chlamydia: This can seriously damage a woman’s reproductive system and may also lead to painful urination and unusual discharge.
  • Gonorrhea: Symptoms in women are often mild and are easily confused with those of an infection in the urinary tract or bladder. Other symptoms include bleeding between periods and increased discharge.
  • Trichomoniasis: This is caused by a parasite and may have no symptoms. When they appear, symptoms can include itching, soreness, pain while urinating, and changes in discharge.

Anyone who suspects that they have an STI should see a doctor.

10. Genital herpes

The herpes simplex virus often causes clusters of tiny, painful blisters to appear near the vagina. These can burst and become painful sores.

While some people notice no symptoms, others find that swelling, pain, and body aches accompany these sores.

There is currently no cure for genital herpes, but prescription medication may shorten or prevent outbreaks.

11. Edema

The term edema describes a collection of water or fluid in the body. Edema in the vagina is usually caused by lymph nodes or veins failing to drain.

Conditions that enlarge the uterus or put pressure on the veins in the pelvis, such as uterine fibroids or pregnancy, can cause edema to form.

A doctor has to identify the cause of the edema to treat it. Gently massaging the area may help to reduce swelling in some cases, but this should be done under the guidance of a doctor.

12. Pregnancy

Pregnant woman on smartphone close up

A developing fetus may put pressure on blood vessels and muscles, leading to vaginal swelling.

Pregnancy may also cause the vagina to swell.

As the fetus grows, it can place pressure on the pelvis and nearby muscles and blood vessels.

This pressure can cause inflammation and affect the return of blood and fluid from the lymphatic system, which may lead to swelling.

Anyone experiencing uncomfortable vaginal swelling during pregnancy should consult a doctor about safe medications.

13. Sexual assault

Injury from rape or sexual assault may also cause vaginal swelling and bleeding, as well as pelvic pain.

Resources are available for people who have been forced into sexual activity. Organizations like the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) in the United States offer free, confidential support. The organization’s 24-hour hotline also connects callers with local services that can help. The number for the RAINN hotline is 800-656-HOPE (4673).

People who have experienced rape or sexual abuse should consider visiting a doctor to discuss options and receive any necessary treatment.

14. Foreign objects in the vagina

When the body tries to expel a foreign object lodged in the vagina, symptoms may include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • itching
  • irritation
  • fever
  • foul discharge

In some cases, a doctor may need to remove a foreign object.

Regularly cleaning the vagina may prevent objects from becoming stuck in it.

When to see a doctor

Swelling of the vagina is usually not the result of a severe medical condition. Anyone uncertain of the cause should visit a doctor.

Seek a professional diagnosis if the following symptoms are present:

  • signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • painful or unbearable symptoms
  • persistent symptoms

Anyone who suspects that they have an STI should see a doctor.

To discover the cause of vaginal swelling, a doctor may perform a physical exam or a blood test. Many medications are available to treat vaginal swelling, and most incidences can be treated quickly and effectively.

 

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